Project 5: Repairing Piers and Posts

arthouse_thumbnailWhen you stepped into the Art House through the front door, you walked over a “buckle” in the floor and started heading downhill. There was a 2″ drop as you crossed from the living room into the kitchen. It was so pronounced that I was able to place a marble at the top of the “hill” and watch it slowly roll to the bottom.

The house was built in 1901 on a “pier and post” foundation, a style of building that utilizes cement footers with 8″ square posts that hold up the framework of beams and floor joists. The town of Bucoda sits in a river valley that floods every 40 years or so. The Art House sits on the very edge of town and has avoided the flood waters each time; but the soil can be soft and crumbly and subject to sinking and shifting. Considering the age of the house and the condition of the soil, I suspected that one or more of the piers on the south east side of the house had sunk. Shoring up the piers was essential before I could move ahead with any other repairs on the house.


The new pier on the left is in the spot where the old post had completely rotted away.


At this point, you can see the old post lifted off its cement footing.


Two of the new piers and posts in final position.

I began by removing the cement boards that covered the open foundation and discovered it was worse that I first thought.  One of the piers was completely rotted away and a second was in the process. No wonder the floor was sinking!

I used gravel and wooden blocks to stabilize the dirt and then inserted three 12-ton bottle jacks under the outer beam.  I made sure to place a steel plate between the piston and the beam (otherwise, the piston would puncture the beam – multiplying the problem). Alternating from one to the other, I slowly lifted the house until the piers were no longer holding up the house. I knocked them loose and inserted three new cement bases in their place, along with three new posts (cut from 4×4″ pressure treated lumber).  It took some pushing and pounding to get them into position, but after that, I released the pressure on the jacks and dropped the house onto its new piers.

You can still feel the buckle in the living room floor when you walk over it. But the 2″ slope has been removed and the foundation is back to full strength.  That’s one more important project checked off the list!

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Project 4: Wood Burning Stove and Chimney

arthouse_thumbnailThis has been one of the busiest summers for my family in years: weddings, births, camping trips, family get-togethers, birthdays.  From mid-May through September, we spent nearly 12 weekends away from home. I hadn’t touched the Art House for more than four months.

With winter just around the corner, the first priority was to provide a source of heating for the Art House so I could continue working through the cold months ahead. I had already removed the oil burning furnace back in April. Not only was the unit beyond recovery, but the cost of fuel oil is prohibitive. Besides, I wanted to install a wood-burning stove. Something to give the house a warm and cozy feel.


The mortar on the ancient chimney was basically sand.


Step 1 was to remove the old brick chimney, not as difficult as I first imagined, since the mortar essentially crumbled in my hands. A few quick taps with a hammer and I was able to push the chimney off the roof. Inside the attic, same story. The chimney was down in less than half an hour.

Chimney pedestal inside the kitchen.

Chimney pedestal inside the kitchen.

This collar provides an "heat break" between the hot chimney pipe and the surrounding wood.

This collar provides an “heat break” between the hot chimney pipe and the surrounding wood.

Strangely enough, the chimney did not continue down to foundation of the house. Instead, the base sat on a pedestal shelf that protruded from the wall of the kitchen, with a round opening for the chimney pipe where it used to be connected to the oil furnace. Removing the chimney opened up additional wall space in the kitchen. A nice bonus.


New chimney installed on roof.

The next task was to haul the 350 pound wood stove up over the porch and through two sets of doors. I rented a refrigerator dolly to do the job; fortunately, my wonderful neighbors, Kelly and his son, Tristan, were available to lend a hand. Without their help, I don’t think I would have been able to navigate the obstacles hauling a cast iron stove – even with the dolly.


I’m planning on adding a tile floor and a brick facade and mantel behind the stove.

Once the stove was in position, I cut a hole into the ceiling and guided stove pipes through the opening. In the attic, I installed two consecutive 45 degree angles in order to reach the existing hole through the roof where the old chimney once stood. Some missing parts on the chimney stack required a side-trip to Home Depot. Plus a gushing wound in my thumb when a sharp metal edge sliced it open.  It stretched the project into two full days, but with patient assistance from my nurse/wife Jamie, we celebrated a successful installation with an inaugural fire on Saturday, Nov. 1st.

The wood burning stove is everything I hoped for. It quickly warmed up the living room to a comfortable 68 degrees and radiated heat into the bedrooms. It will keep me from freezing this winter as I tackle the two most challenging projects on my list: fixing the plumbing and completely reinstalling the electric system throughout the house.

My back and knees already hurt just thinking about it.


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Project 3: Windows and Exterior Doors

arthouse_thumbnailBy the end of March, an inspector from my insurance company had submitted his report: FAIL. Unless I fixed a long list of “hazards” at the property, my insurance would be cancelled. I had two months to comply. Until then, I was on probation.

Among other things, I was required to repair or replace all broken/unsecured windows (there were six of them) and repair the broken locks and broken glass in the exterior doors (two sets of those).


New vinyl window installed, reframed to fit a smaller opening.

We spent 6 of the next 8 weekends tracing a triangle route from our home in Auburn to Home Depot and out to the Art House in a race against the clock. The biggest challenge was finding windows to fit into the frame openings of a house built in 1901. None of the standard measurements for modern windows matched the existing sizes. I had to reframe all of the openings. For the guest room, I ended up ordering a custom window. As with any remodeling project, things took longer than expected, but the end result was satisfying – and it was a pleasure to throw away the old aluminum, single-pane windows and replace them with efficient, double-pane vinyl.

NewDoorThe two sets of exterior doors presented an additional challenge. I was determined to rescue them from the scrap heap. They were more than 100 years old and divided into 10 lights for each pair – with an average of 2 panes busted on each door.

I removed the doors and took them home to my backyard shop. I began by removing the broken glass, scraping the flaking paint, filling holes and chips, followed by plenty of sanding. Using my router table, I used a combination of bits to recreate the custom molding around a few of the broken windows; it was either missing or damaged beyond repair. Finally, I refurbished the old hinges; I was glad to save those, too, since they were original to the doors and made of solid brass.

This photo of the rear door shown here illustrates the finished result. As soon as I have a chance, all four doors will be painted bright red – a fitting and dramatic entrance to the Art House.

I’m pleased to say that we met the deadline of May 5th; the insurance inspector came out and submitted a follow-up report: PASS. The Art House is still ugly. But it’s insured.

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Project 2: New Roof

arthouse_thumbnailThe Washington State flower is the rododendron. It should be moss. It grows on everything: on cars, sidewalks, fences, everywhere. In the Northwest, if it ain’t moving, it’s got moss growing on it.

It was no different for the Art House, which had a thick carpet of green moss covering the entire western exposure of the roof. Shaded by the canopy of a large cedar tree, it was 6 inches deep in places with ferns and grass sprouting from the rotting eaves. Somehow, the original 100-year old wooden gutters still clung to the roof framing, although they no longer served their original purpose. They had become a hanging garden.


The moss had been growing on the roof for years; once it was removed, it took 7 sheets of plywood to repair the damage.

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