Everything Must Go!

Update – temporary support wall needed as soon as dining room ceiling removed. This is what is keeping the upstairs bathroom upstairs. All the joists are bowed, but the ones under where the tub had been are also split – we learned from the engineer that cutting a 2×8 joist down to 2×6 at the end to fit it into a beam weakens it to less than the capacity of a 2×6. That’s clear from the splits still visible in these even after the temporary wall was added.

Temporary support for split ceiling joists.

The conclusion from the engineer – these joists cannot be saved. The bow, the splits, the amount of sag, all add up to an expensive retrofit that would only modestly improve the angle of the slope of the floor upstairs. New joists are needed. The only way to put in new joists is to take out the old ones, which means taking out the upstairs floor, which means removing the upstairs walls, which means taking down the upstairs ceiling.

Since this is the last view of those rooms before they are rebuilt, this post is dedicated to a series of “before” and “no more” pictures. The “after” will have to come in a later post.

Upstairs bedroom before.
Upstairs bedroom demo – cut lathe indicates the walls were a “modern” addition.
Upstairs hallway, facing north, towards the stone wall.
Upstairs hallway demo – there were two layers of wall on both sides. Under the plaster wall built flush with the top beam was a previous plaster wall. In this case, it also looks like an old window had been bricked over.
Upstairs while there still is an upstairs. These rafters also need to be reinforced but that can be done in place.
Joists removed. The beam in the foreground is in tact, except where this plumbing was cut through, and has only a 1″ sag in the middle of the 19′ span. It’s above the wall between the dining room and the kitchen. The 2×12 beams across the dining room are temporary bracing.

Never Assume

Consider this part 2 of the post from yesterday. What had been the conclusion of that post was, in fact, premature. I had opened up a corner of the wall, but it was just one corner.

Today I opened up the corner the rest of the way to the floor. There was one vertical post, so I was able to work my way down to the floor.

Unfortunately, there was not an obvious beam there. All I could see was at least three inches of mortar surrounding the base. Maybe a beam, maybe a foundation wall. We’ll have to wait until we open the floor to find out.

Across the top of the opening between the two sections of the house, though, I was able to keep pulling away plaster and lathe to expose the hoped for lintel. It did keep going, but only the width of what must have once been a window. It does not go all the way across.

West side of opening, with the stone lintel.
East side of opening, after the stone lintel ends.

The other end looked like the fields stone back wall of the house, with nothing specific holding it up above the wood frame.

Digging deeper, I was able to find wood holding up the stone. Maybe a 2×8 or so, set horizontally, so not a lot of structural support for the stone wall that is over a foot thick.

So, never assume what you see at one point keeps going to another.

Keeping that in mind, I decided to keep going to see how the beam I found at the top of the wall was supported.

North-East corner of Dining Room

This corner view has a lot going on – not least of which is the wallpaper pattern – but the beam is sitting on a post in the corner. That part was good news. How the hot water pipes for the radiators were cut into that beam, however, is concerning. Almost half of that 8×8 beam had been hacked away to make room for two 1″ copper pipes.

It begins again

It’s been a while. There have been projects, and I may post them eventually, but I also thought this was the best way to share the discovery process that is the first step of a new project.

First, some context. This is the dining room, a room in the older, wooden part of the house, looking north through an opening to the family room in the cobblestone section. There is work to be done in this dining room, and we wanted to know if the two sections of the house, what were probably two separate buildings originally, are actually attached.

Dining Room wall

We started by opening the wall. Odd that the wood studs holding the lathe and plaster are at an angle, but there is always something to learn when we start a project. In this case, we wanted to understand the wall structure so we could potentially attach the two buildings and find out what was holding the stone wall up above the opening – hopefully something structural.

Starting in a corner, I took off the plaster. The lathe is split, not sawn.

Going deeper, I found why the studs were at an angle. They are not structural at all but are just between the beam at floor level and the beam at ceiling level.

It’s an 8″ x 8″ beam and still looks good and straight. The doorway, however, has dropped. We noticed that when we moved in, and in fact I measured it at the time to make sure it wasn’t still dropping. It’s not, but now it’s clear what’s going on:

The post next to the doorway has dropped. I didn’t open up the floor, though that will be part of the upcoming project. It’s likely there is a beam along the floor, but it’s resting very close to the ground so has probably weakened and sagged in the middle, bringing the door frame down with it.

