April 2007

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7 April 2007 — More Holes

After a weekend of traveling when we didn't work on the house, we are back to replacing old wiring and hunting down any more mystery boxes buried in the walls.

There are just two circuits left, but they cover most of the second floor outlets and lights, the front porch light, front entry light, living room ceiling fixture, and an outlet in the living room. Three of the outlets on the second floor are in the exterior brick wall, so those will be fun (though I have been successful getting the wire out of others like them, so I think we can get these last three as well).

At first, I thought we could do some limited demolition and just replace the wires in the second bedroom so we could move ahead with finishing that room. So I spent some time making more holes in the second bedroom (sorry, no pictures). Unfortunately , these last two circuits go everywhere, and I just couldn't see any reasonable way of getting new wire in the second bedroom without also putting holes in the master bedroom, second bathroom, and maybe the master bath, we finally decided to just just go ahead and put holes wherever they are needed to fix all the wiring. So we spent the rest of the afternoon moving furniture out of the living room and into the not-quite-finished den.

8 April 2007 — One Step Forward and Two Steps Back

Today we continued our rewiring adventure by opening up some holes in the living room walls and ceiling.

We didn't get too far before we made our first discovery. Unlike the other boxes we found, this one was not full of newspaper and plaster, but had a proper cover and was buried in the living room ceiling when the house was constructed. Note that it is completely behind the wallboard that serves as a base for the plaster. Apparently this was a change order and they decided that running new wire was too much trouble or not worth the extra money. Hmm.

In the second picture you can see that the wires were just looped and taped together. I guess it was ready for a ceiling fixture if anyone wanted to dig the box out (and could remember where it was). There was another box just like this at the other end of the living room.

Here is a picture of the one box that was used for a ceiling fixture. Note the nice installation job. Apparently they decided it was better to notch the joist rather than move the box over a couple of inches. This box is in a joist that is a few feet shorter than the main span of about 14 feet, but then that would make the 2x8 joist just about adequate if it had not been notched. I mean really, would anyone have noticed if it had been three inches farther out from the wall?

We also confirmed our suspicion about why the living room ceiling was cracked (just by itself, the notch shown above was probably not enough to cause a serious problem). The reason? Damn plumbers!

The first picture below shows the drain and trap from the master bath. The master bath was a remodeling project (probably from the seventies, judging from the color of the fixtures). If they could have only moved the tub 8 inches over. Instead, they notched the 2x8 that was already too small for the 14-foot span. The second picture shows the notch they made in the adjacent joist for the drain line from the attic bedroom. This one probably could have been avoided with a couple of 45-degree elbows, or by running it up in a different wall. But I guess it was easier to break the floor.

Here is an overall view of the hacked in plumbing. There were only two joists that were notched, but that was enough. Of course they were adjacent, notched almost exactly in the middle of the span, and under a bathtub (fill it and put a person in it and that's an extra 400 pounds or more right at the point of maximum bending stress in the beam).

Since we were planning to remove the living room ceiling anyway to fix the joist problems, we decided to go ahead with removing it now before doing the wiring. We don't have a dumpster yet (I guess that will be next weekend), so we only opened up a line down the center of the room. This will allow us to inspect the joists and give us a starting point for removing the rest of the ceiling.

There was a surprising amount of plaster and, in some places, evidence that mice had been living in the living room ceiling at some point. Ugh.

Since this makes such a mess when the plaster is pulled down, I used the shop vac to clean some of it up. Maybe the next bit of demolition will be a little cleaner. Note the lines of fine dust on the joists at the gaps in the subfloor. That's 60-plus years of dust filtering through the floor.

It may be hard to see here, but this joist is cracked and flexes noticeably when someone walks on the floor above it.

When our house is just a hole in the ground, I will be able to tell you that there was precise sequence of events and a logical action to be taken at each step along the way that resulted in the implosion, but I'm not sure any of it will make any sense at that point, nor will it be clear why we couldn't see an alternate path that would have preserved the nice house we once had while still doing the (surface) remodeling we wanted to do.

If they even noticed, I suppose most people would have just said something like

Hmm, the floor is a little bouncy in our bedroom. Oh well, I guess it's just an old house.
and left it at that. But not me. I'm cursed by wanting to fix things that I know are not right.

13 April 2007 — Getting Ready to Pull Ceiling Plaster

Tonight we removed the crown moulding and the curtains in the living room in preparation for removing the plaster tomorrow.

14 April 2007 — Another Day Another Demo

Say goodbye to the living room ceiling.

Amazingly, these two pictures were only taken about 90 minutes apart. I really thought it was going to take much longer and make a much larger mess.

Not that I really want to become an expert at this chore, but I think I may have found the key. The plaster in our house is is on top of some thin wallboard that is about 16 inches wide. Working along the strips of wallboard it is easier to remove large chunks. As long as I didn't drop them (oops) I managed to get most of the ceiling down in three to four foot long sections.

