Friday, August 5, 2011

Things We Learned About the House

We are beginning to find out some things about the history of the house.  We could not spend time looking around the place--legally we could not even enter it until our deed came through--this is definitely not like buying a house through a Realtor.

One thing we already knew was that the neighborhood was originally built somewhere around the late 1940s to early 1950s, and was unincorporated area at the time.  These houses were built with septic systems and cisterns at the start; sometime in the 1960s the city annexed the area and extended water and sewer lines.  So this house has a spot in the back of the basement where the old drain and water pipes came through the wall and are now cut off, and later drain and water lines going out to the front.

After the water and sewer lines the house got some more remodeling.  The half bath on the first floor is unusual in a house of this age; it was likely added when the drains were reworked to tie into the sewer.  And it seems likely that the garage was built after the sewer came in.  There is a small room, at one time used for laundry, between the house and the garage, with a door to the front yard and a concrete area between the front of the house and the front of the garage.  That concrete is over the place where house drain goes into the wall on its way to the sewer, so it was likely made later.  Two-car garages were not common in 1950, either; a 1960s date fits that better as well.

The house has had at least three heating systems in its past, as well.  One corner of the basement, in the front at the garage end, was walled off with concrete block to make a coal cellar.  There is an opening high on the wall where the coal chute was, now bricked over.  This area was later outfitted with shelves for storage, but when we tore out the door and its 2x8 framing, we found bits of coal (2 to 3 cups worth) between the frame and the blocks.  Now that the floor is cleaned up, the spot where the old coal furnace sat is visible; the concrete is rougher at that place.  There are also places where the sheet metal is still in place from old air-return ductwork, and some of the grilles in the floor are still there under the carpets.  This was most likely a gravity-type furnace without any blower.

The second heating system was hot water.  The old gas boiler is still there, and the rooms upstairs have the baseboard radiators that came into use around the '60s, not the cast-iron radiators of older houses.  These baseboard radiators were connected with copper pipe.  (The original house plumbing is galvanized pipe, the earlier system--copper pipe began displacing galvanized around the late '50s and early '60s, from what I have learned.)  My guess is that the gas pipes came into the neighborhood with the water and sewer lines.

The last heating system, sitting next to the old boiler, is a gas furnace/air conditioning unit.  It is not a high-efficiency model because it vents into the old chimney, not through plastic pipe out the wall.  The outdoor AC coils and even the indoor coil were stolen while the house sat empty over the last few years.  The ductwork for this furnace was the newer insulated fiberglass and plastic that has been around since the late 1980s.  (This did not look that old, however).  I did pull all of that ducting out, because some of it picked up moisture from the flooding, and  it was in the way for cleaning out the mold.

This is some of what we have learned so far.  We may find other things out as the work progresses.

One Milestone Reached

Well, we're done working on the basement for a while.  The water is pumped out, a new sump pump is installed and working.  The junk left in the basement is hauled out to the dump, and the drywall and paneling on the living room side are removed, down to the block walls.  And now I have finished the mold cleanup.  This was a big issue; after three years of water in the basement, there was mold on a lot of the floor joists and some of the subfloor for the floor above.

Searching the Internet, I found this site--  I had seen a reference on a mold remediation contractor's site about using a borax solution.  But Mold Control on a Budget actually gives the formula, and how to follow up.  The site owner is not a contractor, but an inspector specializing in mold work.

Anyway, I vacuumed the heavy mold, mostly yellow, some cottony white stuff off with a HEPA wet/dry vac, then scrubbed with the borax solution.  In corners, around ductwork and electrical boxes and other hard-to-get-at places I sprayed the surface down with borax solution in a trigger spray bottle.

Why borax and not bleach?  The story is that bleach only works on some molds, and works best on hard, non-porous surfaces like ceramic or laminate.  The chlorine evaporates before it can soak into unfinished wood.  The borax (and for the record, this is the old 20 Mule Team powder from the laundry soap section at Wal-Mart) soaks in better, and any borax residue left will keep mold from returning.  I have used most of three boxes so far and have a little left for touchup.

There is one more mold strategy that we may consider for the long run, called "encapsulation."  This involves sealing moldy areas in a paint-like coating.  And while there are such coatings available, the "Budget" site says old-fashioned whitewash will work--the lime in whitewash is also used in some of the commercial coatings, because it kills mold.  So at some point, after the new dehumidifier has dried things out, I may be doing a Tom Sawyer job on the floor joists.