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Bath Fans and the Tissue Test

Mike Holmes – Contractor, Reality TV Personality, Canadian, and all around “good guy.”  I must admit, I have watched a lot of Mike over the years.  Holmes on Homes, Home Free, Holmes Inspections…all good TV shows.  However, Mike recently posted a social media post that made me pause and reflect.  This post relates to bathroom fans and their ability to move air appropriately out of a bathroom.  When buying a house, Mike recommends using the “Tissue Test.” In his words, put a tissue next to a bathroom fan that is running and “Tissue test: if the fan holds the tissue, you know it’s pulling air. If not – replace it.”  As a builder who has seen several bathrooms and bathroom fans, I can tell you that Mike’s advice is not quite correct – yes it will tell you if the fan is working, but that isn’t the question you should be asking.  What you should be asking is whether the fan sized appropriately for the space.  Most architects and designers do not specify fan sizes and most builders get cheap fans that are not sized appropriately for the space.  Bathroom fans like any other ventilation device are designed to move a certain amount of air over a certain time.  The Home Ventilation Institute (HVI) recommends that fans in a bathroom should be sized to replace the air 8 times per hour when running[1].  HVI goes on to provide some “rules of thumb” for small bathrooms and larger ones, but these assume certain ceiling heights and volumes. I think it is much easier to calculate the fan size required.

Now as an example, I recently built a custom home with a very large master bathroom.  The size was approximately 14’ wide x 15’ long with 10’ ceilings. So:

Most fans that are supplied by Home Depot or Lowes have a flow rating around 90-120 cfm.  So, in this case, we decided to install two in-line hidden bath fans we purchased online, each with a flow rate of 190 cfm, for a total rating of 380cfm.  Why so large you may ask?  Don’t forget there will be pressure losses due to the ductwork (that discussion as well as the need for make up air is reserved for an entirely different post).  In the end, our result couldn’t have been better: There are no steam issues and there is no condensation on the bathroom ceiling.

Now, this was a new custom home, but the principles are the same for renovations and existing homes.  Size fans based on the volume of the bathroom.  The tissue test just doesn’t cover the complexity of the issue in my opinion.  Other issues you should consider: Fan noise rating, where the exhaust is ducted (you don’t want all that moisture in your attic), and fan aesthetics.



Jumping in – When safety is on the line.

Safety First – No. Matter. What. 

I like to believe that most people would intervene if they saw a family member or a friend doing something unsafe.  But what about a stranger?  What if you saw a competitor doing something so ridiculously unsafe that it made you question the sanity of everyone involved?  Would you pull out your iPhone and upload their actions to YouTube in hopes of becoming the next internet flash-in-a-pan, or would you intervene? Yesterday, I tried to intervene.

Late afternoon, my construction crew and I were wrapping up for the day when I looked down the street and spotted a family who had gathered to take pictures of the renovations occurring at their home.  A crane had just arrived and big equipment means exciting times for kids and adults alike.  The crane crew was about to lift what had to be a W24x104 or larger steel beam.  It was about 40’ long.  For those of you that don’t know steel, that’s a big beam – a REALLY big beam for a house. 

At first glance, I did not see  a single hardhat, or a single pair of gloves. What I did see was a family standing with crew and most everyone wearing sneakers and shorts.   As I moved closer, the ill-prepared crew proceeded to wrap the beam with two metal cables and “secure” them to the crane.  I wondered if anyone on site had ever had any training with rigging.  Sure enough, as they lifted the beam, it began to slip and slide through the rigging.  They lowered the beam and tried again – and again it slid in the rigging.  The third time was the charm – they found the center of gravity, but the beam was never secured with guide lines.  As the beam reached five feet off of the ground, a crew member ducked and walked under the beam and that is the moment I attempted to intervene.  Lives were now in danger. The beam clearly was not secure and could slide off, and a beam that size would crush an adult. I yelled and attempted to approach the job site but was waved off by the foreman.  He was not interested in my concerns and was clearly irritated at the interference.  I watched in dismay as the family and crew ran around to the back of the house to watch while they boomed this massive beam over the top of the house in one very quick motion, with no guide ropes to aid them.  By sheer luck, the beam was placed with no injuries.  As I turned and walked back to my own jobsite I asked myself what I could have done differently or what I should do about what happened.  I am responsible for the safety of everyone on my jobsite.  Do I also have a responsibility to keep others around me safe?  I believe the answer is ‘Yes’.

Now, after more than two decades in the construction and engineering fields in both the residential and industrial arenas, it is apparent to me that many subcontractors that work in this space have no safety training and are just not aware of how their actions can impact their lives and the lives of others around them. The residential construction market does not have as intense regulatory oversight that commercial and industrial markets have and therefore it is up to those of us in charge, the GCs and owners of companies, to set the example and keep our crews and site visitors safe.  It is also our responsibility to be the extra eyes, ears and voices for those around us to keep each other safe – and we should all receive input from others without taking offense.  You tell me. I’ll tell you.

At DENTONBUILT, we focus on safety by requiring each subcontractor to sign a Safety Acknowledgement Form before work begins that states they have read and understand our safety requirements and expectations. But responsibility doesn’t end there.  We must continually remind our contractors about safety and safety concerns. If they do not improve over time, they put their future with us at risk. Culture change is hard and it takes a long time, but we need to do this.  Jump in – help others understand the risks and the right way to get things done.  Let’s make the residential construction market safer and avoid those “Hey yall, watch this” moments.  Be my extra eyes and ears and I’ll be yours. Together we can keep our workers, site visitors and neighbors safe.

