Monday, April 16, 2012

The story of the Old School House II: What was behind the walls.

Prior to any work being done, I had to perform demolition on the basement walls. Now again, this basement in the old school house is only partly below grade and is used for living space, specifically my office, the dining room, the kitchen, a bathroom and the laundry/utility room.  As I mentioned before, the dining contained an alcove directly below a tub in the master bathroom, this alcove was created by removing part of a double supporting wall.  When I removed the drywall I found extensive mold, in part due to water from a burst pipe the previous owner reported.  I also found that the floor for the master bath was new from an ’03 renovation.  Not only had the contractor not noted the missing support below, they ran pipes in a haphazard manner and needlessly cut into joists while not adding adding reinforcements.   

As I removed more wall and ceiling I found more mold, double layers of drywall and found further evidence of poor support.  This was due to the old joists have irregular thicknesses, some rested directly upon the supporting walls, while others had gaps that allowed movement and settling.  This included the kitchen, which was also recently renovated and the contractors should have noticed the problem.  I have had to install shims and other supports to ensure each joist distributes its load to the supporting wall.
Our main contractor and myself found many junction boxes and dead-ended wires when we removed the walls and ceilings.  Our electrician fixed these and other problems, including crossed circuits, extra wiring and a bad main breaker.  

Finally there are the bathroom walls. This is an old bathroom, with tile surrounding a tub/shower and half covering the wall behind the sink.  This tile is mounted on ferro-cement (cement or plaster on a wire mesh) making it impossible to remove. The problem here was that the plumber needed to access the pipes to the sink. I need to backtrack here and explain that we needed to replace all our copper plumbing while the walls were open.  The problem is that we have acidic well water, we plan to get a neutralizer but there had already been a burst pipe so we knew that some were weakened.  Anyway I resolved that I could at least remove the upper drywall portion of the wall. We couldn’t go in from the kitchen side since that would render it largely unusable.  I removed the drywall and saw studs and another layer of drywall, no pipes.  So I assumed that was not the kitchen wall itself and began cutting. I discovered that this layer actually consisted of two layers of drywall! The pipes were now revealed on front of another set of studs and the back of the kitchen wall. So this wall between the kitchen and bath consisted of four drywall layers!  There is also a built in cabinet in the bath, above two feet of wall. Since water had leaked from the bath into the utility room and cause mold there I assumed the same was occurring beneath the shelves. Sure enough it was all moldy, in fact there was an enclosed unventilated space of about 4 cubic feet, doing nothing but breeding mold.

In short, there had been multiple changes since the school house was converted in to a residence in the late 50s. Much was probably done by the homeowners, but some of the worst was done by a contractor in the last decade.  And in all cases instead of removing the old, they just tacked on another layer of walls, wires and pipes.  So in a way in was fortuitous that we had our sagging issue, because we would have no idea of these problems lurking down below.

Next: fixing and future plans. This installment will be late in the summer when the work is done.

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