In just about any whole-house rehab project there's inevitably going to be a space, or area, or room that is exponentially worse off than all the others. Usually, it's a case of a previous owner not wanting to do any real heavy lifting, and band-aiding major issues or covering them up.
In my house, I have found that room, and it's the front room in the basement. What a mess.
Before I get into some of the specifics, let's start on a lighter note: I started the day by taking the dogs to the Meramec River. Roscoe - he's the elder statesman - has been on a million hikes, seen it all, and done it all. But he's NEVER swam. Ever. He just wasn't blessed with the swimming gene (which is odd, given his makeup of lab, border collie, cattle dog, etc.). Make no mistake, he'll lay in water all day long, he'll walk through water so long as it isn't deep enough to get more than a couple inches up his chest, and if I had to pick any dog on the planet to lead the way on a 700 mile hike through every climate and across every terrain imaginable, he's my first pick 100 times out of 100, even at his age (11+). But he's not a swimmer.
And then there's Freckles, the puppy. She's a whole different can of worms and while being a relatively small dog, she's as fearless as the day is long. She hasn't met a body of water she didn't want to jump into, and as long as the river isn't too high and fast-moving, the spot we go to is pretty perfect for her to figure out how to swim. Actually, she swims pretty well...it's figuring out when it's OK to jump in vs. when discretion might the better part of valor that she's still working on. But man, it's pretty neat seeing her splash around and explore the river. She's tiny but she's fierce; I kinda dig that about her.
So that was yesterday's fun. Now let's talk about the basement, some of the past few days' discoveries, and some of the challenges the front room presents.
Let's start with structural stuff, since everything else is sort of moot if the structural integrity of a building is wonky. This house is old enough to make use of wooden 8x8 posts and beams, and the first set I uncovered in the back part of the basement appear to be in pretty solid shape.
The same cannot entirely be said for the front part of the house, the first sign of trouble being the discovery of this column:
It looks like about a 5 foot section of the 8x8 beam was in bad enough shape that, at some point, it got replaced with a bunch of slapped together 2x6s and a steel post was put in to support the splice. In addition, some of the joists have split where the new beam was put in, because it was either installed before the invention of joist hangers or because somebody didn't know what they were doing:
This area of the house is below the foyer. Today, the foyer has a modern (and gaudy) ceramic tile floor. It originally had a tile floor, or that's my suspicion anyhow, based on the basement framing. I'll cover it in another blog, but the joist in the pic above, it supported the mortar bed in which the original tile would have been set. That means it also supports the tile floor that's there now. A couple other nearby joists have split as well.
As for the beam that was left in place, she's got a pretty big split right down the middle. It's not the end of the world and the split isn't unexpected, but it's something that merits further investigation and possible replacement down the road:
Then there's the infrastructure, which is a big part of the reason demo has gone so slowly in this part of the house: there's a TON of electrical junction boxes and wires buried in places they shouldn't be buried, and the ductwork isn't supported the way it should be.
At least these boxes have covers; only about half of them do. But junction boxes should never be put in inaccessible locations - both shown in the pic were behind drywall - and with the amount of wiring running in all directions, I have to be fairly cautious with the tools I'm using to deconstruct the finished basement.
Here's a pic of the duct trunk line running along the basement wall, which provides conditioned air to the front room of the main floor of the house. See the lone 2x4 still (sort of) standing? If I remove it, the entire duct assembly will fall to the floor, which I discovered the hard way. I'll have to demo around the duct for now, as there's no good place to properly disassemble it - the nearest joint is in the bathroom, which I don't want to tear apart just yet - so I can remove the framing, drywall, and plaster that surrounds it.
What about water and gas supply lines, you're asking yourself? They're pretty dicey as well.
When I first saw it, I thought "there's no way this massive, 2" outside diameter gas supply line is still active, surely the supply line has been replaced with something that isn't this large and rusty". But I was wrong; the giant gas line is still very much in service, which bothers me a little bit. And then there's this mysterious water valve, which may or may not be in service. I know I can shut off the water to the house by way of a different valve - albeit one that appears to be of the same age - so I don't know if this thing is live, or why both ends of it disappear into floors/walls - but I definitely don't want to touch it.
And then there's the plaster on the ceiling. It comes down easily enough and the old joists and floor above it look pretty cool when they're exposed, but carrying the mess out to the dumpster 200' away is a pretty time-consuming process.
That's where things stand. This is definitely one of those little chunks of a project where the amount of work invested yields frustratingly slow results, but progress is still being made.