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Author Topic: How to work on a scary house.  (Read 3712 times)

sheclown

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How to work on a scary house.
« on: January 19, 2013, 10:59:20 AM »
PSOS is often asked "How does one work on a scary house?" 

And that is a very good question.

What do you do with something that appears to be tinkering on the edge of collapse? What do you do when you walk your south side contractor in and he turns pale and runs?

First things first.
  See the house with preservation eyes.  This historic doll has been standing for over a hundred years.  The threat of imminent collapse is greatly over-stated.  Perhaps items are falling off.  Perhaps items are missing, but she was built with lumber that...quite simply...they don't make anymore.  Also, she was built with building practices that are gone with our planned obsolescence consumerism.  She was built to LAST with unimaginable pride in craftsmanship.  Each wall stud, every joist and floor board was made and installed in such a way that there is an element of combined and individual strength.  For example, when a load bearing wall is damaged to the point where it no longer bears its load, other walls rise to the occasion. 

Today's houses don't understand that concept.

Preservation eyes judge deterioration in an old structure in a different manner than new construction.


sheclown

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Re: How to work on a scary house.
« Reply #1 on: January 19, 2013, 10:59:56 AM »
2.) You have to do some work, before you do some work.

Before you begin your remodel of your historic home, you need to make sure that it is safe to work on and in.  Your first step in this process is to walk the house with an architect familiar with historic homes (we have at least one who lives and works on his historic home in the neighborhood).  Ask him/her "what do I need to do to make this structure temporarily safe to work in here?"  He will look at the load bearing structures to see if you need to build a temporary wall to hold it up.

In this case, we built a temporary support to hold up the back side of Kenneth's house:


Sometimes you have to build a wall before you can build a wall.

We had an architect draw it up and pulled a temporary bracing permit.

Remember this is step one.  Your architect will be involved in the larger project of repairing the structural elements of the house -- but this is not repair.  Kenneth's wall was not built as a structural REPAIR.  This will have to be redrawn, re-permitted, and repaired when the house is ready to be remodeled.  The purpose of this temporary wall is to make the structure safe from collapse and safe to work on.

Dog Walker

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Re: How to work on a scary house.
« Reply #2 on: January 19, 2013, 01:11:05 PM »
Another thing to remember; do NOT remove the lathe from the inner walls even if the plaster is gone and you intend to put drywall back up.  One of the reason that these houses have lasted so long is the strength given to the structure by this interior covering.
When all else fails hug the dog.

sheclown

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Re: How to work on a scary house.
« Reply #3 on: January 19, 2013, 03:58:56 PM »
Another thing to remember; do NOT remove the lathe from the inner walls even if the plaster is gone and you intend to put drywall back up.  One of the reason that these houses have lasted so long is the strength given to the structure by this interior covering.

...not to mention, you screw up the trim spacing/reveal by doing so.

sheclown

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Re: How to work on a scary house.
« Reply #4 on: February 03, 2013, 02:40:48 PM »
Let's say your house isn't quite so scary as the ones illustrated above.  Let's say that it was totally rehabbed during Springfield's boom.  Let's also say that the paint is flaking off (but really only in selected areas) and let's say the siding is beginning to disintegrate before your eyes.  That's scary enough.

To understand what is going on to your historic house, you need to understand how your house was designed to exist, indeed how it did exist for 100 years, and now what is going terribly wrong.

Previous to the 2000s, the greatest danger to these old houses (excluding, of course, the bulldozer) was termites. We've all seen the wings, the coffee-like turds on window sills, and maybe even the swarms infest our homes en-mass at selected times of the year.

And as damaging as these wood-chomping destroyers are, they are nothing compared to the dangers of not allowing your historic home to BREATHE.

sheclown

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Re: How to work on a scary house.
« Reply #5 on: February 03, 2013, 02:41:38 PM »
These houses were built using "balloon-framing" techniques.

Here's a section from an article I found on the subject:
Quote
Balloon Frame



In the 1800s people started looking for a way to build houses faster and more inexpensively. Unless you were a skilled housewright most people were unable to cut the complex joinery required for a timber frame house. At this time dimensional lumber (2×4, 2×6 etc.) was fast becoming available along with manufactured nails thanks the Industrial Revolution and railroads. And balloon framing utilized these new materials. Dimensional lumber fastened with nails (not joinery) creates the frame of the house. The aspect that make it unique is that the framing members run all the way from the foundation to the top of the second story. Balloon framed houses use some very long pieces of lumber. The balloon frame eliminated the need for skilled craftsman and therefore made the task of building a house available to the everyman.

There is plenty of debate as to exactly where the first balloon framed house was built and who came up with the idea. Chicago tends to get most of the credit though. It got its name rather dubiously though as it was thought of early on as being such a weak form of construction that the houses would be carried away like a balloon on even the slightest breeze. Though not as strong and imposing as a timber frame, balloon frames were eventually regarded as a more than acceptable way to build a house. And from the 1890s until the 1930s it was the most common form of construction in the country.

The one rather large drawback to balloon framed houses is their fire risk. With wall cavities that are typically uninsulated and run the entire height of the building fire is able to spread quickly and often without notice. Balloon frame houses should be be retrofitted with insulation and fire blocking between stories to retard the spread of fires within the home. This risk is not one to be understated.

http://www.thecraftsmanblog.com/framing-timber-balloon-platform/

sheclown

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Re: How to work on a scary house.
« Reply #6 on: February 03, 2013, 02:42:17 PM »
Our old houses were designed to grab air from below, channel it up through the exterior wall, and disperse it out through the soffit.

