This old house

I’m certainly no Bob Villa.  I’ll even admit to sitting at a desk in my day job.  But if you do a bit of reading on home construction topics, you realize that there is a central theme to it called “common sense”.  Gravity is trying to pull everything down, heat travels from warm areas to cold areas, electricity will follow the path of least resistance, etc.

Unfortunately, Horace Greeley was right: “Common sense is uncommon.”  Old homes are often great demonstration grounds for this sort of thing. Decades of hacked solutions to immediate problems layer onto neglect and complacency .. perhaps some pictures sum it up best:

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6 Responses to This old house

  1. Ann says:

    Wow. That looks like our house. You’re doing a great job. Keep up the good work, I’ll be back to commiserate!

    • Phoebe says:

      I know, isn’t it uncanny? I thought the same thing when I first saw their house. How many of us are living (or almost) in houses like this? The list at our project house of scary “solutions” to structure/electric/plumbing would fill months of “There, I Fixed It”.
      I’ve done a lot of pondering on the subject (while under/on/around the house) and I think one thing we forget is that in the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, there wasn’t the access to information that we have today. You had to pay an expert and money is always tight. You just did the best you could back then. There was no Home Depot or Google to ask how to fix something. We are so lucky to have expert information right at our finger tips and that we can learn from each other in a virtual world like this.

    • lee says:

      Thanks Ann!

      Phoebe – I’d never thought of that before, but you’re right. We really do take for granted the wealth of information available online, the overwhelming availability of HowTo books on every subject, and big stores that stock most home improvement materials and equipment.

  2. Ann says:

    One thing we’ve marveled upon is the quality of workmanship. Granted, over the years many modifications had been made to our 1850’s farmhouse, but the foundation and structure were well-built originally. They did a great job with elbow-grease, perseverance and hand-tools. Can’t say the same thing for all the little “extras” that were added over the years, though!

    • lee says:

      I’d say that you fared much better than we did. Our foundation is underbuilt and cracked in a couple places. We’ve added some piers to shore up specific points on the perimeter, jacked and shimmed, and added several more beams in the crawl space to handle point loads. Even with that work, there was still some movement last year after the big re-framing effort. I hope it settles into a new un-level position and holds.

      That said, I do enjoy seeing signs of hand tools where a modern craftsman would use more power and less care. The original wood windows are well crafted and still mostly in working order despite decades of neglect. I feel bad to replace them with much more complicated modern double-hungs. I doubt the replacements will last as long. Finally, the sheer number of nails that were hand-driven to build this house is simply mind boggling. Two nails into each stud for each 6″ sheathing board. One nail into each stud for each piece of lath. Four nails into every cedar shake …

      • Ann says:

        Well, Lee, I did say the house was originally well built! By the time we got on the scene, there were huge holes in the field stone foundation, and major changes to load-bearing walls had created lots of structural problems that needed to be corrected. Previous owners had added metal I-beams in the crawlspace, held by metal posts cemented in footings, so all was well there, but we still needed to rebuild the entire foundation over three summers, as well as add proper french drains. We replaced the metal roof, re-did all the electrical and plumbing, and essentially have rebuilt the entire house from the inside, insulating everything.

        Seeing adze marks that date back to the 1850’s on old beams, and finding newspapers from 1898 used as wind-stop between the walls thrills me to no end though. I realize not everyone is as enthusiastic as we are about these details, alas, it is all in the eye of the beholder.

        Last year, when we rebuilt our upstairs, I personally broke THOUSANDS of little nails that held the original cedar shakes on the roof, so I know whereof you speak! We didn’t want to risk snagging our rock-wool insulation (Roxul) on them when we were installing it, so yours truly broke every last little nail off with a vise-grip. Thankfully, they snapped readily after a few back-and-forth movements, and by the time we were done, we have over 100 lbs of old nails in a 5 gallon pail we took to the metal recycler.

        It’s nice to see that others care as much for these old houses as we do, and want to do well by them. We work with the thought process that if we do it right the first time around, we won’t have to go there again…hopefully!

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