Need suggestions repairing a floor joist


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philadelphia, pa
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 11, 2012 - 09:47pm PT
@Fear- If you have a newsletter, I'd love to subscribe. Preaching to the choir, and each time I get sucked back into the old house thing. Were money no object I'd love nothing more than a big old Queen Anne.... Sigh. If only.
Jim Brennan

Trad climber
Vancouver Canada
Sep 11, 2012 - 09:54pm PT
Fear makes a good point but if you are going to go for the wood replacement avenue, do yourself a favour and get ALL the junk you are pussy footing around out of the way.

It's amazing how quickly and easily the plumbing, old rotted framing and whatever else can be reinstated compared to the frustration and problems that arise from trying not to disturb it.

PS. Insulate the heater pipe. TGT is correct but only if it's assumed there is or was always heated water in the pipe.


philadelphia, pa
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 11, 2012 - 11:08pm PT
Yup, going to cut the plumbing out of the way in the morning.

Did some digging, and found some pics to give perspective to the project (some might be in a thread about the house renovation I gave up on updating, as I didn't have a way to get pics posted from my phone at the time).

This is probably the best indication of the condition of the property when we bought it. How many abandoned boats to you see?

If your answer is "three", you're correct.

And the reason the interior repair has dragged on so long:

Figured first thing that needed to be done was stabilize the exterior, which hadn't been touched since 1960. Chipped off all the loose stuff, and then put up somewhere over 10,000 pounds of stucco. Sadly I only had the cherry picker for 2 weeks of the several months of working on it, as winter was setting in and I had a window of warm weather to finish what I could.

Some cool stuff was found though, like the panel between the front and back window weights in the one window box where the guy who made the windows signed it (I pulled all the weights when we replaced the *original* windows last fall. All told over 1,000 pounds of cast iron weights). Hard to see, but it says "Wm Kepfer July 1859". Actually found 2 signed panels, but this is the more legible one.

And of course, the basement... The black stuff is rotted wood, the white stuff mats of hairy mold. And the "dry" looking stuff on top wasn't, and was a good 16" above the cement floor. Everything squished when you stepped on it. Eww. Oh, and the weird thing on the left of the pic immediately below is the 1850's vintage octopus gravity heater. All told that heater was ~800 pounds of cast iron, and was hooked up to fairly modern ducting (1970's or so).

Jim Brennan

Trad climber
Vancouver Canada
Sep 11, 2012 - 11:26pm PT

Still, there's nothing like a good project to keep a man busy !

Social climber
The internet
Sep 11, 2012 - 11:29pm PT
Holy f*#king shit!! Grab the parachute and JUMP NOW!!!
Captain...or Skully

Sep 11, 2012 - 11:31pm PT
Yer gonna die fer sure.....;-)

philadelphia, pa
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 11, 2012 - 11:42pm PT
Everyone dies sometime, Capt Skully. I figure idle hands get me in trouble, so may as well do something interesting. And if that mold and who knows what else hasn't gotten me yet (did I mention the *inches* of mouse poop in the cabinets of the cottage?), I'm going to live forever.

And truth be told, we really did get it for a song and the bones are good, so a basic clean and fix-the-worst will still put us well ahead. What's more it's on 1/2 acre and one of only a handful of properties in the township grandfathered for 2 dwellings, so that's a plus as well. Oh, and it's in a great school district, so when our 2 year old is ready it gives us the option of simply adding 10 minutes to my wife's commute and avoiding putting her in the not-even-worth-considering/worst-in-the-area school district we're in now. Knowing we had a couple years to work on it was a large part of taking on the project....

Sep 11, 2012 - 11:54pm PT
This thread is excellent, all members pitching ideas with a goal of fixing the problem -too bad we couldn't bring the same sensibilities to fixing the rotten floor of the USA financial situation -if folks turned a house problem into an ideological battle they'd get their clock cleaned -why the double standard i wonder?

Sep 11, 2012 - 11:55pm PT
Oh wait -i've got it -there is a conspicuous absence of members of the politard threads from both sides of the spectrum on this one -hmm -those that can do-those that can't preach?
Captain...or Skully

Sep 11, 2012 - 11:59pm PT
Oh, I'm with ya, not ag'in ya. It just needed to be out there, is all.
It's traditional.
There seems to be some good ideas floatin' about and as it's not my field of expertise, I'll bow out to those that DO know.
The Warbler

the edge of America
Sep 12, 2012 - 12:13am PT
There are a lot of good ideas here, one basic one that I agree with and would do/have done is carefully open up the floor to get access to the hellhole. Your floorboards should be able to be recycled if you remove them with care. This not only gives access, in and out, for you and materials, but air circulation and light to your work site.
Jim Brennan

Trad climber
Vancouver Canada
Sep 12, 2012 - 12:16am PT

Of all the thousands I've spent on tools, the most valuable and loved $35.00 bucks I ever spent was on this respirator from 3M.

Credit: The Lung Society

What doesn't kill you does indeed make you stronger but being able to enjoy grabbing all the air you need when in fun mode makes you stronger than
ever !

Trad climber
San Francisco, Ca
Sep 12, 2012 - 12:20am PT
Wow. If it's any consolation here is my wife and newborn son (and dog) sitting in the "master bedroom" of our 1906 remodel in SF. The picture is several years old but the wounds still feel fresh...

