Saturday, July 14, 2012


One thing we had noticed in the kitchen was a serious dip in the middle of the floor, almost 2" lower than at the outside wall.  Prowling around in the basement I discovered two weak floor joists, one with minor rot and one with almost half its length rotted.  Two framing members that could not carry their share of the weight meant extra load on nearby joists, and the floor gradually went down.

How do you identify a rotted joist?  Mold on the joist may only be on the surface, without impairing the strength.  But if part of the surface, especially on the bottom, looks like it has shrunk or caved in a bit, that is one sign.  And if I see that I resort to the knife test:  take a utility knife with a sharp blade, and push the point slowly into the surface at various places.  On sound wood, it will go in about 1/16" to 1/8" and stop; on rotten wood you can push it in 1/2" or more. 

The time to do the fix is now, before we start putting other things together.  I checked the floor slope with my 4' level above and below, from as many angles as I could, and also the surrounding areas.  Very few houses even start out perfectly level everywhere, and most have some settling.  I found that at the end outside wall of the house, the floor joists are almost dead level.  At the other end of the joists, by the center stairways serving the basement and second floor, there is some settling in the middle, probably caused by inadequate footings under the steel posts that support the beams.  It is not as bad as the sag in the middle of the floor, but it is there.  I will try to bring the middle of the floor up so it is between dead level and the beam readings.

I located the center of the kitchen floor joists, then hung some 2x4 blocks next to the center of the joists near the ends of the area I wanted to raise, then added cross pieces to them.  I did this so I could assemble the new beam in place, rather than assemble it on the floor and have to lift the whole thing by myself.  So first I put up a 12' 2x10, then a layer of 1/2 plywood with a few drywall screws to hold it, then another 2x10.  Then, to keep them all in place, I added additional pieces of 2x4.  Having done all this, I drilled holes and fastened the whole thing together with 1/2"  carriage bolts.

 There is an advantage to using the beam in making the floor more solid.  The shorter the joist span between supports, the stronger the floor.  But because of the weakened joists, I also added new joists alongside the two damaged ones.  This technique is called "sistering" in carpentry.  I had to rip them down to 1/4" narrower than the originals in order to get them into the space, and used two pieces rather than one, with the ends supported on the beam.  This is a lot easier than trying to take the old ones out and replace them.

I bought a pair of adjustable jack posts to hold the beam up for the long term, but for the initial jacking I used an old screw jack I acquired at a flea market years ago.  I've heard them called "Model T" jacks or railroad jacks. A couple of friends I used to work with had them also, and none of us ever found anything they could not lift.  I suppose you could use a hydraulic jack, but they are harder to control in a situation like this.  It is preferable to jack up slowly, rather than all at once.  These joists took years to get to the sagged position they are in now; it is not a good idea to try to get them back up immediately.

 Fortunately, we do not have to deal with jacking up a load bearing wall in this area.  If we did, it would be best to break out concrete, pour good-sized footings to support the posts, and generally go to a lot more trouble for this.  Since it is only the floor, I will use solid 4x8x16 concrete blocks as a base for the posts.  I laid an 8' long 4x8 on the floor as a base for the jack, perpendicular to the beam, to spread the load of the jacking over more of the concrete floor.


I rounded up three 2x4s and screwed them together for a temporary post for the jack.  Then I took a pair of framing anchors and used them to attach the post to the center of the new beam with screws.  I attached a two-sided post level that I picked up back in the days when I was building decks occasionally, so I can plumb the post.



Now it is time to start jacking.  I lined the jack up with the center of my plumbed post, slipped the cog onto the side gear, put my crowbar into the slot for the missing handle, and started raising the beam.  First, all I did was take up the slack until the beam started contacting some of the lowest joists.  After a bit, I felt some resistance.  Now comes the time for patience:  I had marked the gear on the top of the jack every 90 degrees, and when I began to feel resistance, I jacked it up until the top gear turned the screw another quarter of a turn, and then stopped.  Tomorrow, and each day after, a quarter of a turn at a time is the procedure.  This gives the wood a chance to adjust slowly and release the stress of the jacking.  When the beam is close to where I hope to get it, then it will be time to install the permanent posts, complete the jacking the last bit of the way, and remove the temporary post and the jack.

It is now the end of the week, and I've been jacking a couple of times a day, checking the floor and the joists, and I think we are almost there.  It is not perfect; there is some difference between one end of the room and the other.  But it is time to install the permanent jack posts and finish the job.  My post level has magnets on the back side, so I don't have to tie it to the posts.  The adjustable posts come with two steel tubes, one slightly smaller than the other, and a bunch of spaced holes and a pair of heavy bolts, plus the screw mechanism and end plates.  I bolted one end plate to the beam at each post location, then worked out how long the post needed to be and assembled it with the bolts in the proper holes to get close to the length I needed.  Then the jack screw goes into the post, and its tip fits into a hole in the end plate.

