Surprise!

May 26, 2012

We’ve had our share of little surprises as the walls have come down. Some of them have been amusing like the avalanche of hickory nuts that fell atop Joel as he knocked down the pantry ceiling, the chase above obviously home to a squirrel in years gone by. Many of the revelations have provided insight into how the house was originally laid out as in wallpaper behind a second layer of walls and baseboards continuing into closets and chases. (Full expanse of these unveilings are certain in blogs to come as Joel LOVES them.) I also trust that you are well versed in the cracked lead pipe surprise that led to the removal of cement and the stripping of a full bath on the second floor.

One of our many surprises was alarming.

Show of hands here – who thinks it’s a problem when you have an engineer, an architect, a builder, and a homeowner all standing around scratching their heads asking each other, “So what do YOU think is holding up the second floor?” I’m not kidding. A few weeks ago when we were still sorting out how to configure a beam to replace a load bearing wall, we opened it up to find this:

img 0531

Those three darker pieces of wood are the original, huge header beams built to support the upper half of the house. (Note: pretend the three newer beams aren’t there yet. I was too deep in thought to think of taking a picture in its original, three-beam state.) The thing is, those three, dark beams are resting on nothing. They are relying solely on a couple of nails driven into them through the end of the adjacent, perpendicular beam. Granted, the wood is genuine, old-fashioned hardwood rarely seen these days and the nails are beasts that look like this:

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Still, the top half of the house is heavy and this was a major load-bearing wall! (Remember the added weight of the cement previously in the bathroom above?) So, we gave a nod to those three awesome, old beams that have done their job against all odds for the past 110 years and then we promptly secured three more next to them and rested them on some support. (Note: now you can take in all six beams in the photo above.) When done, we yet again heard our dear house utter a big sigh of relief, grateful for the help.

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Regina Leffers McCaleb, Ph.D.

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