A Big Hole
In the last post, I talked about the stone foundation wall in the interior of the basement. I don't know why it's there, but even before I started the basement demo I knew of its existence. What I did NOT expect to find was a giant, galvanized-metal-covered, purposely-made hole in the stone wall.
The hole is the full depth of the wall, or about 20". The hole's diameter is about 24", and the whole thing is covered in galvanized metal.
Between my educational background, professional background, and personal interests, I usually feel like I can go toe-to-toe with just about anybody in terms of figuring out and/or understanding why or how something was built that way that it was built. But the wall, and to an even larger extent this hole, have me baffled. I suspect the hole was created to serve some sort of mechanical function, but I'd need a heating expert/historian to confirm this.
The only reason I think it had something to do with an old heating system is because the old flues, the ones I pulled newspapers out of a couple weeks back, are a few feet away. Those old flues existed as a means of exhausting whatever smoke/gas/funk was created by a long-gone boiler consuming fuel. Maybe this hole was a means of getting air or fuel from some other basement location to the boiler? Or maybe it was part of some type of old-school duct system? Other than that, I have no ideas.
One thing I noticed today - which both gives me some clues and adds to the mystery - is the labeling on the galvanized metal: "COP-R-LOY".
I did a little homework on COP-R-LOY and here's what I found out:
COP-R-LOY was a galvanized metal product trademarked in 1928 and made by the Wheeling Corrugating Company, which was established in 1890 by Alexander Glass in Wheeling, West Virginia. In its early days, the company made various light metal products including roofing, conductor pipes, metal ceilings and eaves, troughs, tin plate, and terneplate. In 1902 Wheeling Corrugating became a subsidiary of Wheeling Steel and Iron, which was then combined with LaBelle Iron Works and Whitaker-Glessner in 1920 to form Wheeling Steel Corp., of which Glass was the chairman until his death in 1941.
The hole is lined with this COP-R-LOY stuff, which didn't exist until 1928. The house was built in 1878. If we assume the interior stone wall is original to the house, and I think it is, then either the hole was added at least 50 years later, or if the hole was original to the wall and house, it wasn't cleaned up with the COP-R-LOY until 1928 at the very earliest.
So...what purpose did this hole serve, and when was it created?
A Basement Mystery
I've taken a few days away from the basement demo because 1, I recently had to engage in a tree-trimming extravaganza, prompted by a sizable tree limb snapping off and getting hung up - directly over the garage - in one of the back yard oaks, 2, I wanted to button up a few spots on the roof that needed patching, and 3, I've still got some undetermined MCL issue; after hauling a legit 5+ tons of crap out of the yard and basement, the left knee isn't currently on friendly terms with the rest of my body.
The break in the action has given me a chance to inspect and think through what I've uncovered. So far, the basement demo has yielded quite a few interesting finds, albeit head-scratchers. For example, there's a spot by the rear wall, below what are now kitchen cabinets, where the framing indicates something heavy was going on above it; the mortise and tenon joints used to join the joists together are pretty rad, but what was the reason for beefing up or boxing around the framing in that area?! 1st floor radiator? Stove? Fireplace?
The biggest basement mystery, by far, and one that impacts my future plans for this house the most, is a wall. Why is it a mystery? Because it's a full-blown stone wall, with a brick wall above it on the first floor - the same as all the EXTERIOR walls - in the INTERIOR of the basement/house.
I've seen interior stone foundation walls in much larger, older homes than this, stuff that's 2 or 3 stories and thousands upon thousands of square feet. But in a house this size and shape, single story...never seen it before.
There are only a few quasi-reasonable explanations:
Looking at old maps, which almost always accurately portray the general building footprints, the 1883 map shows the house as being a different shape than the 1903 map. Is it possible that the interior stone foundation wall was originally, at least in part, the back side of the house and the angled, bumped-out section of the house was added at a later date?
Conversely, the door jamb and (removed) door in the stone wall do not appear to be of the exterior variety, nor was there any presence of wear and tear typical of exterior basement-level doors, which supports the idea that this was not originally the back end of the house. And the jamb wasn't added after the fact, the plaster and stone are too tight to it; the evidence of square cut nails tells me she's been there as long as that wall.