 One note:  the manufacturer recommends assembling it differently, depending on whether you are using a steel beam or a wooden on.  For a steel beam, the adjusting screw goes on top; for a wood beam it goes on the bottom.  I don't know for sure, but I suspect this has to do with spreading the stress out more over the surface on a wood beam.  I do not have the manpower to handle a steel beam--they are heavy.  And pound for pound, wood is actually stronger than steel.  Besides, as I mentioned above, I could assemble the wood beam in place by myself.

I assembled both posts, checked things with my levels, and began jacking using the new posts.  At the end, I did a little extra on the post at the outside wall.  The temporary post is finally free of the jack.  All of the joists are now sitting on the beam, except the two closest to the outside wall.  The second joist in has about 1/8" or less gap between it and the beam.  The outer one has about 1/4"-5/16" gap.  I will shim these to get contact with the beam; trying to get it any farther may throw things off too much with the floor past the end of the beam.  When I started jacking, the gap at the outside joist was about an inch or more.

When I started, the center of the kitchen floor was sunk down lower than either end of the room, and lower than the back wall of the house.  Now the dip is gone.  There is some slope from one side to the other, but it is fairly uniform all the way across.  This is about the maximum that is practical to do on this house.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

I had hinted about a post on replacing double-hung windows, and Copperhead is holding me to it.

 This is the last window to be replaced on the house, the smallest (28" wide x 34" high--the others were either 36"x46" or 40"x54") and in the best shape.  This window is in the first floor bathroom, and faces north.  The windows on the east, west and south were missing glazing compound, missing ropes, had broken glass, and storm window issues on more than half of them--missing glass and even missing wood.

Another factor on replacing the windows rather than repairing them is the matter of the sash weight pockets.  These amount to a 2" wide strip down each side of each window for the sash ropes and weights to operate in.  This comes out to four inches by four to five feet of uninsulated wall for each window, multiplied by sixteen windows makes about a five-foot square hole in your insulation.  These wood windows also had no weatherstripping at all.  They were a tighter fit in the frames than some of the windows I have worked on from the early 1900s, but still not tight enough in these days of expensive energy.

Another factor was the lead paint issue.  There has been a lot of noise and heat on that subject, but not really much light.  Not all houses are equally hazardous in this respect.  While using lead compounds in paint was not officially banned until 1978, the paint companies began using other pigments during World War II, because lead was needed for the war effort (my source on this was an old friend who worked as a paint chemist for a regional paint manufacturer).  So it is less likely that this house, built around 1950, has as much lead-based paint that would be found on on a home built in the late 1800s or early 1900s.  But if there is lead paint, it will be on woodwork and exterior wood, not on plaster or drywall.  And the primary risk is not paint chips, which if swallowed will likely pass through undigested, but from paint dust generated by painted wood parts rubbing against each other--a window in its frame or a door that rubs on its jamb.  Replacing the windows removes that possible source, if they should have lead-based paint under the later coats accumulated through the years.

It does not take a lot of tools to handle this job.  I think I left my small handsaw out of this picture, but I could get by without it by using the chisel.

The first step, before getting the replacement window, is measuring.  Open the window, and get the closest measurement you can from side to side in the track the window slides in, and then from top to bottom. If the case of the tape measure will not fit inside the track, measure to the joint between the inside stop molding and the window frame.  Once you have these measurements, you will need a replacement window half and inch narrower and a quarter of an inch shorter than the measurements of the opening. 

When you have the window, there is one more issue to think about--do you need a helper to handle the units with you?  This particular window is small; I could handle it alone.  I also did the rest of the windows alone.  But I have done window replacements for years, since the late '80s.  I will admit the first floor windows were about as big as I am willing to handle alone;  for larger windows I would prefer to have another person.  Double-pane glass is heavy, and expensive if it breaks.  The windows I installed in the second floor were marked as weighing 44 pounds, the larger ones for the first floor were about 54 pounds each.  This window was only about 20-25 pounds.


Now, we have the properly sized replacement unit on hand, and are ready to remove the old window sashes.  This house was built toward the end of the use of wood double-hungs with sash weights, but these old windows are not much different from those used 100-200 years ago.  The first thing to come out is the stop molding, shaped pieces of trim that surround the top and sides of the sash channels.  Find the joint between molding and frame, and carefully use a small pry bar to pull it off.  It may help at the start to use a knife to cut any paint on the junction.  Again, pry gently; old wood may be dried out and can break more easily.