Likewise, looking at the joists going from that beam across the dining room ceiling, it’s clear that the weight above has been too much. There’s a whole bathroom that was added above the middle of the dining room, and it doesn’t look like the ceiling joists were sized to hold it. They’ve split, which is why the floor above slopes so much.

The real question was if there was anything holding the rock wall up above the door.

There is! I can’t tell if it’s stone or concrete, but it’s solid. So, there is something above the doorway holding up the rock wall. It makes sense that there is, but it’s reassuring to find it.

It’s not original

Just to clarify, for the record.

There’s a trap door under the rug, but it’s not part of a secret hiding spot.

Back back hallway
Back back hallway

Capt. Throop was an active member of the Underground Railroad (see Rochester newspaper video and local blog ), but his role was as ship captain, ferrying his “passengers” to their next stop or across the lake to freedom. It was up to others to hide the runaway slaves, so we haven’t found any evidence of a secret hiding spot.

But, there is a trap door under the rug in the back hallway now.


I put that in. I need to get access to the small crawl space under this section of the house, and it looks like the only outside access was walled up long ago.


Unfortunately, back in Week 3 – Leak 3, I mentioned that the leaking pipe had a hidden value. In an important lesson in unintended consequences, fixing the leak meant that there was no longer a constant flow of water through the pipe. Unfortunately, that pipe goes through an exterior wall, so without a constant flow, it freezes easily. So, a few weeks after I fixed it – the pipe froze.

That’s when I realized there wasn’t a way to the pipes. The crawl space under the adjacent room is accessible through the kitchen floor, but this section is walled off. So I had to cut through the plywood floor to thaw the pipe. It was a terribly tight fit, and the exercise confirmed that I would not enjoy spelunking. With a heat gun from underneath and a blow dryer from on top, we managed to thaw the pipe before it split.

I’m hoping to avoid more frozen pipes with a temperature-controlled light providing much-needed heat, but I fully expect I’ll need to get under there again. In the meantime, I’ve finally covered the plywood floor with something a little nicer, but I can still get underneath when I need to.



Having a daughter that’s an archeologist and a neighbor that’s a scuba diver can make for interesting weekends if they’re both home.

It’s possible there is a well in the old drawing at the top of this blog. A little wooden thing between the two trees behind the man walking down the street. That’s about where we have a well. It has a cement cap on it now, but we were curious enough to open it up this past summer.


Rock lined all the way down. At the time, it was about 15′ done to the water and another 9′ of water depth. First we sent a goPro, but it just showed rocks at the bottom and maybe a piece of wood. With Teddy and Kendall ready, we had to investigate.


More precisely, Teddy geared up and went to investigate.


First, there is a pipe going from near the bottom of the well up and into the side wall. From there, it goes straight in to the basement under the cobblestone part of the house. Just a cut off pipe there now, but clearly their first running water.


Teddy worked his way down and under the water. He brought up some muck from the bottom in a bucket, along with the wood that we’d seen. And a frog he found swimming around – probably fell in while we had the top open.


You can see the wood in the bucket. It looks like part of a wooden water pipe, and I’ve since seen other wells with something like that sticking out the side. It could have been used to direct water from the well in to a bucket. Except for a few mouse bones, that was the most exciting find on this expedition.

Knob and Tube

Our house has had its electrical system upgraded with every generation of technology since it came in to homes, including examples of new outlets wired to older wiring, so you can’t trust it just because it has three prongs. Take this example, where cloth wiring goes into an outlet I don’t recognize, then goes out through metal conduit, an ultimately to new wiring and a nice, new outlet. Don’t trust the outlet.


The entire upstairs has knob and tube wiring, which is always good for some costly drama on the home repair shows. The technology is simple, knobs hold the wire against the joists, like this part going through our attic:


And tubes run it through drilled holes in the joists:


In the end, it shows up in my office as a single two-pronged outlet. This is how it looked when I pulled the outlet from the wall to start replacing it:img_1817

Fortunately, one new circuit has already been run to the attic through what was once a closet in the living room. I was able to run wiring from there over to the office and down through the wall, so I have a real outlet in the office now. The ethernet cable I had to string along the hot water heating pipes, because I couldn’t get to that former closet to run any new wiring.

One outlet down, the rest of the upstairs to go.

Kitchen upgrade 2

It’s time to reveal the other side of the kitchen, this time from the outside.