Is it possible that the basement was originally separated by the stone wall for a utilitarian purpose? The south section could have been accessed by the interior stairs, and the north section could have been accessed by the exterior/walkout stairs. The basement was originally given a plaster finish, and although the house was billed as a single-family, is it possible that the basement was always the shape shown in the 1903 map and the stone wall and doorway served to separate living quarters, or separate basement space from some type of root cellar?
Tough to say at this point. Maybe further demo and investigation will give me more clues to work with. Maybe the brick wall on the first floor, directly above the stone wall, will give me some information when I tear into it.
Then there's point #2, lateral stability. The house does make use of a few steel rods running across the building above the ceiling, which is common for this era of construction; if you ever see metal stars on the sides of old buildings, those are actually big, fancy washers on either end of the steel rods. My house has 3 rods, if I remember correctly, which provide lateral bracing at the points of the wall farthest from the foundation, where brick walls tend to get a little loosey-goosey if not supported laterally.
But to brace things laterally like that in the basement, and first floor of the house via masonry? Never seen it, not for that purpose anyhow. Walls get braced at points furthest from where they're most stable, not at the foundation level. I don't think the mystery wall's existence has anything to do with stability.
As for point #3, having moved several big foundation stones from random spots in the back yard (why they're there, I have no idea), I can tell you that those suckers are heavy. Stupid heavy. There is zero reason to use them for anything unless it's absolutely necessary, and if the mystery wall really didn't serve any purpose, then whoever called the construction shots wanted to make his people really, really earn their income. I can't imagine this was the case either.
So...no conclusive proof of point #1, no real likelihood that point #2 was the case, and no way point #3 is in play.
What am I missing? What options have I not thought through?
The truth is, the mysterious stone wall in the basement is sort of inconsequential...but the brick wall above it, cutting the house in half and also a total mystery...she presents a little bit of a design challenge.
If I can figure out why the stone wall exists, or existed, that may help me figure out what I can and can't do with the brick wall above it.
As far as individual projects that make up an overall rehab go, basement work isn't really too exciting. That is, unless you're 1, a degreed structural engineer and kinda dig seeing how everything below grade is built and everything above grade supported, and/or 2, somebody who geeks out over history and enjoys the archeological aspect of seeing, maybe under many layers, giant chunks of a structure that are largely original.
The basement demo has been mostly enjoyable. The work is nasty, and dusty, and every day I worked I sweated through my shirt and jeans multiple times, but I can sorta feel the house getting lighter and enjoying getting some fresh air in her walls, as corny as it may sound.
Unfortunately, for now, I'm only about 60% done, and that's just the first pass -- getting the big, bulky stuff down and into a dumpster. The second pass will be fine-tuning things, like cleaning up wiring, pulling nails, a thorough vacuuming, etc. After that I can assess what needs to be done to make things right, and so far...the list isn't short. There are structural issues, water/moisture issues, window issues, and electrical issues.
Why did I start with the basement? The short answer is that the basement, while having been "finished" and tolerable in terms of appearance, was disgusting. Between the dogs that were kept down there and the animals that'd lived - and died - in the ceiling, the funk was horrible. That would be enough of a reason to demo the space immediately, but additionally, by not wanting to use the basement in its current condition, the main floor of the house looks like 10 pounds of stuff in a 5 pound bag. I need that basement space, but it's gotta be cleaned up first.
The basement had been finished in plaster originally, but the most modern iteration made use of metal framing, drywall, and in some areas, suspended ceilings. Behind the drywall was insulation and plastic. In theory, somebody did a decent job in terms of the work; I still say it's a dumb idea to finish a stone foundation basement.
There are 5 or so individual rooms or spaces in the basement, and it was clear that dogs had been kept in some number of them. Like, forced, against their will, to live in them.
If you know anything about dogs who get neglected, you know that like kids, they'll act out and do all sortsa ignorant stuff out of anger and/or a lack of attention. The carpet covering the basement stairs? It was like a giant dog pee sponge, and the yellow/orange stains speckling the lower couple feet of all the basement drywall...you can ballpark what that was.
I've been told by neighbors that the previous owners were next level tree-huggers/animal fanatics, but to unhealthy extents. They apparently threw food out on the front steps to feed possums, refused to trim trees which caused branches to get unwieldy and fall on fences, houses, the sidewalk, etc., and just sort of didn't do a whole lot of very basic maintenance.
And of course, this led to a mouse infestation. So far, I've removed 9 dead mice from the ceiling, and I could probably measure the mouse poop that's rained down in pounds.
