Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Wise Man Built His House Upon A Rock

With the advent of below freezing weather, and torrential rains threatening to become hideous ice storms our crew moved inside to the basement. (I began writing this post prior to the computer crash. Back then, it was warm enough to rain. Now it just snows.)

When the house was built, the floor joists were supported by only a few scrawny metal pipes.

So the first order of business was to install 8 substantial steel posts strategically under the load-bearing walls.

When you walk across the floors of the parlors and library, as well as the rooms on the second floor above these rooms, the floors bounce, threatening to topple anything not glued down (and if you're five years old, they bounce like crazy). When the house was built, instead of using 8" floor joists, they used 6" joists and no cross-bracing. While the addition of substantial steel posts has helped to reduce some of the bounce, cross-bracing has begun to be installed.

The cross-bracing under the front parlor has helped immensely, but walking across the floor of the second parlor and library still elicits an annoying jingle from the glassware in the cupboard. I haven't had the opportunity to confer with our general contractor, but they are either going to have to install more cross-bracing or marry some larger joists to the smaller ones and add more steel posts. I don't suspect we'll remove all the bounce, but I do want to be assured that the addition of a piano in the second parlor at some point in the future will not bring the house crashing to it's knees.

In order to install the steel support posts, it was necessary to break through the basement slab - the very thin basement slab - so concrete pilings could be poured. However, when they broke through the slab and dug the requisite holes, they struck more water. Surprise, surprise. If only it were "black gold, Texas tea . . ." Wherever they dig, be it in the yard, around the foundation or under the basement floor, they always find old clay pipes. These pipes are evidence that they knew they were building the house upon springs; clay pipes were the attempt at drainage 100 years ago. You can see a fragment of one of the clay pipes under the water in the photo below.

So, they have now dug not one but two trenches across the basement floor and are installing more perforated pipe which will go under the foundation and connect to the drainage installed around the perimeter of the foundation outside. This, of course, means even more digging outside. All the outside trenches have been filled in, but they'll have to be partially dug up to make the new connections.

There are two other major items in the basement that are in desperate need of attention: the boiler and the electrical system. Tomorrow I will be depositing with our general contractor two very big checks so that the plumber can begin his work. He will be replacing ALL the plumbing in the house as well as installing radiant heat coils in the floor of the new den and kitchen as well as a new boiler and hot water storage tank. Currently, the boiler, which runs on oil, provides both the steam to the radiators as well as hot water for washing dishes and bathing. NOT efficient. Whenever you want to wash dishes or take a shower, you have to turn the thermostat up. We are zipping through fuel oil like crazy and we don't have the heat up past 67; we often keep it at 62/63. The new boiler will be fueled by LP (low pressure) gas. The boiler provides hot water to a storage tank of some sort that loses only one degree a day. Nice. The radiators will be converted from steam heat to hot water heat, and this same hot water will run through the radiant concrete floor in the kitchen and den.

Old boiler and oil storage tanks, soon to disappear!

We fear that we will have to wait for Phase II to replace the electrical system as we are simply running out of Phase I money. Sigh. Perhaps the electrician will be able to at least bring the new power into the basement. Currently we have 60 amp electric and we will be bringing that up to 200 amps. I don't have to tell you how easy it is to blow a fuse around here - mine and those in the fuse boxes!

Here's where I run out of photos, what with the crash and all. All the photos that we took since we moved here are gone, except for what I've posted on this silly blog.

We still have a gaping hole in the foundation under the dining room. If you'll remember, the gaping hole was created so that they could build a proper foundation under the part of the dining room that had been a porch earlier in the house's life. The final row of concrete blocks under the dining room extension has yet to be lain since the temperature has dropped too low for concrete work. All the gaping holes and missing blocks help keep frigid air pouring into the basement. I look forward to Spring! But what surprises me, this cold and snow does not stop my contractors. They keep plugging right along. They have now left the warmth and coziness of the basement to roof the house in the freezing cold. They even shovel snow off the roof to keep working, I'm not kidding! I have taken photos of the new roof in process, so I'll get them posted in the next day or so. And I'll catch you up on Christmas, and the fresh hell that is holiday travel! And I'll fill you in on the phone call we got at Mom's at 6:45 AM Christmas morning from our next door neighbors informing us about what happened to our house in a horrendous wind storm overnight. Never a dull freaking moment.