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

Welcome Back My Friends To The Show That Never Ends, I’m So Glad You Could Attend, Stay Outside, Stay Outside!

OK, here’s where I admit embarrassing things.

Well, additional embarrassing things, I mean. I had to change my wife’s flat tire a day after mocking my dear departed dad’s flat tire method. That’s pretty embarrassing. But it’s supernatural, of course. No one’s really embarrassed when someone on Olympus lobs a lightning bolt at them. It’s considered a kind of flattery: Zeus noticed me enough to smite me! I’m somebody!

No, it’s hitting your thumb with a hammer when a pretty girl walks by that rankles. You know better, and feel sheepish, and the worst part of it is knowing that chicks don’t dig guys with big, purple thumbs all that much. You’re suffering for nothing. It’s the sheepish sort of thing I must admit here: I really didn’t pay all that much attention to how much my house weighs.

That crummy 5-1/2″ x 8-1/2″ scribble on the free pad they gave me at a lumber yard I haven’t visited in five years is all there was to my calculations. There’s an amusing error right in the middle of it. I put a dollar sign where I meant to put a pound symbol, and then wrote lbs after it, too. It’s an understandable mistake. All I was really worried about was money all the time. We were doing this project on less than an Amish person’s clothing allowance. I had money on the brain. I certainly wasn’t going to waste any on a structural engineer.

The former occupants of my house didn’t waste any money on structural engineers, that’s for certain. They wasted money on all sorts of things –ceiling fans, mostly — that was evident. It’s easy to waste money trying to fix your house. It’s actually a lot cheaper to not try, and actually fix the house. Therein lies a lesson. Here’s some of what I was faced with down there:

I know, you can’t make out much in the picture. Believe me, it’s not you. I was standing right there and it didn’t make any sense with your face right in it. It was a Mousetrap Game covered in cobwebs. That was the real problem, not the weight it was holding up.

Back to the greenprints. How’d I come up with 78,750 pounds that needed to be lifted? Well, I’m not a structural engineer. A structural engineer would have said in stamped ink that it was 250,000 pounds, because if he said 78,750, and then I dropped my house on my head, his troubles would just be beginning. It’s lawsuits and women in black on 60 Minutes sobbing and saying that dastardly engineer dropped a house on my husband and now we’re eating dog food thrice daily.  Me, I just say 78,750 because that’s probably plenty, and if I drop my house on my head, my troubles are over. What me worry?

So I drew a rectangle that represented the square footage of the floor that relied on the back wall for support. The house is about thirty feet wide, and the span of the rooms above is about half that, so 30×15= 450 square feet. Remember our engineering lesson? The back wall is a Crushy Thing, and the floors are the Vaguely Bendy Things. But the back wall only carries half the Heavy Thing arrow in this case, because half is carried by the Other Crushy Thing, i.e. : the interior walls that support the other end of the Vaguely Bendy Things. So we have a 50 percent margin for error in our weight calculation. All of the framing is as charred as Satan’s barbecued ribs, so such margins might come in handy.

My house is built strangely in order to make straightforward calculations, never mind the many modifications over the years. There are three floors above the concrete I’m standing on in that picture, and a roof, dontcha know, and they’re framed like a weird lasagna. Some framing goes left to right, and rests on the sidewalls of the house and the main carrying beam, which is the charred thing you see sitting atop that weird steel beam/ lally column cockup I found down there. The other floors go from front to back in the house, so that one end rests on the back wall framing, and the other on post and beam carrying beams and walls spanning the interior of the house. That’s why calculations like these can drive you batty. The floor above my head, with my workshop and all sorts of heavy cast iron things and whatnot doesn’t rely on the rear wall of my house to hold it up. Not one pound. Which is good in one way, because that wall was gone. It’s bad in another, because that means the back of the house, which had slumped almost six inches, had only a passing relationship with the first floor over my head. If I jacked up the back wall, I’d be lifting up the second and third floors, and the roof, but not the floor above the basement.

(to be continued)

10 Responses

  1. HOORAY!!!
    We're finally getting to the foundation story.
    Unfortunately, we are never satisfied and next we want more stories 🙂

  2. Is that floor joist ending 6 inches or so before the main beam? What's that box thing made out of floor joists? Old houses have such wonderful structures. I have come to the conclusion that houses are so over redundant and have factors of safety that you really have to work to overload the structure. Maybe it's because they were all designed by framing guys who failed the test.

  3. Been there done that. Fortunately it was never my house that was that badly butchered.

    Hope you didn't pay too much – doing structural re-engineering on an occupied house is not trivial. Been there, done that, too.

    I like my one story house with a crawl space ever so much. Thanks for reminding me why.

  4. Back when I taught building codes and architectural drafting we had a way of calculating the weight of a building that involved figuring out the weight of a slice from the foundation to the roof. Books and charts and tables and graphs were involved.

    Of course if a student's answer was given in dollars I would give said student an A, but only if cash was involved. Avoid a paper trail, my dear ol' Dad always said…

  5. Well, if it hasn't yet drove ya completely crazy, I'm guessing you will survive cause your wife won't kill, maim, or leave you. Saints be praised!

  6. How much does a house weigh? I don't know, but I've picked up most of it and moved it around.

    When I built my first house I realized that when it was done I had, at least once, picked up and placed most of the materials that went into building it.

    I don't know about your bit of the country but in mine you don't compliment a man on his stonemasonry, you commiserate.

    Those stones were in the wrong place.

  7. You can go out in the woods with all sorts of forestry instruments and sample a bunch of trees and find out how many board feet of lumber or cords of pulp wood is out there.

    Or you can ask the old grizzled forester and he goes out, takes a look around and tells you that there 10 tons of pulpwood per acre. His answer will be as good as any other answer.

    In my county there is a guy who knows how to find leaks in swimming pools. He can find a leak anywhere. He is amazing. He can also tell you how much water is in your pool just by looking at it. He knows if your pool has 12,000 gallons in it and it needs to be drained halfway down to fix a leak, he knows how long it will take to pump 6,000 gallons out of the pool. Just by looking at it.

    So, somewhere up there in Maine is a guy who can just look at your house and tell you how much it weighs. Probably one of those guys who moves mobile homes or moves houses for a living. Yup, that there is a 78,000lb house. Yup, right there.

  8. Every time I've found something like that in a house its been courtesy of somewhere to hide from the Luftwaffe….not in Maine I presume.

  9. From the looks of things, a dozn or more former inhabitants discovered the same prooblem you have, and went about "fixing" it in their own way. Now it is your turn to 'ave a go at it.

    G'wan, make us proud, and entertained at the same time.


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