Sippican Cottage

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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Life Is A Carnival, And I Live In A Tent. So Do You

I can’t see the forest for the poles

Well, maybe not a tent. A tent can be elegant. No self-respecting bedouin would put his tent on the back of his garage. He lived out front and the camel went in the back. No Snout Tent for him. A bedouin encampment could be pretty posh. You can’t afford one real wool hand knotted Persian carpet, while some really sunburned guy with nothing but a camel, a copper pot, a pistol, and a bad attitude could afford to make his Levantine wigwam out of dozens of them. He knew comfort. Bedouins were so famous for putting it up and taking it down in a trice that even Longfellow knew about it, even thought there weren’t all that many Arabs in Portland, Maine for him to observe.

And the night shall be filled with music,   
  And the cares, that infest the day,   
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,   
  And as silently steal away.

But you don’t think of your house as a tent. You think of it as a big, immovable solid object, like your mortgage. You don’t want to live in a tent, except when you’re on vacation. Even then, your tent is probably a Motel 6 without premium cable so you know you’re roughing it. The idea that a house would move around, and breathe in and out, and care about the humidity more than a mother-in-law in the summer, bugs you. That’s why you probably think you can jack up your house like a car with a flat tire. The house just weighs more, so all you need is a bigger jack, right?

No, it’s more like a tent. Let’s go down in the basement. Put a jack anywhere. Big jack. Very big jack. Start jacking. Does the house go up? No. At least, not in the way you might think. It’s closer to pushing a tent pole up in the middle of a big top’s canvas roof. The house doesn’t like it, and groans and pops and shifts and makes even stern men wait outside a while when you start cranking or pumping or whatever. The house proper doesn’t go up. A bit of it goes up, right over the spot you’re lifting, drags what it can with it, like swimming in a dress. If you’re lucky, you get the house to bulge a little higher in that one spot. Or, more likely, it punches a hole going up, or punches a hole in the ground. The previous occupants were forever pitching these tents in the basement, to little effect.

I counted ten aftermarket adjustable steel columns in play in the basement. They are misidentified at every store and website as Lally columns, or basement jacks, or both. They are neither. A Lally is a steel tube filled with concrete that acts as an improved substitute for structural wooden posts, invented by John Lally about a century ago. They are cut to length and are not adjustable. Every single one of the steel columns in my basement were mislabeled further by the manufacturer, and labeled 8′-1″ , which is 97 inches if you can count and read and write. Of course they’re actually 81 inches, which is 6′ – 9″, but hey, what’s sixteen inches between friends, other than a really scary porno? The label also shouts: APPROVED BY HUD, but then again so was the mortgage on every foreclosed house in the nation. Let’s move on.

There’s an adjustable plate at the top of the columns that you raise by turning a screw. It’s just meant to allow you to adjust the height of the whole mess, but everyone sees “jack” on the label and figures they can pick up the house with it. Then they bang on the little metal rod they give you to turn the screw until it’s bent like a scimitar. Then they give up, and buy another one. And another one. Et cetera.

Here’s what you get for your trouble, generally:

The former denizens tried making a huge beam out of 2x6s, which is a waste of time and lumber and nails, then they put a steel column on each end, and no doubt clapped their hands together theatrically and made the Solomonic statement so common to amateur house repairers everywhere: Don’t worry, concrete is strong.

Well, yes. A weightlifter is strong, but that doesn’t mean you can shoot him with a deer rifle without him at least complaining about it. Strong how, compared to what is the operative question. This column, for instance, one of our bevy of  things standing around doing not much, as if I’d purchased a Post Office, had punched a hole in the thin concrete dust cap that a cellar floor actually is, not the bedrock everyone assumes it represents. If I hadn’t come along and bought this dump, its foot would’ve been hearing muffled Mandarin soon.

So there were ten or so fairly expensive adjustable steel columns, all of which I eventually removed, and they probably cost as much as the proper jacks I purchased to actually pick up the house. As I mentioned before, it’s more expensive to try to fix your house than to actually do it.

I ended up making the garage doors out of the 2x6s from that beam I mentioned, so it wasn’t a total loss. Anybody want to buy ten, 8′-1″ Lally columns, er, I mean ten, 81″ metal poles?

(to be continued)

11 Responses

  1. Like the cat who ate the cheese and sat by the mouse hole, I await the next installment with baited breath!

    I have a saggy floor I'd like to level, and I expect your fine treatise will be relevant and informative.

    But it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

    Which is OK. Your occasional side trips are not unappreciated.

  2. I have access to four 100 ton jacks with air motors on the screws if you want to use them, they take an awful lot of air though.
    There's also four 60 tonners that are a little easier to move around.

  3. leelu, is your floor under you, or over you. I hear it can make a difference.

    dohs, I hear there's a lot of air available in Maine, so Mr. Sippi likely can use them jacks ya got.

  4. Sam – the stack goes basement => saggy 1st floor (one big room) => saggy 2nd floor &2 rooms) => saggy 3rd floor (2 rooms). Current plan is get 1st floor leveled, jack 2nd floor, stick a pre-fab column under it, transferring load to new 1st floor "bendy/crushy things" in basement. Getting 2nd floor level just *might* take care of 2rd floor.
    dohs – if offer to me, where are they?? And thx!

  5. "the steel columns in my basement were mislabeled further by the manufacturer, and labeled 8"-1" ,"

    Really or was it 8'-1" ?

  6. c'mon sippi, dont keep us in suspense much longer. we are waiting with 'baited' breath. (can you imagine 'baited' breath?)

  7. Hi Bill J- An egregious typo on my part, considering the topic of the sentence. Since fixed. Thanks for pointing it out.

  8. Here in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, you'd think every home was headed for China the way the foundation fixers advertise. No sinkholes like Florida, just pluff mud. A whole city built on it and surrounded by water. What could go wrong?

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