This is the part of the house visible in the old picture at the top of the blog. In that drawing it’s white and has a stairway going up to the second floor.

Today, it may seem like an optical illusion that there’s a dip in the center of the picture… but it’s not. The siding looks rotted because it is – we knew that – but  the real damage was only apparent after opening it up. We brought in Randy again and after removing the trellis holding up the evil wisteria, they opened up the wall.


If it looks like there’s nothing holding up the wall, that’s because there isn’t. There wasn’t. The beam running the entire length of the kitchen (from the door to the porch in the first picture) was rotted away. It was essentially gone and the posts resting on it had rotted away too so the wall was literally hanging from the roof instead of being held up by the foundation.


Here’s the same wall with the rotted bits cut away. Notice the jacks under the posts. They were able to add a couple inches of height to the center.

One interesting clue to the history of the house: the entire opening between posts (from the left ladder to the post just to the right of the right ladder) has a single beam across it. That’s also the part of the kitchen with a floor that’s thicker than the rest of the floor boards. What I showed in the Kitchen upgrade 1 post is to the right, on a regular floor. This suggests the left side had a large door, maybe a barn door for a carriage.


The foundation wall was reinforced and the wall rebuilt with room for the two original windows and a larger french door. As they removed the rotted siding, they ended up going all the way up to the top and over to the corner. This allowed for sheathing and house wrap to be put up before new siding.


We had new cedar cut to match the boards on the part that wasn’t rotted. The work continued all the way up to the trim at the top, so things are looking much straighter now.


There is still another trim piece needed (had to be custom made to match) and gutters to be added, but I’m long overdue for posting this update.


Toni primed all the siding you see here before it was put up, and if you look close you can see a footprint or two from the dogs. Paint is next!

Kitchen upgrade 1

Time for some before and after pictures. If we go back to before we moved in – with a cameo by Mitzi – you get a good feel for how dark the room was:


Shortly after we moved in, the stove light lets you see how yellow the tiles were. The rest was orange and brown:


We’ve already had posts about fixing the stove door and replacing the dishwasher, but for much of the time there were also a variety of paint colors on the wall:


Yes, that’s brown window trim on the edges of the picture. After comparing the samples in all different lights, the top left was finally the winner and Toni got busy:


It’s a big room – this picture is basically from the middle. We’ll save what’s behind the photographer for another time. For now, let’s just enjoy the view looking this way!

Bottles in the Ceiling

img_1200 The living room looks great now. The walls are painted, the windows and trim are painted, the electric is upgraded (at least some of it) and the fireplace works. The one part that doesn’t look finished is actually the most interesting part.

First, a look back at where we started. The floors were dirty and the walls were pink  – even a pink ceiling. This picture is from our first tour of the house before we bought it.


I think the first trip over after we purchased the house included two beach chairs for furniture.

Toni experimented with a few color choices, leaving patches of paint up to see how they looked in different light.


Once decided, it still took days of detailed painting work. There is a lot of trim in that room!

There are a few minor details still to be finished, like new glass for the wall sconces and a better radiator cover behind the couch, but it’s looking good.

One part that won’t be changing is in this next picture, where you can see three holes in the ceiling. The far left one in the corner is electric; we think it’s connected to a switch on the wall and may someday be used again. The other two are corks in the ceiling.


At first, I thought they might be old gas pipes for lighting, but they’re not pipes. They’re bottles – upside down in the ceiling and corked up.img_1202

The previous owner said they were witch’s bottles, but we had never heard of such a thing.

Another explanation was a fire extinguisher, along the lines of a shur-stop fire “bomb”. Hayward’s Hand Fire GrenadeThese were filled with salt water or with a highly toxic chemical that would help snuff out the fire. In reading about them, I found instructions for museums on how to dispose of them safely since they were too dangerous to display. Not what we wanted in our ceiling. But these weren’t sealed bottles. They just had a cork, so that didn’t seem likely.

Today I happened across an article in Archeology that seems to confirm the idea of witch’s bottles. It sounds like they’re not common in the United States, but were sometimes found in England. Buried in the foundation or hidden in the house, sometimes upside down and sometimes filled with the owner’s urine. Being upside down and with a dry split cork, that last part doesn’t seem to apply in our case, but the rest of the story seems to fit.

Another article described them not for capturing the spirit of someone that died in the home, but rather to protect the home from evil spirits.

Maybe that’s why the room feels so happy now.