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.

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Bathtub and toilet in the upstairs bathroom

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Looking into the linen closet of the upstairs bathroom