Once the moldings are out on all three sides, lift the lower, inside sash and pull one side out of the frame.  Then look for the groove in the side of the sash where the rope is strung.  Usually the rope is secured at the end of the groove by a knot; sometimes someone has put a nail through the knot.  Pull the knot out, ease the rope up until the sash weight bottoms out in its pocket in the wall, pull the sash the rest of the way out and remove the other rope.  Set the sash out of the way until you dispose of it.  Note:  some windows may have been converted to a small chain rather than rope, which can deteriorate and break after many years.  This chain will be either nailed or screwed into the end of the groove, but otherwise it works the same way.

Next, you must remove the "parting strip" between the two sashes.  It is a small strip of wood, usually 1/2" by 3/4" fitted into a groove in the frame to separate the two sashes.  Again, it will be on the top and both sides.  A chisel may help to get it started coming out of the groove, then the pry bar to get it free.  Sometimes it is easiest to break it just below the upper sash, lower the sash past the broken end, and then pry out the rest.  (If you are removing the sash to repair the window, either replacing glass or glazing compound, you will have to work harder to get it out intact because you will have to put it back in later.])

Once the upper sash is out and put aside with the lower, remove the rest of the parting strips from the frame[.  The last piece that defines the channels for the sashes is called a "blind stop" and it is left to hold the new window in place.

We still have to deal with the sash weights and ropes, and the pulleys sticking out of the frame near the top of the window.  On the lower part of each side, formerly covered by the lower sash, will be a wood access cover for the sash pockets.  On older windows this is often loose in the frame, and can be popped out.  On the windows in this house, they were cut vertically at each side, but cut only halfway through, unless someone had pulled it out to repair the window in the past (maybe one or two windows in the whole house).  I had to use the pry bar and break these out.

Then I cut the knots off the sash ropes, reached in and pulled out the cast iron sash weights[077], then pulled the ropes out of the pulleys.  The pulley assemblies are mortised into the wood and have screws at the top and bottom.  Often the screws have been painted, and it is necessary to use a sharp knife to get enough paint out to get the screwdriver into the slot and remove the screws.

Put the pocket covers back into their places, and the window is removed.  Cleaning up any dirt, dust or debris is next, and we are ready for the new window.


With the window out and the area cleaned up, it's time to prepare the new unit and put it in.

First, unpack the new window.  Some suppliers have them shrink-wrapped or otherwise protected.  All this has to be removed.  On vinyl windows there is a movable trim piece on top that can be adjusted to fit the opening better, and sometimes the manufacturer packs other things under there.  Mine had a trim piece for the bottom outside of the window to cover the gap caused by the slope in the sill.  Some may put a package of screws for fastening the window in place (this one had the screws packed with the instructions, between the lower sash and the screen).  While you still have it out, look for the holes the manufacturer provided for the installation screws; this window has 4 on each side.   Vinyl windows have the two sashes, set in a vinyl frame with the spring balances in place, ready to go, usually with a screen on the outside surface.

Next thing is a trial fit.

  Pick it up, line it up and set it in the space and see how it fits.

After seeing this, I chose to put the top trim back on.  Then take the window back out.  Cut the bottom trim for the outside to the width you need with snips and install it.

Before installing the window for keeps, put a bead of caulk on the blind stops

where the window will rest, and a bead where the bottom will rest on the sill. A lot of installers use silicone; I do not, because time has shown that silicone has a lot of uses, but it does not stick that well to some woods.  Metal, yes; plastics, yes; wood, iffy.  So I use a siliconized acrylic caulk here.

Now put the window back in, set it into the caulk and before letting go, grab a screw and cordless drill and put one screw partway into the wood, just to keep it from falling out.  Now step back, eyeball how it is centered in the opening, grab a level and check for level and plumb.

The next step is shimming.  Shims are used on windows and doors because very few houses are built totally level and plumb at all points, and many of the few that are do not stay that way over the years because of foundation settling and lumber shrinkage.  So openings are made a bit oversize and the window or door is shimmed to be plumb in the opening.  Shims are tapered strips of wood, (traditionally cedar, now often pine and sometimes plastic) usually 1-1/2" wide and 8" or 12" long, very thin at one end and about 1/4" thick at the other.  Mostly they are used in pairs to fill the gap between the opening and the window or door unit.  (If you have an opening with twisted lumber that has an angle on one side you can use the taper of the shims to correct for that--not a problem on this window.)