Other than the occasional unwelcome surprise in the ceiling, the demo has gone well, so far. I ran into a little plaster which slowed me down some, and metal framing sucks to deal with because unlike wood, which can be banged apart or quickly cut through, metal framing has to painstakingly be deconstructed by removing all the tiny little screws holding it all together. Same with the beadboard walls; tongue and groove stuff is slow demo, pulling 1 skinny board off at a time.
So far I've managed to successfully fight off the urge to save anything I've torn down. However, I did uncover what I think is some original tongue and groove pine that was used to panel a wall; that's probably going to get removed and held on to. Same with the lath under the plaster, I'll find something to do with it down the road.
Without question, the worst part of the basement demo has been the logistics of getting stuff to the dumpster. If the property is 125' deep, I'm guessing each trip to the dumpster - carrying something halfway heavy - covers every bit of 150', which is half of a football field.
I've still got the front room to deal with, which has an elevated plywood floor, and the furnace room, but otherwise...moving right along. I'll get another dumpster out here in a couple weeks to finish the project...once my body recovers from the 5 days of demo and hauling I just wrapped up.
The rehab has started.
Sure, I've been working here - nights, weekends, afternoons, pretty much any free time I've had - for the past 2 months, but 70% of that was getting the place just tolerable enough to live in safely and cleanly, and 30% of that was actually moving stuff in. Somewhere in there, I squeezed in a couple weekends working to get the old place cleaned up. No real "rehab" work.
I've already gone through 2 dumpsters, 1 at the old place to minimize how much garbage I drug over to the new house, and 1 at the new place to handle the yard waste. Yesterday, I got a 3rd dumpster: a 30 yarder. What for? Basement demo. The start of the rehab work.
I've purposely kept the basement empty because, in short, it's gross. Not "ew, yucky" gross, but like legit disgusting. It appears to be clean, but the odor tells a different story and it's the things behind walls and above ceilings that are making it disgusting.
To begin with, I will always believe 100% that finishing a stone foundation basement is a ridiculously bad idea unless extravagant means are taken to mitigate water and moisture. In modern construction you get poured concrete foundation walls which are then waterproofed on the exterior side, and then you typically also get a sump pump and maybe even a drain tile system. In the 19th century, you got big rocks mortared together and that was it.
So...stone foundation basements are fairly susceptible to water and/or moisture infiltration, eventually. Finishing those spaces with things like drywall, suspended ceilings, insulation - all things that absorb or collect moisture - is asking for trouble. Add in 6-10 dogs confined to the basement, some ungodly number of mice living (they're dead now...but not before dropping 47 pounds of turds) in the ceiling, and a suspended basement ceiling with impossible-to-replace ceiling tiles below a kitchen that has no subfloor, and this basement is definitely bad news.
As a result, all the stuff one typically keeps in a basement, which in my case is a full blown wood shop, I'm having to store in the dining room. And the kitchen. And every closet in the house. And the yard, ghetto hoosier style. And the foyer. It's a disaster.
Now that I have the dumpster I can demo the basement, or at least a good chunk of it, hopefully rid the space of the decaying carcasses and unspeakable funk, move some stuff into the basement, and start using the space.
But, first things first, right?
The mountains of stone, bricks, busted up concrete slabs, and busted up cementitious building facade that I dug out of the yard and piled up in various places, that had to go in the dumpster first. Today, I accomplished that task, moving each stupid piece of debris by hand from the back yard to the dumpster in the street. It looked a lot like this, over and over and over:
The end result was this:
Can you imagine digging that stuff - most of it actually buried - out of a back yard? I didn't even get into the larger foundation stones; those things are too heavy to move and there are enough of them that I'll figure out some way to reuse them in the yard at some point. Likewise, I didn't touch the patio bricks, which cover several hundred square feet. Those will get pulled up and reset some rainy week...next year.
Still, I accomplished a lot.
That's only half of the piles, but you probably get the idea.
I got that done mid-afternoon and shifted my focus to the basement demo. The logistics of getting stuff outta there are downright terrible. I'm sort of limited to hauling stuff out the walkout door at the rear of the basement, then alllllll the way around the house. If you watched the video, it's that path of travel plus another 30 or 40 feet, most of which takes place in the dark underneath a rotting deck where a stray cat occasionally hides out. Good times.
I picked a random little space in the center of the basement to get started, mostly because it's the smallest room down there and I wanted to get a taste of what I would be up against before attacking one of the larger rooms with a plan that wasn't going to be any good. I only spent a couple hours tearing things apart, and in that time...
