Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Step Away From The Square And Level...

Anyone who has ever been involved in any type of renovation on an existing building (older than 5 years) knows that you often run into little surprises along the way.  You might open up a wall that should have studs and insulation inside but that might not have one or the other... or either.  So when you take on a remodel it is always best to just be ready for anything and everything.  This is a lesson I re-learn each time I pick up a hammer at the house.  Sometimes it's a cool surprise like the old newspapers under the kitchen floor, sometimes it's a frustrating surprise like the fact that the 1 1/2" water line for the house pops up out of the ground (under the bathroom) and then has a couple of odd, mismatched fittings and is reduced down to 1/2" line that goes out the crawlspace toward the yard (see photo):

If you look at the photo closely you'll see large stones in the background.  Houses that were built in the 1800's didn't have concrete foundations.  Some were built right on the ground and many, like ours, were built on large local stones.  It's a pretty amazing thing to see how big these rocks are and to think about people searching for them, shaping them and placing them under the floor joists.  And the floor joists are equally amazing.  Todays houses use dimensional lumber and engineered beams and joists for load bearing walls.  But our house has huge timbers for the floor structure.  Some of the beams are 3"x 12" and are either ash or poplar, the local woods of choice.  I am told these types of wood are not a favorite of termites and other destructive bugs and I haven't seen any real insect damage under our house.  There is some degradation in some of the beams but it looks more like moisture, weather and time than any insect issues.

Since starting on this project I have been reminded over and over that there are a couple of tools in my "arsenal" that I need to just put away until this project is done.  As a result of this realization I now use my framing square to chop down weeds and my level has become one of Bonnie's favorite toys (she likes the bubbles in it).  Nothing... and I mean NOTHING in this house is square and/or level.  Whether or not it was ever level we will never know.  But a century and a half of weather and settling has done some curious things to the house.  Take a look at the door frames in the photo below...

The door in the foreground isn't too bad but the one in the background needs some help.  The funny thing is that since everything has settled together, when you square something like a door frame you throw the entire rest of the room off.  If you are a person who likes to use a square and a level... think twice about taking on a 155 year old project or make sure you refill your "meds" often.

That's about it for me today.  I'll close with a discovery I made the other morning while walking around the yard.  It turns out that we aren't the only ones doing some building on the property.  I was walking out by a big maple tree and noticed the following structure covered in dew:

The web is about 4' x 4' and is anchored on the ground and on far reaching branches in two different trees.  Now, every time I feel like complaining about floor joists or un-level floors I will just think about this spider and how hard it had to work to get its project done.

Back to work...


1 comment:

  1. Hey Kevin
    Don't forget it is never to late to level things out, especially doors and windows. We are doing so on an ongoing basis. Measure the amount it is out of square to the existing plane of the floor, then remove the casings and cut the door frame out with a sawzall, they are usually just held by a series of nails down each side. Cut a 2 x 4 to the width of the frame and strap it at the bottom to keep the frame steady, then turn the whole unit on its side measure and trim the bottom of the jamb legs to the earlier measurement, and reinstall. And there you have a newly squared door frame. Any unsquare room will look 100 times straighter if the doors and windows sit level.
    By the way... do you have a "Starrett" 5-in-1 combination protractor? If not get one fast, it will be one of your best friends for figuring what angle "that is from that"
    Mark, www.227northstreet.com