On this window the gap is a quarter inch or less, so I take one shim and break it to get an end in the 1/8"-3/16" range, and put the fat end in the gap at one of the upper screw holes, then put the thin end of the next shim with it.  If necessary I break the thin end off until the shims fill the gap.  The idea is to have a snug fit.  Then I drive a screw through both shims and into the wood of the frame.  I repeat this on the other side, and work my way down both sides of the window until the unit is secured at all screw holes, straight on each side, level and plumb.  (If an older house is so bad that level and plumb is just not possible, then go for the unit being square with itself and if possible with the outside blind stops.)  The outside ends of the shims are butted up against the blind stops on each side.  The inside ends stick out into the room.  Once the window is secured, we can cut those off.  You can use a sharp knife, a wood chisel, or a small saw. I have a Japanese-style handsaw that works well for this.

The next step is to insulate the remaining gaps around the window.  It is common now to do this with insulating foam, but you have to make sure you buy a product that says it is for windows and doors.  The standard spray foam expands too much and can cause a window or door to bind (I had several jobs when the product came out fixing doors that had been installed with foam, and the door manufacturers started putting labels on the doors warning that use of foam would void the warranty).  Now there are foams with less expansion that can be used.  But because Copperhead is sensitive to some chemicals (and yes, this has an effect on our remodeling everywhere we live) I am using the old-style approach: fiberglass insulation, often scraps left over from another job. (By the time I use it for this, any chemicals in the fiberglass have had some time to out-gas, instead of being fresh out of a can.)  I pack it in fairly tightly--compressing fiberglass does increase the R-value per inch--but not enough to cause the unit to bind.

Finally, it is time to find the inside stop moldings you removed from the old window at the beginning, and re-install them.  The replacement windows are sized to take up the same amount of room as the old window, so they should fit just fine.  Nail them back in place, and the window is in.  I do plan to add caulk on the outside on the joint between the blind stop and the vinyl frame, and on the inside between the vinyl and the molding, but this will be done when I prepare to paint the exterior and interior of the house.

This has been a fairly basic, standard installation.   I have done more complicated ones, where the opening was made narrower or shorter (or wider or taller).  But this is the basic job, and this is what most window dealers do when replacing older wood double-hung windows.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

This is a pile of first floor bathroom fixtures yet to be cleaned and someday reused - well not everything. Some of that stuff will go in a dumpster or make a trip to the scrap yard. The pedestal sink will go into another house - we found one just like the one in the upstairs bathroom for the first floor at Menard's. Everything will need a good clean up.

Upstairs bathroom: We sort of like the pink tiles... Kind of oddly done. I just wish they had done them right from the start. The tub will have old caulk removed then be re-caulked, the loosely fitting plastic sheets above the pink tile have to be removed and something else put in. I just wonder if there will be more holes... We need to figure that one out BEFORE we rent the dumpster. I'm thinking a good shower curtain all the way around? The ceiling above slopes - you can't see it in the picture. This bath tub and sink are in a roof slope area. At least the toilet isn't in the roof slope area - nice for when you get up in the night I guess. The mirror and lights must have been really nice - either the previous owners took them when they moved out (ha) or they were stolen (likely). There was an extra mirror in the first floor bath. I think it will move up here. Menard's has a few neat 1950s looking light fixtures maybe we'll put one in here one day unless we find something that looks right at the thrift store or garage sale or antique store...

Holes and more holes and holes yet to be created. Pipes with pin holes. Drains with holes. Walls with holes. Walls with no plaster. Floors with holes. Holes everywhere. We thought we would not have much new. Ha. It now has new doors and windows.  This house will have all new pipes and new walls bath and kitchen walls. There is a huge sag in the kitchen floor. This will have have old rotted flooring removed, it will have to be jacked from the basement and new plywood put on the floor. I'm sure this would be very expensive if we hired it to be done. Redneck is doing it himself. This picture is shot from the same corner as the last picture I took. This is the kitchen. On the left is the bathroom - no walls. You can see the stink pipe on the left but the other pipes have been removed. The drain pipes have to be sawed out. Redneck went around and propped them up so they don't all fall down when he cuts them. Many leaks and holes. Gas pipes were removed as well. Kind of scary to think about holes in gas pipes isn't it.

This picture is in the basement. Rather rusty drain pipe isn't it? We have been trying to figure out what to do with the cast iron thing on the left. Any ideas? I suggested painting it wild colors and laying it on it's side maybe something to keep it steady and use it to sit on...   

This is the upstairs bedroom right now.... The other side of the wall is the bathroom. We need to rent a dumpster - well correction. We have been needing to rent a dumpster.... Now for sure. Plaster, carpets, dead windows, etc . Pipes can go to the salvage yard.  I'm thinking about keeping a couple windows to decorate just for fun. Redneck saved the cool window topper from the first floor bathroom - somewhere...  This puts a new wrinkle on cleaning a bed room doesn't it???