Credit: ontheedgeandscaredtodeath

Ice climber
chingadero de chula vista
Sep 12, 2012 - 12:24am PT
^If that dog, did all of that, I'd put him/her on a leash.

As far as the floor joist repair goes, demo the wood. Demo is fun. If you can't handle the steel replacement like Mr. Breedlove suggests, get someone else to do it.

If you can't handle the demo, hire the dog above. Only thing I can fault it on is the cleanup. When I demo stuff, it's so clean you can eat off it.


Trad climber
Sep 12, 2012 - 12:42am PT
tgt, jstan and bruce are all on the money.

those of us living west of the 100th meridian mostly grew up in, working on, repairing, and building ballon frame buildings in mostly dry soils.

yr dealing with something a bit different. but it's not like it's that weird. most of northern and western europe spends huge chunks of its time dealing with similar issues. i would follow tgt's advice on the radiator and pipes regardless of what else you do.

my guess is that experienced local contractors are going to suggest two really different options-- the incremental/cheap option (chop out the rotten & sister it up) and the fully-modernize-at-least-that-chunk-of-yr-foundation option. we're guessing from yr post and pix that the radiator/pipes are the proximate issue, but given how low and old that corner is, and not knowing how the house is situated, it's tough to diagnose. anyone local is going to spend a bit of time on the outside scoping the drainage & soil,situation before venturing a bid on the basic obvious homeowner this-stuff-is-rotten style repairs visible in the photos.

but honestly, without seeing more, i wouldnt get too choked. it's an old frickin house. folks in europe (and new mexico) live in ancient sh#t that's falling down and periodically go round and brace it up with rebar or whatever. the only additional issue you seem to face involves the rotting wood which may attract termites or ants depending on yr local situation.

edit: that said, im with werner on steel. light, strong, termite proof-- really sad that americans didnt embrace it for residential stuff the way they did for commercial. most of the euro modernization projs involves steel reinforcement of ancient stone sh#t.


Sep 12, 2012 - 12:45am PT
Oh my!

Sep 12, 2012 - 12:50am PT

Thanks for making this thread along with all the photos which speak a thousand more words.

This is great!!!!!!

Trad climber
The land of Fruits & Nuts!
Sep 12, 2012 - 12:54am PT
Hoh man, that's a can of worms for sure.

I've been doing this kind of stuff for about 12 years and could confuse you with yet another long winded opinion.
Warblers suggestions are about what I'd do. You definitely need to pull up the hardwood floor to get to the subfloor as I can see it's obviously rotten. No way around it, pull it. Pull that baseboard and plaster wall to see whats behind there as well.

Dry Rot is like cancer. You can fix the cause, but if you leave just a little behind, it will continue to grow regardless if it continues to see more moisture or not.

I can clearly see this is NOT a simple fix. Simple as to how to tackle it, yes. But as far as how extensive it is and how much work it will take to fix, not an easy task. I can see at least 70 grand in damages from you photos. I'm probably not seeing another 20% of the whole problem.

You should get a licensed contractor to re-engineer that foundation leak and make sure it's taken care of correctly.

If I were you, I'd be filling out a request to be featured on Holmes on Homes.

Social climber
Sep 12, 2012 - 12:59am PT
The black stuff is rotted wood, the white stuff mats of hairy mold

Yikes. I'd be dying from all those damp molds. One of the reasons I love living in the west.

Hmmm. The more you post, the more potential issues I see. Like, for instance, ya wanna be careful sealing up the outside with all the new stucco; you really don't want to seal existing damp inside the walls where it will sit, destroy the mortar and rot the lumber. Not good. The structure has sat for 150 years, quite happily. Any thing you think you need to do can wait a few months or even years. Our own house is 100 years old, one thing I've learned is to not rush into things.

Add gutters and downspouts, landscape the ground within 6 feet of the house to drain away from the structure. Installing a french drain is a pain but might be be a good idea. Maybe a sump pump in a hole in the lowest part of the basement if there's a high water table. Ventilate the basement/crawl space? Add a damp course membrane, maybe?

I would not rip up the floor. Your floor is fine. There's no way to attach a new one; it'll be a nightmare. I would not try drilling into the existing stones of the foundation--you'll probably just loosen them. Ya gotta work with the structure, not fight it. Yes, do dig out the dirt and stuff in the basement, isolate the lumber from the dirt. You want to preserve the fabric of the old structure as much as possible (that's what makes an old house cool) while using modern techniques and materials to stop current damage and protect it from further damage.

On the plus side, the walls look plumb, roof looks good and the house looks to be structurally stable. You could happily ignore everything for a decade or more; the repair work would be pretty much identical but you will have ten more years of accumulated knowledge of what to do/not to do.

Yeah, cool house!
Jim Brennan

Trad climber
Vancouver Canada
Sep 12, 2012 - 01:06am PT
Yeah !

Wood as a structural component really sucks if you're wanting a solution you don't have to revisit. It moves, it shrinks, it expands, it cracks, it twists, it snaps and it rots.

I think every structure starting now, should be constructed from concrete and steel.

The only use for wood should be decorative as in baseboards, cabinetry, doors, floors and the occasional millwork flourish to resolve a design.

HA !
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