Sunday, December 6, 2009

Give It To Me Straight

alternately titled, "Yes, We're Aware Our House Has Issues".

Compare these two pictures:

Much better, yes, but I every time I pull in the drive and see this part of the house my eye goes to the same area. Not the pile of junk (which has been cleaned up, by the way. This picture is about a month old. The door is also red now, and the storm door and outdoor light fixture are installed as well.) Not even that irksome casement window which should never have been allowed within 100 yards of a nineteenth century house. Nope, my eyes go straight to the roof.

When we bought the Einsel House we thought the roofline looked a little droopy in that area, but like anyone in love with an old house we downplayed it. The roof at that time was such a Joseph's coat of materials it was difficult to tell what was straight and what was just illusion. We also knew that this roof used to have a bell cupola on it right where the roofline sags and we thought this might be part of the issue.

But alas, putting on new shingles only made the issue more obvious. And while painting we realized that the problem wasn't limited to the roof. I've done a bit more playing with pictures to
explain what was happening at the north end of the addition.

As I have explained before, the kitchen used to be two separate rooms. The previous owners took down the wall dividing the rooms and opened the ceiling on the north end of the room. It makes a wonderful open space, but the old walls obviously needed a bit more help than they were left with. So to address the problem we have a new contractor on the job. This is what the north end of the kitchen currently looks like:

The jacks and cables were put in place early last week. The walls and roof look better already, but they are not straight yet. The contractor is letting everything sit for a few days before tighting the cables and raising the jacks again. Although the jacks will eventually come down, the cables pulling the walls back together are permanent. We will have them cased in wood to match the beams along the ceiling. These new beams will also have vertical supports to the roof peak as well as supports at 45 degree angles to the left and right of the vertical support. (Obviously the ceiling fan will need to be moved.)

According to our contractor, the kitchen was considered an area of active settlement. The wall removal and cathedral ceiling were both done within the past 10 years, so presumably the sag in the roof and bow in the walls had all developed within the past decade. But the Einsel House has another area of "middle aged sag" that started much more than a decade ago. To explain this I will need to start in the basement of our 160-odd-year old house, where there are more temporary jacks in place, with a concrete base poured for the permanent support.

To explain what comes next I put together a very simplistic diagram of the floor joists in the back room of the basement. The two dark lines represent large beams. At both ends of the room the floor joists run parallel to these beams and are anchored in the foundation walls. But the middle of the room has floor joists running between these beams. Something like this:

The point of this drawing is to show that the two beams in this section of the basement have joists joined to them only on one side each. So for the past 160-odd-years, these beams have carried more weight and pressure on only one side each. The result it that both beams are essentially rotating in place, with the bottom of each rotating away from the center of the room. The picture to the right is of the beam at the north end of the basement. There is not supposed to be any gap where the floor joists meet the beam. Theoretically, if the beams continue their rotation the floor joists would eventually pop completely out of the beams and the entire middle of the dining room floor would drop into the basement. We would obviously like to avoid that scenario.

So, what's the plan, you ask. Well, Mr. New Contractor has two more steel cables ordered. He will use these between the two beams and basically try to pull the bottoms of each beam back to center. He freely admits he has no idea if he will be able to get the beams to move at all. But even if the movement cannot be corrected, we can at least stop the rotation at its current point. After that, permanent supports will be added under each beam.

And as we continue I want you to start humming to yourself, "The footbone's connected to the ankle-bone. The ankle-bone's connected to the leg-bone...." Because when you have settlement issues in the basement you can about guarantee they'll continue as you move up....

Here we have the dining room. This wall is basically right above the south beam discussed above. Check out the ceiling line.

And moving on up we have the back bedroom. It ain't pretty. (And I'm not talking about that carpet.)

The vertical supports have dropped so far that the ones in the center of the wall are no longer connected to the top beam at all. The good news is that the top beam has both ends anchored in stone walls, so there is no corresponding sag in the roof over this part of the house.

More good news, according to our contractor, is that inspite of the way it might look, these walls are actually perfectly sound. In contrast to the settling in the kitchen, the settling in the stone part of the house appears to be inactive. Scroll back up to the picture taken in the dining room and study the woodwork around the bathroom door frame and the wood chair rail. Both are perfectly straight, even though the floor and ceiling have an obvious sag. This wall was altered when the bathroom was expanded, again somewhere around a decade ago. And since the woodwork done at that time remains straight, it appears that all of the settling in this area predates the expansion of the bathroom. (This is in contrast to the kitchen, where all of the settling occured after the work done by the previous owners.)

So again, you ask, what's the plan? Truthfully, we're not exactly sure. We'll start with the steel cables in the basement and attempt to pull the two beams back in place. If that works, hopefully it will provide results that will carry all the way up to those verticle supports in the back bedroom. But our contractor has no idea if it will work. He says those beams have probably been in their current position for half a century or more, and he has no idea if it is even possible to return them to their original position. Even if they can be pulled back, he isn't sure the walls above them will correct themselves to their original positions. But we're not going to worry about a Plan B until we've given Plan A a go.

And since this post is already long, I'll finish the update quickly. I was under the weather a few days last week and not at the house (thus the Old Winchester saga in place of Einsel House news - part 3 will be coming soon). Over the weekend we did get some work done in the two front bedrooms. There are four paint samples up on a kitchen wall but no winner yet. I'm contemplating using pure tung oil on some floors and/or trim and have done a trial on a piece of walnut but again haven't made up my mind yet. And that's about where we are.

Oh - and if you've been considering a visit to the Einsel House, don't let this post scare you away. As I've been told repeatedly over the past few weeks, this old house is solid as a rock (no pun intended) just the way it is. : )

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