Monday, January 17, 2011

Let The Fun Begin!

It is twelve days since we signed the papers and took possession of the little house on the quiet street.  Immediately, the demolition began.  The entire house(every room) had been paneled in inexpensive (and not very attractive) laminated wood paneling.  It had been improperly installed, sometime back in the dark ages of the seventies (we guess).  As a result of the inept workmanship and poor materials used, it had begun to wave and buckle away from the studs and was relatively easy to tear off the walls.  What we found underneath was ancient, splintery lath and horsehair plaster.  I am really struck by the fact that each of these little strips of wood had to be cut by hand and then installed one at a time, with at least three nails hammered into each one.  There must be thousands of them.  Can you imagine the time that tedious labor consumed? 

My astonishment was increased when I had a look at some of the nails and saw that they too were wrought by hand, judging by their inconsistent size and rough, anvil-hammered appearance.  I think we really take for granted the ease with which we can do things in this day and age.  When this house was built in 1900, there was no Home Depot to run to, just down the street.  When you needed some more materials, you had to go out and cut down a tree or fire up the blacksmith forge in the barn.  Thank goodness for modern conveniences, that's all I can say!

The pile of wood you see above is just a small number of the pieces of lath we tore out.  Behind that, up against the outer shell of the house we found clumps of something Mac calls "rock wool".  Its consists of little balls of cottony stuff that apparently passed for insulation, somewhere back in the mists of time. Now it is filthy and hangs out of every crevice.  I desperately hope it doesn't have anything like asbestos in it.  Mac doesn't think it does.  We are wearing masks and safety glasses as a precaution, for whatever protection they might provide. 

What it does have in it are tunnels throughout, ending in little round openings every few feet just about the circumference of an average mouse.  Occasionally, a small acorn falls out with the clumps of wool.  It seems there were some unseen residents nesting behind the walls in the grubby fluff.  We have to remove all this old stuff so that Mac can properly insulate the roof and walls, keeping in the precious heat, thereby reducing our future fuel bills.  Once that is done, he will put up new drywall and a plasterer will come in.

With some help from my sister and her husband, Mac and I now have the entire upstairs gutted down to the outer walls.  It's a little frightening to think that we will have to move in exactly eight weeks from now.

What you see in the shot above is our master bedroom.  The more Mac tears out, the more I struggle to stem my rising panic... kidding! (sort of.)   He will start framing out a half bath and small hallway in this area this coming week.  He still has to attend to his day job if we are to be able to pay the bills, so most of the work will have to be done at night and on the weekends.   Luckily, I had today off from work in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.(thanks for the dream, Dr. King!)   I have spent most of the three day weekend following behind Mac with the shop vac, sucking up the never-ending clumps of rock wool, splinters, old nails and mouse droppings, so that he can have a relatively clean area to work in.

We were surprised to find that there had been a fire in the roof at one time.  Several of the planks and rafters were badly scorched.  It is something of a puzzle, because there are no wires anywhere near the blackened wood, and the chimney is not close to that area either.  We have not yet been able to figure out what might have happened.

Yesterday, Mac went down into the basement and started to jack the house up so he could shore up the floor joists.  The supporting columns down there were actually only temporary columns that had been permanently secured to the floor and left there, some time ago.  These had become all rotted and rusted - not a good situation at all.  He knew that they were unstable and quite unsafe, but he was still surprised when one of the old supports let go with a loud boom as he was working down there.   I felt the house shift, but Mac had already secured everything with new temporary supports before he started working, so everything was okay.  I wondered aloud what might have happened if he hadn't.  "Well, the living room would have collapsed into the basement, right on top of the furnace."  he answered, matter-of-factly.  I'm so glad he knows exactly what he is doing, otherwise I would be freaking out right about now.

I will try to document the ongoing work at regular intervals so you can follow our progress. 
After this project, if I never lay eyes on "rock wool" again, it will be too soon!


  1. It's wonderful, with old houses like this, that you get a feel for its history once the 'modern' stuff is removed. You have a lot of hard work ahead Deedee, but I can already tell it's going to look fantastic. I'm looking forward to reading your accounts of it step-by-step.

    I had to smile at the secret little tunnels with their store of acorns. It would be interesting to know more about the fire.... it must have happened a very long time ago.... perhaps a servant in the attic knocked over her candle! :O) Great post!

  2. Mac sounds like the sort of bloke to have next to one in an emergency! I admire your courage and determination and wish you well. I'm so so looking forward to seeing it all progress.