Do It Yourself: How, And When, To Use Scaffolding

Scaffolding is sometimes essential for certain kinds of home maintenance or improvement where ladders cannot be safely used. Scaffold jacks can be rented at home-improvement stores for these jobs.

If you own a home or plan to build one, sooner or later you will need to work on the higher parts of your house, whether replacing rotten boards, installing new fixtures, or simply repainting. Many such jobs can be done using ladders, which are available in a wide variety of configurations, from long extension ladders designed to lean against a wall to free-standing step ladders. These ladders may be all some homeowners need, but special situations call for scaffolding, rather than ladders.

Scaffolding differs from ladders, in that it allows you to build a temporary platform high above the ground and to span a wide distance so that larger areas can be accessed from one set-up. Scaffolding is widely used in new construction, as it speeds up work in high areas by allowing more than one worker on the platform, and providing a place to handle materials. This is especially advantageous in heavy work, such as bricklaying, when the bricks and mortar can be stockpiled in advance on the scaffolding to avoid numerous trips back and forth to the ground.

By its very nature, scaffolding is flexible and expandable to meet a wide variety of requirements in construction and maintenance. The building blocks of scaffolding are the metal supports called "jacks" Scaffold jacks are built of heavy steel tubing and have adjustable telescopic feet that are locked into position with steel pins. Each jack has two or more horizontal tubes for placing scaffold walk boards, and built-in ladder rungs to facilitate climbing up and down. As a minimum, all scaffold set-ups require two such scaffold jacks. The jacks themselves are free-standing, and are set up by placing them a convenient distance apart to accommodate a walk board that spans the gap between them. Walk boards are heavy planks, usually 2x12 lumber that will support the weight of workers and materials. Scaffold jacks have a designated horizontal tube for placement of these walk boards, and extra horizontal supports for additional material boards upon which you can place paint, bricks, lumber, or whatever you are working with. For really high structures, scaffold jacks are designed to be stackable, so that with the feet removed from the bottom tubes, a jack will fit over the top tubes of the first jack. Elaborate, multi-story scaffold structures can be built this way, and are frequently seen in new construction.

Scaffold jacks and the associated lumber required for walk boards and material boards can be expensive for the average homeowner, who might rarely use them. For this reason, most large home-improvement stores keep them available for rent, which makes using scaffolds much more feasible for the homeowner. Scaffolds can make many jobs easier and safer. Here's an example of a do-it-yourself job that could benefit from the use of scaffolding:

Suppose you have a two-story house, and in the main atrium and great room the ceiling soars all the way to the upper level. You want to install crown molding in this room, but the walls are sheetrock and you don't want to damage them by leaning tall extension ladders against them. This is a job that calls for scaffolding. Assemble the scaffold jacks and walk boards across the width of one wall, and then, with a helper, you can easily measure for length and then nail up the crown molding without worrying about falling off a ladder. Scaffolds are also handy for painting in high-ceiling rooms like this, and many professional painters rely on them. They can also be used for installing ceiling fans and other fixtures in such a room.

Although ladders are perhaps the most essential tools a homeowner cannot do without; the ready availability of rental scaffolding could open up a whole new range of do-it-yourself jobs high above the ground.

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