Saturday, August 4, 2012

Summer's Harvest

While I haven't yet convinced the landbank to allow me access to any of their demo properties, I do have direct access to one. The Carriage Town Historic Neighborhood Council owns the house adjacent to Spencers. Though (in my skewed opinion) it isn't beyond revitalizing, it will be soon. A gaping hole in the roof, all of the upper windows open to weathering, and no one present to do make any use of it; it seems everyone is just waiting for it to start collapsing in on itself, so they don't have to feel guilty for bulldozing it.

Knowing this, and seeing a number of easily sourced materials, I move in with my bag of instruments and begin diagnostics. Modern 2x4's in the bathroom, recently renovated. Charred planks on the roof. Spotty but relatively minor water damage along most of the perimeter. Many windows well intact, many hinged instead of sunken behind a center stop: easy removal. Already exposed wall and roof framing. Roof ties up to 15' long. Tongue-and-groove floor boards in good shape. Full span 2x8 floor joists, albeit sandwiched between two layers of floor boards and old plaster + lath. Maybe later.

I start with the floorboards. After a few, I find they come much more smoothly when pried from the 'tongue' side. With a run through the planer these can look brand-new, though the multi-colored weathered look has my interest, too. 

I move to the roof and several of the walls for framing lumber, weighing options to try and get the most reward for my labor. A fairly narrow house, the floors are clearspanning, meaning the interior walls aren't loadbearing. This makes taking those low-risk and easy, so they take priority.


But the members connecting the two sides of the pitched roof are 12'-15' long, very useful. I don't want to risk collapsing the structure over any short amount of time and so opt to sawzall out every third, leaving plenty to keep the structure tied.

Then after finally taking out a couple of reusable windows, I have a new transportation strategy:

Several 50-foot trips later, it's all safe in its new home. Take that, broken transmission.

A bountiful harvest: three doors, two heat registers, a window (many more to come), nine 2x4's, and nearly 200 sqft of floorboards.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Lofty Contemplations

I continue ripping away at the remnants of the second floor which still hang at the perimeter. The last couple joists which are fairly solid are put aside for later use, along with a few floor boards and a number of porcelain insulators, used for running electrical wiring through the joists of older houses.

My new local acquaintance ‘Yogi’ quickly becomes excited at these, explaining their worth on the streets as crack pipes. And here I was thinking I was the resourceful one.

The floor wholly removed, I start scratching my head as to how now I’ll reach the ceiling to repair it without the difficulties of several very tall ladders, as working from the top of the roof puts me in danger of falling through it 25 feet. In the meantime, I start peeling away the plaster and lath in the whole area, acknowledging the already existing gashes and voids. The far wall, too, is water damaged, crumbling with the slightest touch. I’ll likely have to reinforce this before getting too involved with the roof.

The remaining lath and ceiling joists just beneath the breach have taken on some sculptural qualities. Here they dangle, resisting at once the sweeping decay brought on by nature as well as the rigidity intended by man. I contemplate reinforcing and preserving this moment, to make this architectural comb-over as a relic – not to the past of the house which the city so desperately wishes on it, but as a testament to that different life the house led over the past 15 years: an alternative path of squatters hiding in its darkest corners, of animals scampering within its walls, of fire scorching its roof, of wind and water flowing freely from one surface to another.

Ultimately I choose to tear the rest of the ceiling down, not wanting to preserve the strange smells of the rotting wood or the bacteria which might plague it.

As the ceiling is cleared up, the reason for roof failure becomes more obvious: a nearly flat roof. These aren’t capable of handling water and snow as well as steeper roofs, and without upkeep they’re the first to fail.

This part of the roof covers about ¼ of the house, with numerous peaks and valleys and telescoping and steepness covering the rest – all of which will make that next job much harder. The good news for this section is that it’s much easier to work on a flatter surface, relatively comfortable, even.

A visiting friend suggests creating a roof hatch to be able to get materials up without having to leave unsecured ladders outside, which sparks the idea for a roof terrace. With the neighborhood as ‘active’ as it is, there is a shortage of safe and private outdoor space. Facing away from the road, this is perfect.

The scenic view