Starring Alanis Morisette as God

We will most likely have another winter weather “event”, but it sure feels like spring will be here soon. After 2 days of sub-freezing weather and ice, it was 46 degrees today, sunny, and most of the ice has sublimated back into the air. Although DeShawn’s school was still closed, we drove into Charlotte and spent most of the day at my office.

Besides telecommuting Monday and Tuesday, I got a little more paint removed from the woodwork in the upstairs bathroom. The commute to Charlotte everyday is not a drain, but not having to do it sure gave us more free time around the house after work hours. Very soon, it will be time to call the plumber and have him cap off the water lines going upstairs so I can remove all the fixtures and piping.

Yesterday, Tuesday morning, we removed the 1/2″ of ice coating the driveway with a hoe and broom. Tracy Vines of 116 Henry Street offered some rock salt but I was afraid of its effect on the grass and cats. Besides, how else am I going to get any exercise if I don’t spend 3 hours breaking the ice off the driveway? God bless the Vines, they still haven’t figured out how backward their (relatively) new neighbor is.

All the melting ice spawned a problem for us not usually found this far south: an ice dam. DeShawn discovered it despite his lack of vocabulary to describe. “It’s dripping! It’s dripping!” he yelled while bounding up the steps into the addition. It was definitely dripping, all down the front of the built-in cabinet (see the floorplan for physical reference). Less than 15 minutes after discovery and frenzied evacuation of the cabinet, we had collected a half gallon of water. I drilled a hole in the top of the built-in to speed the drainage and prevent saturation of the entire ceiling.


1/2″ Ice on the driveway

Ice dams form at the bottom of a roof where melt water runs down from the warmer upper sections of the roof. The cooler lower section remains frozen longer and holds the melt water on the roof, saturating the shingles and creating a temporary leak. The Dixie version we spawned occurred where the flat roof of the addition abuts the fascia of the original roof at the back of the kitchen. Ice on the flat roof was catching the melt water from the original roofline and soaking the ceiling and built-in cabinet in the addition. Approximately 5 gallons of water all told leaked thru.

It’s a common and frequent comment from every person who ever to try to restore or work on an old house but….What were the previous owners thinking??!! In this case, why would anyone build an addition with an absolutely flat roof? Not a sub-standard slope, not an oh-so-slightly slope, but a flat-like-a-tabletop non-slope on the roof.

In every forum about old house work, every book about home repair, and all the advice from any professional will always direct the novice old house restorer to focus on structural issues before starting cosmetic work, with VERY specific recommendations to fix roof and foundation problems first. So far, we’ve been getting by on the shoestrings put in place by the PO’s to make the house sell, things like the latex roof sealant over the bitumen roof. Providing we get thru the spring rains, more attention on the foundation and roof is sure to be on the dance ticket for the summer.

4 and a half

Today was a day of “firsts” for 2004.

Our first winter storm blew thru the Carolina’s over the last 24 hours. Sleet and frozen rain cover the grass and sidewalks about a 1/2″ thick. The streets are shiny with an icy glaze. The school systems are closed in Charlotte so DeShawn and I will work/play at home tomorrow.

Funny how warm it was yesterday. The sun was very warm and temps in the 60’s. We were outside almost all day. DeShawn rode his bike and played “monster” while I finished most of the excavation at the rear of the back bedroom.

The southwestern corner of our backyard is within a few feet of a hilltop and the yard slopes down toward the back of the house. Ground water moves from the hilltop straight down the slope to hit the back of the house at the back bedroom wall. In 1921, I’m sure the house stood up on the foundation well above the grade line. At the time, they probably didn’t have a problem with ground moisture in the crawlspace under the bedroom and kitchen. 80 years and the accumulation of about a foot or more topsoil has created such a problem for us.

With all the rain, last spring brought us a phenomenon called “rising damp” where the soil under the house is so moist that the walls and timbers began to take up water. For days on end, the room smelled of musty dirt. The groundwater problem was made worse by 3 redtip bushes that the PO’s (previous owners) had planted right outside the bedroom windows. The roots of the redtips penetrated the weakened foundation and sill, allowing even more moisture to get under the house.