...4 mouse carcasses fell from the ceiling (only 3 pictured; I didn't take a pic of the first one because I thought that was the only one I was going to find...silly assumption, eh?), bringing the grand total so far to 6. And all the little black specks on the floor? Mouse poop. The floor was covered with it after ceiling demo.
I ended up tearing out a couple walls, but between the stone hauling and dead mice raining from the ceiling, I was done by that point.
But you better believe I had enough energy for a shower.
I Got Old. Fast.
I had a self-imposed deadline of being out of the old house - completely - by the end of June. I thought I had a good plan for making that happen, but it's hard to quantify just how much time is required to move things in or out of a place when stairs are involved in every...single..trip.
2 weeks ago, I think (the days and weeks all kind of blend together with this virus-related work from home stuff, right?), I got enough stuff moved over to the new house that the dogs and I could live there. Maybe it was 3 weeks ago, I can't remember.
Regardless, the big hurdles left to be fully moved out were:
The basement wood shop had been cobbled together over the course of 5-6 years, and rather than move all of it over to the new place, I spent a single weekend throwing most of the non-tools in a dumpster; workbenches, assembly tables, scrap lumber, shelving, it all went in a 13yd dumpster and there wasn't an inch of dumpster space to spare when it was all said and done. I had to cut some of the benches into pieces just to get them out of the house, but all of it, every single load I carried out to the dumpster, required either going up the basement steps, through the house, and down the front yard steps, or going out the basement walkout door, up some steps, and then all the way around the house.
The garage wasn't a big issue to clean out, but man, metal dust is nasty stuff. And since it's borderline impossible to find a mask or respirator of any kind at the moment, I was stuck wearing my old respirator, and that thing's 12 different kinds of old and gross. I had some old oak logs in the garage I'd been hanging on to for some silly reason, and they were too heavy to move, so I had to cut them into pieces with a variety of tools definitely not meant for cutting tree trunks, and then I split them with my sorry excuse for an axe (know what else can't be found on the shelves at the moment? Axes. Somehow, the virus caused a run on axes...). That took way more time than I wanted it to.
The worst, by far, was the kitchen cleaning. Let's just leave it at this: I went through 4 bottles of Soft Scrub, and scrubbed every square inch of the floor by hand. And the dog hair...I wouldn't trade my dogs for anything in the world, but with Roscoe being a lab/chow/border collie/shepherd/cattle dog combo, it's shedded dog hair hell.
Miserable work, but I got it done.
Since then, not much progress has been made, partially by choice, partially due to circumstances beyond my control. I had to work last weekend, and I felt like the basement/garage/kitchen cleaning extravaganza took a little (lot) out of me, so a few days of laying low was in order.
More importantly, and what the title of this post alluded to, I sustained a couple minor injuries during the cleaning fiasco. I sprained a knee, and may or may not have been gifted with an umbilical hernia. Good times.
The knee, that could have happened anytime, anywhere. The new place is kind of a catastrophe and with Freckles still being in the puppy phase of things where she likes to hang out in my feet 24/7, I have to take a lot of weird steps at times to avoid stepping her. Or, I could have come down a ladder wrong, or taken a funky step while carrying something into or out of a house. Could have been anything.
The hernia thing, the jury's still out on that, but if I did in fact get one, it's undoubtedly from me carrying some stupid heavy object out of or into a house. That's on me. Now I have to check my belly button 58 times a day to see if my insides are trying to become my outsides.
All that said...in a few days things are gonna get cranked back up. I've got a 30yd dumpster coming and the finished basement, she's going back to her original state. I need to open that space up so I can see the MEP (mechanical, electric, plumbing) systems, and maybe more importantly, I need to get rid of the dead animals in the ceiling and dog-stained everything. Right now, every last one of my tools is on the main floor of the house, and they all need to go down to the basement. I've got lumber piled up in the back yard like a redneck, and there's just kind of a general logjam with that basement being unusable.
1300 sq. ft., divided into about 4-5 different rooms...LOTS of drywall and insulation...it's all gotta go. Tearing it out over the course of a few days isn't so bad, but the logistics of getting it all to the dumpster, every single option is the absolute worst. But it's gotta be done, so I'm gonna do it.
As long as the knee continues to get better and not worse, and as long as my belly button doesn't explode.