Well, we’ve got to get rid of the remaining obstacles to progress. No, I’m not talking about politics. I was referring to the last two sets of Damocles detritus left by the ghosts of tenants past. Remember this little number from a few days ago?
It was an attempt worthy of Canute to stop the tide of subsidence in the back of the house. It’s all wrong and silly, of course, but it’s still doing something. This is where the “selective” in selective demolition really matters. You can’t just start knocking things out of your way, because you’ll introduce motion. Motion is bad in construction. Once things start moving in a house, they tend to have a cascade effect. My house isn’t constructed as well as a house of cards, but it’s the same general idea. You have to be careful how you disassemble stuff. I can’t fix the mess until the mess is out of the way but the mess is in the way so I can’t fix the stuff. It’s a Yossarian beam.
The beam you’re looking at is ridiculous. It’s four 2 x 6s nailed together, with another 2 x 6 nailed flat on the bottom of it for good measure. People have all these ideas in their head about how the world works, but the world doesn’t really cooperate with ideas very well. Reality intrudes, sometimes on your head. That’s something like a ten-foot span, and it’s holding up a lot of weight. Several floors of weight, and a roof, and my wife making lunch. A beam (you can use a chart for headers over doors and windows to find this out) made from four 2 x 12s, twice as big as what they made, is only rated for an 8′ span. The beam they made is maybe half as strong as it needs to be, and looks it. And of course, after they figured that wood is strong, so just add more of it, they doubled down with concrete is indestructible, and just plopped the column jack on a two-inch thick concrete floor, instead of a making a footing to properly support the weight. They didn’t understand that the floor is only there to keep your feet from getting muddy when you’re looking for your skis in the fall.
As you can see, the beam is smiling at us, and the foot of the column on the right can faintly hear Mandarin being spoken. Also, if you look at the side wall over yonder, you can see that someone tried to pour a concrete wall on top of the granite blocks, next to the brick infill. It stopped some of the slouching on that side of the house, but because of the funky way the house is framed, the back wall of the house can move independently of the side walls. It just kept sinking into the slough of despond I call a back yard. Eventually, we’ll have to jack up the sidewalls independently of the back wall, and when they catch up, support everything and nail it together. Right now, the beam has to go.
Here’s what we set up to safely remove the beam and columns: Next to nothing. There’s a temporary shoring beam set up on the left, and a temporary (“fly”) wall set up to hold up the floor. That’s all it took to replace all that lumber and the columns. We used two cut-offs from the screw jack posts to spread the load on the floor and catch two intermediate joists, and two 2x4s from the dump to hold the thing up. The diagonal cross brace matters. It keeps the posts from bending outwards, and I needed a place to hang an extension cord.
We built all these temporary supports using nifty saberdrive screws. They start their own hole, have serrated threads so they don’t slip, and they cut through anything wood-like. They clean out their own hole while they’re being driven, and walk your dog and mow your lawn for you, I think. They’re easy to remove from temporary supports and reuse them over and over because the star point heads don’t strip out like Phillips head screws. They look like this:I can tell they’re better than anything else, because they’ve disappeared from every hardware store and lumber yard within an hour of my house. If they sucked, I could still buy them.
Now we have to get rid of the last Damocles pig sticker. There’s a small steel beam tucked up at the ceiling, sitting on two columns. We gotta be careful with this one:
The main carrying beam for the house is sitting on that. It’s supposed to sit on that big timber column in the back wall, and you can see it bending while it tries, but the post is way too sunk into the raccoon’s conversation pit down below to meet up with it. I’m not worried about supporting the weight on the beam. It’s a short span and only one floor is sitting on it because of the odd way the house is framed. I’m worried about dropping that iron thing on my son, who I like, or me, who I don’t like nearly as much but who else will look out for me? You can’t lower column jacks, really, and even if you could catch that steel beam when it fell (no thanks), if the columns topple over they don’t feel good when they hit you. So we put a single screw jack under the beam, that’s all it took, and knocked together a cradle under the beam before we removed the steel columns. Like so:
The thing was heavy, but two men, or more accurately, one lazy man and one barely man, could slide it out safely and get it on the ground.
Now we have a different problem, caused by all the other problems, but hidden until now. The back of the house is concave. It makes sense. As the foundation wasted away, the back wall slumped, and it started to bow outward at the bottom and bend inward up higher as the upper storeys and the roof pushed down on it. Once we lifted the house off the ground, the bottom swung way from the basement. That’s because of some creep.
No, I’m not referring to myself, or the former renovators of my house. I’m referring to a property of wood. According to the American Wood Council, creep is defined as:
The time-dependent deformation of loaded member undergoing elastic deformation.
If you don’t speak Wood Esperanto, I’ll translate: If you bend a piece of wood long enough, it stays bent. Ours did. Before we could put a foundation under the center of the back wall, we’d have to cajole it back into place. Here’s how we did it.
First, we put a big lag eyebolt into the big timber sill. Like this:
Then we lag bolted a chintzy Harbor Freight winch to the (charred) main carrying beam. We formerly used the winch to pull a woodburning furnace into our basement. Don’t ask me about that little interlude, or you’ll get another month-long saga.
Anyway, the Heir cranked that mother, and when the wall was back somewhere close to where it belonged, we nailed two of those lovely free 2x4s to the floor framing and the sill to make triangles, which are stronger and sexier than rectangles, with the added benefit of being easier to stumble into over and over, which I did.
We were feeling pretty good about ourselves at this point, which is always a mistake. We looked at the ground under one of the big, newly freed barn door openings. Ruh roh Shaggy:
Sawdust is one thing. Cellulose talcum powder like that is something else. Let’s look up above.
Yup, we got visited by the two most unwelcome guests a remodeler can meet, and both in one day: Carpenter ants, and then a building inspector.
[Tune in tomorrow for more remuddling fun, and tell a friend about Sippican Cottage]