Before Thanksgiving, I removed the redtips, pulling up all their roots and cutting them off at the house wall. And, after leveling out the ground behind the bedroom, dug a diversion ditch to catch some of the groundwater and direct it around the corner of the house. A half dozen wheelbarrows of dirt later, this temporary solution looked terrible but did help dry out the crawlspace quite a bit. Ultimately, the foundation and sill need to be repaired from all the moisture damage and previous termite infestations. The next step towards this project was to complete the excavation down to a level slightly below the sill on the foundation in this area. Thus yesterday’s work.

Though not quite deep enough and still in need of enlarging a bit, we removed 8 wheelbarrow loads of dirt and clay from the area and got the drainage headed in the right direction. Even still, for all practical purposes, the back of the house is resting on the ground because of settlement on the weak foundation. Finally got enough soil removed so that I was able to pull up the siding and see the old clapboards and feel the sill. Check out the upper right corner of the newly finished floorplan to see where we’re talking about. Around lunch time today, the sleet changed to rain and I used the opportunity to see how the drainage was working back there. It’s definitely much better but unfortunately still looks like a big, square hole in the yard.

This work, like so much of what we’ve doing on 118 Henry Street, and on Carole’s house since the autumn, feels more like maintenance than real restoration. It was VERY satisfying to get some of Carole’s electrical problems straightened out. (By the way, her newly functioning back porch light works great!) However, it all seems more like “repair” than “restore”.

While DeShawn napped today, I worked in the upstairs bathroom, continuing to strip paint from the woodwork. Stripping the flat trim with a heatgun and scraper goes very quickly and by the time he woke up, I had done the window trim and the base board under the sink. Not much longer and we’ll have to remove the tub, commode and exposed water pipes to finish stripping paint. Very satisfying work and the first “real” restoration work of 2004.


Bathtub and toilet in the upstairs bathroom


Looking into the linen closet of the upstairs bathroom

Lake Charles by Lucinda Williams

DeShawn and I stayed in Chester today to do some local business. Besides getting to sleep in until 7ish, we got several important things accomplished. Check this out, from 8:30 am til 10 am, we went to:

  1. the Department of Social Services and got his medical insurance approved.
  2. the City Treasurer’s office and paid some taxes.
  3. the DMV and got my car registration renewed.

And, had breakfast at one of the local fast food restaurants. Those of you reading this who live in any kind of metropolitan area will undoubtedly be envious of the efficiency with which these governmental interactions were dispatched. Any one of these 3 functions could take most of a work day in Charlotte or Columbia.

By noon, we had even spent an hour in the historical section of the Chester County library. Daggone it, I love living in a small town.

All the work I’ve been doing around the house lately has been very minor and maintenance oriented. The need to plan for the spring/summer work has enticed me to finally do some documentation about 118 Henry Street. The most exciting thing I’ve put together so far is the beginnings of a floor plan. Here’s a link to view a (very) preliminary drawing of the first floor: 1st floor floorplan. Shortly, the floorplan itself will be done (for both floors) and we will begin to add the utilities, joist layouts, etc.

While DeShawn napped today, I combined some of the information we got at the library with information harvested from the tax office last summer and conversations with my neighbors. The result is the beginnings of an historical timeline. A link to the timeline is here: historical timeline.

We’ll be going back down to Columbia this weekend for round 3 and final round of electrical work on Carole’s house. Last weekend, I rewired the back hallway and kitchen to remediate the back circuit that had originally downed the furnace. The only thing left to do for this weekend is connect up the back porch light. Carole’s not had a functional light in her back hall or on the back porch for almost as long as I’ve known her so this is a bit of a big deal.

Last weekend, while traversing her attic for 5th or 25th time, I discovered one of the furnace ducts was leaking air in a very major way. Undoubtedly we will have a go at fixing that as well.

Such is the life of an old house.