Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Excavation and an Acadian. Maybe.

For those of you who have been here from the start, you may remember that our front porch is built on top of nothing.  Literally, nothing.  Not on top of dirt, or stone, or rock, or, I dunno, quicksand?  Nope-- nothing.  We found this out when our home inspector pretty much fell through the porch and said the equivalent of "um, hey guys?  I fell through the porch into nothing."  Except with a French-Canadian accent.  (I think he was French-Canadian, although I may be imagining things...)
Where the possibly-Acadian home inspector fell through the porch.

What you could see of the dirt under the porch, originally.
Looking down into the abyss, under the once and future porch.
This is the laundry room and guest room you're looking at.

For some reason, the front of the house is perched on a bunch of load-bearing two-by-fours, while the roof is held up, via the four front pillars, by an underground stone wall, unconnected to the two-by-fours.  Over 115 years, this setup has allowed dirt to seep in.  How much dirt?  Well, here's how it looked last week:

Once we got down there, this is the mound of dirt.
The porch is up top, and you're standing in what will
be the downstairs bathroom, looking through the
guest room and into the laundry room.
Notice the lovely load-bearing walls on either side.
Anyhow, I had the brilliant idea that we should excavate the whole thing and expand into that space.  We're pretty much not allowed to do anything to the house because of historical rules, but they don't care what we do underground, so as long as we're on our own property, theoretically, the sky's the limit.  (Or the opposite, really.)  This week they've started to excavate, and have hit a few small snags.  First off, there's apparently a lot more dirt down there than they expected.  $4000 more, actually.  Yeah, I know.  They were unable to use a big machine to do the digging, because the porch above would not support a machine. (Recall, if you will, the Quebecker screaming.  "Mon dieu! Zut allors! Et autres phrases francais!")  So everything had to come out by hand.  If you ask me, $4000 means everything came out with tiny spoons, but that's neither here nor there, and look what a great job they did, spoons or no spoons:
All excavated!

We had to go to the house this afternoon to meet with Sheyy for loan stuff (another story completely), so Mark and Rory wanted us to come over to talk about a few things having to do with this lovely excavation.  Lovelier than the $4000?  Maybe...  Anyhow, it looks like the wall to the right, made of lovely stones, is also pretty much useless.  No way we can build a real wall against it, let alone expect it to keep out any kind of moisture.  (Luckily it's been pouring, so we can see how much water we might expect in a non-hurricane worst-case scenario.)  So we have to put a moisture barrier all the way around, then build a cement-block wall in front of it for stability before we frame it out and put drywall in.  All in all, we're losing about ten inches of space from that side. Putting quite the squeeze on the guest room, that's for sure.  

Another issue is the bathroom.  The downstairs bathroom is in the corner of the house, in an addition that was put on several decades after it was built-- I think in the 1920s.  Anyhow, this is the one area of the house we couldn't really get into well the whole time, because the floor was unstable.  So we learned that apparently our architect also couldn't really get into it either; apparently he just estimated where things were by measuring the outside of the house and doing some math.  Now we find out there's this strange 6-inch half-wall running the length of the bathroom, and a load-bearing pillar smack-dab in the middle of it all.  After a bunch of thinking, we came up with a plan we hope will work, which basically involves moving the bathroom sinks from one wall to another, and having to deal with the fact that instead of a mirror over one of the sinks there will be a window.  With a HUGE ledge of about 18 inches.  That we can't really put stuff on because the window opens by swinging in. 

Positive: We found that, under the stairs and behind the mudroom-to-be's walls there's this oddly shaped circular space where we may be able to tuck our water heater.  (FYI, we're getting the kind that has no tank, but heats on demand.  It saves a whole bunch of energy when you're not home for a while, which kinda happens sometimes...)  

Notice the curve of the circular staircase at left, and the
strange space between that and the load-bearing walls at center.
We'll be able to do something with that, but we're not 100% sure what.
Negative: We found that having the boiler (which is also the air conditioner) in the center of the downstairs is just not going to work, and it won't work in the mudroom either.  Unfortunately, this means we're likely going to have to put it on top of the upstairs bathroom, which means we'll be losing some of the airspace we had gained in the Great Room.  The upstairs bathroom cuts out into the Great Room right now, and although the space above it is useless, it feels luxurious, and it also shows the gorgeous original rails along the wall.  Now, that will likely be boxed in, and we will probably lose most or all of the storage space behind the rails and above the window boxes to large duct work.  Better that than having huge bulkheads running through the house, but I'm still bummed.  I asked Mark to see if there was any way they could still finagle some storage space up there, and to see if we could get some faux rail to match the part that will be blocked.  Just have to make sure the MHT folks don't see the word "faux" anywhere, because that's something likely to make them kvetch.  (Tiny positive: because the AC unit was moved from downstairs, we will no longer have a weird closet opening up into the middle of the family room, and Isaac's closet can be much bigger.)
Unfortunately we're going to be re-losing the space above the bathroom cutout,
and most or all of the storage space behind the rails around the Great Room.
These developments are the first of what I'm sure will be many (hopefully not too many) unexpected on-the-spot changes, difficulties, and expenses for this project.  This week was kind of a shock to us, because it's been the first with out-of-pocket expenses, as opposed to the regular expenses which are already counted into our mortgage payment.  Had to pay the first $7,500 for the plumber to connect us to the water and sewer mains on Saturday; he starts Monday.  And had to pay the first $5,000 to the contractor for the excavation and a whole bunch of other stuff having to do with the excavation, such as removing the concrete-slab foundation under the half of the downstairs bathroom that has it (the rest of the house rests only on dirt) because with the foundation the ceiling will be less than seven feet tall.

However, at this point at least, it's still totally worth it.  It's fantastic to arrive at the house and see double-digits of people working (actually working, not just sitting around, either), and machines humming and people on ladders and piles of trash and NEW STUFF going in.  Yeah, nerves are being wracked, but so far so good, I think.  Abby?  Well, she's a bit more nervous than I am.  Or maybe I just hide it better...  But remember, comparatively speaking, this job is going swimmingly.  Swimmingly, I say; swimmingly. (And now for the pictures I promised the other day, of all this new stuff.)
If you look closely, you can see new cedar shingles and the new porch roof.
Oh, and the picket fence is gone!  Watched them tear it right off.
Look at the new flashing!  So crisp!  And not rotting!

Finally they've removed the Great Room windows for rehab.
These are the pieces de resistance for the room, along with the
vaulted ceiling. I CANNOT wait to see this completed.

And the removed Great Room windows from the outside.
Love the patchwork look the house is getting, with the new
taking over the old.  And notice the old paint is mostly gone.
Traveling salesmen?  Oh, please just step over here!  Whoops...
(Best part of this picture is that someone painted over the incorrect
address that been on the house, over the mailbox.  It used to be right,
but not for the past decade I guess.  And everyone, from the water company
to the US Postal Service, was very confused by it.)

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