In this way, there was always an air channel which added to the insulation value of the wood lathe and plaster and provided all the insulation needed.

Additionally, this constant movement of air kept the walls dry and mold-free in this once-swamp-of-a-home we call Jacksonville.

sheclown

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Re: How to work on a scary house.
« Reply #7 on: February 03, 2013, 02:43:02 PM »
Quote
The one rather large drawback to balloon framed houses is their fire risk. With wall cavities that are typically uninsulated and run the entire height of the building fire is able to spread quickly and often without notice. Balloon frame houses should be be retrofitted with insulation and fire blocking between stories to retard the spread of fires within the home. This risk is not one to be understated.

Many people can testify to the dangers of balloon framing, including firemen who have told us that fighting a fire in a balloon framed house is crazy business.  The same channel which lets the air flow through becomes a chimney for the flames.

So, "fire-blocking" was mandated by national building codes.

Here's a video on how to fire-block a basement to get more info on the process.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9VD_4VBygr0

Fire blocking is the process to seal the space up to prevent the spread of the fire either through wood (for bigger areas) or caulk (through joints and cracks).

sheclown

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Re: How to work on a scary house.
« Reply #8 on: February 03, 2013, 02:43:34 PM »
So the channels which once allowed for air movement are now tightly sealed, and because these houses are going through the process of renovation, insulation is also added in these channels, what happens when it rains?

The insulation absorbs the moisture through the wood siding, over the windows where the flashing has deteriorated, or gets driven in any number of cracks and crevices from the roof to the crawl space.  And that moisture just sits there.

And the wood rots.

And the paint fails.

And the same siding that was replaced less than ten years ago is falling apart.
« Last Edit: February 03, 2013, 03:11:14 PM by sheclown »

sheclown

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Re: How to work on a scary house.
« Reply #9 on: February 03, 2013, 03:12:01 PM »
They just don't make wood like they used to. 

Yesterday's siding was made from trees which were a hundred years old.  Made from hard hard wood.  Today's siding is made from trees which grow like weeds and the wood is so soft you can dent it with your fingernail.  You can paint, you can prime, you can caulk, but you are dealing with glorified cardboard.

If your house has "lap siding"



you are at an advantage.  If my siding was beginning to rot, I would replace the boards with HardiPlank Lap Siding.  Historic Planning Department won't like it very much, but it is the only way you can keep the siding from rotting out again.

While you have the siding off, pull out that nasty insulation and replace it with rigid panels which will provide insulating qualities and allow for airflow.

If you have other types of siding, Dolly Varden, novelty siding, or a variation of these two, it will not be so easy to fix your siding problem.  You will have to replace wood with wood.

sheclown

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Re: How to work on a scary house.
« Reply #10 on: February 03, 2013, 03:12:49 PM »
Buy the wood siding from the best supplier you can.  We like Carolina Lumber for that.  Their wood is much better than the stuff which is sold at Lowes or Home Depot.

Remove the insulation and replace with the rigid.

At any rate, that's what I would do.

And about the fire blocking?

Should you remove it?

I don't know the answer to this.  I just know that it has caused unintended consequences to these old houses.  And with a quick drive through the neighborhood, you can see which houses are showing the damage from not being allowed to breathe.
« Last Edit: February 03, 2013, 04:50:47 PM by sheclown »

Dog Walker

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Re: How to work on a scary house.
« Reply #11 on: February 04, 2013, 10:22:06 AM »
The balloon framing also makes it much easier to re-wire and re-plumb our old houses.  Drastically lowers the labor involved.  Pull the baseboards, run the romex and put the plug boxes in the baseboard, not the wall.  Work with an electrician who has done this before and he will give you the best price of all.

PEX pipe is flexible and can be run up the walls like romex too.
When all else fails hug the dog.

iloveionia

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Re: How to work on a scary house.
« Reply #12 on: February 04, 2013, 10:26:25 PM »
Put the boxes and plugs in the baseboards?  Cut up the heart pine?  No way could I bring myself to do that.  No way.  Though I totally get the ease and cost savings: smart indeed. 


Dog Walker

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Re: How to work on a scary house.
« Reply #13 on: February 05, 2013, 11:08:18 AM »
Put them in the baseboards with dark brown covers and they disappear.  No need to cut lathe and plaster and no wall acne.

Completely rewired a 1910 American Foursquare this way and used replica push-button wall switches with fancy brass plates in the formal rooms.  Looks completely original.  The house was still all knob and tube when we bought it in 2000.
When all else fails hug the dog.

JaxUnicorn

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Re: How to work on a scary house.
« Reply #14 on: February 09, 2013, 07:54:36 AM »
Put the boxes and plugs in the baseboards?  Cut up the heart pine?  No way could I bring myself to do that.  No way.  Though I totally get the ease and cost savings: smart indeed.
When I restored my 1909 Dutch Colonial, there were already holes cut in the baseboards for plugs.  It really is a great alternative to the risk of cracking the entire plaster wall by cutting through plaster and lathe...
Kim Pryor...Historic Springfield Resident...PSOS Founding Member