Barn Background

We’ve spent five years working on the house so far, and all that time the barn out back has been slowly leaning and settling as the wooden sill plates rotted away. It’s time to turn to the other structure in the drawing at the top of this blog: the barn.

I’m currently contemplating the “straightening” step, and some recent research led me to River Road Ramblings, which had good detail confirming essentially what I had in mind. It also got me motivated enough to start catching up on progress with the barn so far. If you have an Instagram account, flachsreude will provide some real inspiration as they are starting with a larger, older house and barn in Germany with a lot more work to do.

Our barn has three sections in the old drawing, two of which are still standing. The shed roof off the back is gone, though we can still see where it was attached.

South side of the barn, still showing where the shed roof had been. Missing door has a temporary cover.

Some time before we bought the house, a tree fell on the barn roof in a storm, damaging the section closest to the house. That sat for some time, letting water in, but was eventually patched with a flat rubber roof and vinyl siding.

Looking west. The shed roof had been off the left side. The house is north, to the right.

The combination of leaking roof and untreated wood sills resting on damp rock walls has taken a toll. The architect working on our house recommended removing and building new, but I’ve instead decided I could use another project… Besides, it has been here a while and was listed in the Pultneyville historic register application as a “contributing nineteenth-century frame barn”, so I’d like to try to save it. That, and I’m not sure how far down the list this would fall if we had to price out a whole new structure.

The damage is more apparent on the inside, where the rotted sill beams have led to settling and a noticeable lean to the building. The floor was wood over wooden joists. Judging by the dimensions of the joists, it looks like they were added in the 1950s or so, which pre-dated pressure treated lumber. Being so close to the wet dirt under the barn, they’ve mostly rotted away.

The state of the wood floor – the floor boards themselves are still mostly good and may be reused.
What were once solid 8″ x 8″ sill beams have been sitting on a stone wall. The rot goes up the posts.

The first step, though, was removing the accumulation of stuff that barns collect.

Polo worried about changes.

Some of the material was from the house, so needed to be saved for potential reuse. Other items, like the wood stove shown above, had been in the barn since we moved in. Finally digging it out, we found it to be a less exciting model from 1975.

The wall holding up those house parts looked from the outside like it had been a second door, which was more clear once everything was moved out of the way.

The same view as above, more clearly showing a second door.

After cleaning out the north side of the barn, the “fun house” floor could be removed and the rotted floor joists taken to the dump. Now we could see more of what we had gotten ourselves into…

What’s left of floor joists and a sill beam from the south section of the barn.

There was just nothing left of some of those beams.

Up to the Roof

The structure of the dining room ceiling was so bad, the joists and beam had to be removed. Unfortunately, physics dictates that if you remove the joists, you need to remove the floor above it. And, like the children’s book “if you give a mouse a cookie”, if you remove the floor above, you need to remove the walls that are on that floor, and the ceiling above those walls. We weren’t able to stop until we reached the roof deck, which opened up a few possibilities for how to put it back together.

Up to the roof.

Above the dining room was a hallway, bathroom, and a part of an upstairs bedroom. It’s hard to replace the floor in half a bedroom, though, especially when the new part would be level and the old part decidedly wasn’t. The slope of that floor would have led to a slight step up at one end of the seam and step down at the other. Instead, we decided to make the whole room level: the new part above the dining room was built level; and the part of the bedroom above the kitchen that didn’t need to be removed was sistered with new, level joists for a smooth, continuous flow.

There wasn’t enough flooring to reuse for the upstairs bedroom and hallway, so we needed something that would fit the house. On a visit to a local reclaimed wood company, we took a tour of their production facility and noticed an old sample of elm flooring. They were able to track down enough for the bedroom and hallway; we just had to wait for it to be prepared.

Upstairs hall, with “new” floor, new lighting and outlets we never had before, and with the original beam exposed.

We had complete freedom to redesign the upstairs flow. In the end, though, the layout is roughly the same, with a few small improvements. We added heated floors to the bathroom and enlarged the shower by taking space from the bedroom closet. The old claw foot tub was re-glazed and new fixtures ordered so it could actually be used. One unexpected issue with the new tub – it holds more hot water than our existing tank can generate. The excitement and expectation of using it for the first time was unfortunately tempered, literally, when the hot water ran cold. 

For space heating, the entire zone was being removed, so instead of replacing the radiators and running new hot water pipes, we made room from a small hallway closet to hold a heat pump. Since the ceiling was open, installing ductwork was easier now than it would ever be again, and the heat pump provides both heating and cooling – the first “central” air of the house.

If you have the ceiling open, add spray foam and duct work!

While we were at it (a phrase that came up far too often), we also removed an old, unused chimney that was in the back part of the house. The old kitchen stove that may have once needed it was long gone, but all the brick was still there, resting on a couple of wooden boards, adding weight to the kitchen ceiling and taking up space in the attic.

About 15 feet of brick resting on a couple of boards.

Demolition all the way to the roof deck also allowed for the roof structure to be stiffened and spray foam insulation added. Typical of how the project grew, this was a chance to replace all the knob & tube wiring of this section too. The two bedroom windows were restored, for the first time fixing the broken pane of glass that had been covered with cardboard for years in the upstairs bedroom.

Bedroom, looking towards hallway and bathroom.

The problem with having a tub larger than the water tank was resolved, by the way, by increasing the temperature of the tank. That provided water that was hot enough to mix with cold and fill the tub. The renovation was a finally done.


Digging Deeper

Before we head upstairs, it’s worth looking behind the scenes at the dining room. I had mentioned the floor joists were in the dirt, and that was not an exaggeration.

Floor joist in the dirt, surrounded by many little footprints, and one big one.

To stop the drafts, and the critters, we had to get down to a level where we could have a crawl space. And, like so many other aspects of this project, if you have the floor open, you might as well dig and pour a proper crawl space. So we did:

Digging down for a crawl space.
Reinforcing the existing foundation wall.
And creating a proper crawl space to support the new floor.
Spray foam on the foundation walls and some of the steel needed to hold up the stone wall.
Final steel structure.