–Don Denton

Safety Leadership In Residential Construction

Safety. We hear the word every day.  Most companies tout safety as one of their top priorities   which is why I have been surprised at the number of times I have walked onto a construction site and found the simplest of things that either violates basic safety principles or does not address equipment condition protection.  This type of safety scan is ingrained in me as a result of a twenty year career with Duke Energy – a company that truly focuses on safety first.

Recently, I toured a residential construction site where a contractor was completing the demolition phase of a project.  Boards with nails still in them were intertwined with power cords, sawzalls, hammers, etc.  In a safe work environment, power cords should be elevated off of the floor and out of harms way – to make sure that the cord is protected, but also eliminating any potential trip hazard.    As I walked through the site I noted a particular cord that had been damaged. I pointed this out to the demolition subcontractor who immediately taped up the cord and went back to work. While I was appreciative of the quick response on the subcontractors part to address this safety concern, he missed opportunity to take the proper course of action.   The  cord was still a safety concern and it should have been removed from service and a replacement used.

Safety inattentiveness seems to be more pervasive in the residential building world than in the commercial or industrial world. It is not because the contractors haven’t been exposed to safe work practices, as many work in both residential and commercial construction environments. I believe it is due to a lack of leadership – residential contractors are not being held to an appropriate safety standard by their leaders.

At DENTONBUILT, we are changing that paradigm. Our safety program is available to all of our contractors and we expect them to follow it.  We ask each contractor to sign a safety acknowledgement form stating that not only have they read the policy but they intend to practice its policies.  As our team members supervise sites we remind our contractors and enforce these policies as safety is everyone’s responsibility. Culturally, we understand it will take time and constant reminders as our contractors adapt to practice our safety policies, but they will.  We have already begun to see the changes.

Basic safety precautions can save lives, injury, job time and money.  No shortcut or lack of attention is worth the “savings” it may produce.  Every leader should “inspect what they expect” and make sure that everyone is paying attention to safety and goes home at the end of the day in the same or better shape than they arrived on the job-site.

Can you “Be Here Now?”

  • It is an interesting time we are living in.  We all seem to be rushing from one task to the next in pursuit of our goals.  However, we seldom stop to think about how effectively we are achieving those goals and the inherit risks within.  We attempt to multitask in almost every portion of our lives.  Whether it is at work, with our families or even in our personal time, we are not focusing 100% on the ONE task at hand.  I admit it, I am a chronic multitasker, but I have had the time recently to look at how effectively I am working as well as observing others, and I have seen we are missing some key performance improvement opportunities.

A few years ago, I had the honor to give a presentation on grid modernization trends and strategies to the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House.  There were about twenty people in the room and an unknown number on the phone.  As nervous as I was standing in front of the seal of the White House, in the middle of my presentation I noticed something: nobody was looking at me.  All of the people in the room were either on their laptops or on their personal devices typing furiously.  I’d like to think they were taking notes, but I know better.    So, in mid-presentation I stopped and stood there waiting to see what would happen.  Within a few seconds, the organizer of the meeting waived to me in a “come-along” type of gesture and said without looking up, “We’re listening. Keep going.”  I really didn’t know what to think.  I was a bit angry and surprised at the lack of decorum in this place of all places.  Nevertheless, I continued with the presentation.  As I reflect on that day, I doubt many of those people in the room took away much from the meeting.   Humbly, I contend that it wasn’t due to lack of content, but due to the fact that while these people were physically in the room, they weren’t mentally engaged.  They weren’t “there.”

While I was working at Duke Energy, an initiative was launched that focused on the issue of multitasking and the potential negative impacts of it.  The initiative was called, “Be Here Now.”  This change management initiative’s basic premise relied on the belief that in order to maximize safety and quality of a task, a person should have their full attention on that particular task at any given moment and nothing else.  In other words: distraction breeds inefficiency and possible safety consequences.  This seems to be pretty basic and easy to understand, but putting the practice into action is an entirely different situation as the current cultural bias in the workplace is to multitask.

This is also true in our personal lives.  We have all heard the statistics on distracted driving, yet many of us still talk on the phone, eat, change the radio station, read or who knows what else while we drive.  The statistics are quite disturbing:

  • In 2012, 3,328 people were killed in distraction-related crashes.
  • About 421,000 people were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver.
  • In 2012, 11% of drivers under age 20 involved in fatal accidents were reported to be distracted at the time of the crash.
  • One-fourth of teenagers respond to at least one text message every time they drive and 20% of teens and 10% of parents report having multi-message text conversations while driving.
  • Nearly half (48%) of drivers admit to answering their cell phone while driving.
  • The most interesting statistic that I have read is that headset (hands free) cell phone use is not substantially safer than hand-held.  The level of safety is not based on the medium for the conversation but on the intensity of the conversation itself.  As the focus of the conversation becomes more engaging or intense, the less the individual is focused on the primary duty at hand – driving.  The driver is no longer “here now” but focused on the conversation potentially leading to a horrific outcome.

As I have taken the time to reflect on all of these issues, I now find myself focusing more and more on the task at hand and not on other things.  Mind you, this has been difficult.  I have had to change many aspects of my daily life; how I plan my day, putting my phone away while I drive, changing my outlook settings (eliminating that irritating pop up saying you have new mail), and many other behaviors.  What I have found is quite interesting: I am accomplishing more than before and my mental state is MUCH better.  I am happier, more focused and much more effective.

So, ask yourself this question today: can you “Be Here Now?”