A few hours later and we had all the nails pulled out and the plaster moved out to the garage where it awaits a visit from our friend who removed the other rubble from our driveway last fall. Even though we'll have to handle all this debris twice, I'm glad we didn't order a dumpster since we wouldn't have come close to filling it.

Now that the ceiling is down, we can really begin to see that our bouncy floor problem is due to more than just the damn plumbers.

There are a surprising number of knots in the joists in really bad locations along with various other splits and cracks.

By the end of the day I managed to get some conduit run up to the second floor and the attic for later use (when, with some luck, these walls will no longer be quite so open).

15 April 2007 — More Wiring

I spent most of the day today pulling out old wires and pulling in new (sorry, no pictures). By the end of the day, we had lights back in the master bedroom and both bathrooms.

Halfway through all of this, we had a minor plumbing emergency as a leak developed under the sink in the master bath after I somewhat ungraciously pulled a board down that had been used as a support for the pipes. Said board had just been resting on the plaster of the living room ceiling, so after the ceiling was down, it was just hanging from the pipes. When I pulled it down, I disturbed the already rotten shutoff valves under the sink in the bathroom. I thought the leak was just from threaded fitting, so I (stupidly) decided to try to tighten it without shutting off the water. Oops. The damn thing broke off and I had water spewing everywhere. At least we have good shutoff valves now, but they are in the basement.

With very little effort I also managed to break it the other valve while removing it, so I guess we were just lucky that these valves didn't break off all on their own.

16 April 2007 — New Toys

In preparation for the upcoming joist sistering job, I purchased a framing nailer and these toys.

The compressor was packaged with a finish nailer, brad nailer, and stapler for not much more than I might have spent for a compressor alone, so how could I resist?

I ordered them all from Amazon last Friday afternoon and opted for free shipping on the compressor kit (no such deal on the framing nailer since it is being sent from an Amazon partner). The projected arrival was as late as May 1, but it arrived today (Monday). I guess I lucked out that it was shipped from Harrisburg, which is only a few UPS Ground hours away.

The framing nailer hasn't arrived yet, but if it is here by Friday then I can start beefing up the floor next weekend.

21 April 2007 — Sisters

The framing nailer arrived Friday afternoon, so we sistered some floor joists today. We started at the far end of the living room. The living room floor is framed with 2x10s and we are only trying to move one ceiling 2x8 at a time, we didn't brace the floor below but ganged three 2x4s together to spread the load. The ceiling wasn't sagging much either, which made this a fairly easy job.

First one is up.

I did most of this work solo using the following method. First, I put some marks at each end and in the center of the joist, three inches up from the bottom edge. then using a line and the jack, I tried to move the center up even with the ends (usually the sag was only around 1/4-inch).

I put plenty of glue on each of the new 2x8s. I used almost half of one of these big tubes of liquid nails on each one. Is that too much? My guess is they will be stuck together forever.

Next, I used a short helper at one end of the joist to place the sister joist.

Then I clamped it in place and nailed it. Oh yeah, this other little yellow helper came in really handy.

I managed to hang ten today. There are three left to go before we get to the part of the room where we will have to deal with plumbing to install any more. I should easily be able to get those three done, but it will be a little more work to do the rest.

The good news is that the bedroom floor is much more solid than before. To shake the floor now you have to jump. Before, all you had to do was walk across the room.

22 April 2007 — More Sisters and some Yard Work

I sistered another three joists today. We can't do more until we remove some plumbing.

I also did a little work with the tiller and smoothed out another section of the back yard and planted some grass. Here's hoping it is green soon.

28 April 2007 — More Plaster Removal and Cleanup

I removed the rest of the plaster bits that were left hanging around the perimeter of the living room ceiling. It took almost as long to clean this last bit up as it did to remove the entire ceiling.

29 April 2007 — More Joist Work

I wasn't completely satisfied with the bedroom floor, and since it will be a lot harder to do anything about it once the drywall is up, I put some more boards under the bedroom. Now five joists have been tripled with one new board on each side of the original. I did this for every other floor joist under the master bedroom, which also happened to be the joists with the most damage.

These added boards help, but the improvement is not nearly as great as what we got going from one to two. I'll probably also triple the rest of the ones that are most damged under the bath and stop there. So I have about nine more boards to hang, but most require removing some plumbing to get them installed. Maybe next weekend, though I doubt that I will be able to get them all installed and have the plumbing put back together until at least the following weekend. It's a good thing we have a second bathroom.

Here are some shots that show just how little the original boards overlap the center wall of the house. They are nailed to the boards from the other side which actually do reach across the wall by a couple of inches. But, yikes! On the other hand, it is been standing just fine for 60-plus years now. And western PA is not known as a big earthquake area.

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