The shed to the right of the main house structure was dilapidated at best. Consisting of a small storage room and a crumbling porch, the whole thing sat on top of literal piles of rocks. Other than those rocks, there was no foundation to speak of.
Before getting a new foundation in place, we had to take the whole thing down.
First things first, get the tar shingles off the roof. We were possibly a bit too delicate about this process; it would have been a lot faster to use our contractor’s hand-saw demolition method.
As my dad and Steve scraped shingles off the roof, I had the wonderful task of picking up the shingles, corralling them into a bucket, and running them over to the dumpster. They were surprisingly heavy!
Also, somewhere during my shingle-shuttling, I dropped my phone into the dumpster and didn’t realize it until the very end of the afternoon. At that point it had gotten dark and my call was most definitely frozen (and dead), so attempts to call it and listen for it were fruitless. By the morning I had given up all hope that we would find it intact. The dumpster was full of exposed nails, and I had been stepping on top of everything as I loaded it in an effort to tamp down the materials to make more room for future debris. Surprisingly though, we found it intact!! A demolition miracle.
Above, my dad, the demolition king, surveys his domain.
By the end of the weekend, almost that whole structure was gone. We left the front step for temporary convenience so that you could easily hop onto the main structure, but that came out the following week!
Up next, we resume our coverage of roof and wall reconstruction on the second floor.
As you may remember, the original roofline of the house was very low. With a deceptively mild pitch (8′?) and no dormer, the usable space in all of the upstairs rooms was extremely limited. The mild pitch meant that the knee walls came pretty far into all of the rooms and made the remaining open floorspace feel claustrophobic, particularly since the ceilings were significantly below the peak of the roof (creating unusable attic space).
Ultimately, the plan for the roof is to “kick out” the back portion to create a dormer. This plan will allow us to drastically raise the ceiling height in the river-facing rooms. In addition to the dormer, we’re going to increase the roof pitch so that we can have even more livable space on the second floor, and the knee wall will be less invasive.
In addition to making the space more easily usable, the installation of a new metal roof will take care of some of the maintenance issues that were creeping up: leaks, various rodents taking up residence, etc. Also (!) we chose our new roof material (standing seam metal) so it could easily accommodate solar panels.
Even though there are so many things that will be improved by the new porch, it didn’t make the removal process any less intimidating.
The crew used hand saws to remove the material between the rafters. They made much faster work of it than we would have with crowbars!
Doesn’t everyone want a house where they can stand above and between their roof rafters? Here’s a short video to give you a different perspective. You can only hear slight panic in my voice!
The next day, things got even more interesting. The crew pulled all of the rafters down and we were left with a blank slate.
It looks bleak, but the good news is that the crew quickly got to work constructing the new second floor walls, complete with their new pitch and dormer. Before that happened though, we spent one of our final “demolition weekends” taking down the final remaining piece of the old structure: the shed. That’s up next!
In order to pay for the house and renovation costs, we had to take out a construction loan. As many of you are likely aware, an appraisal is part of the loan application process. The bank wants to make sure that its money is being spent wisely, so an appraiser comes out to assess the “as is” value of your property, and then they take your construction plans into consideration to come up with a value for the home when everything is said and done.
If you’ve taken the first floor “before” tour, you’ve seen the bathroom and “fish” room (named for it’s whimsical wallpaper). We didn’t think much of them at first, but as demolition progressed, the rooms increasingly appeared to belong to an entirely separate structure.
With a new concrete wall in place to support the back of the house, work began to replace the rear floor system.
Above you can see what the floors looked like once upon a time. Please note the distinct slope of the floors from the upper right of the image down to the lower left. Even if the boards were in great shape themselves, the wonkiness would have been nearly impossible to overcome.
What would probably have taken my entire family a whole weekend to demo with crowbars, our construction crew handled in a day. If I’ve learned nothing else from this renovation process it’s that hand saws make light work of demo. No need to be delicate about it with a crowbar!
The crawlspace underneath the back half of the cottage is filled with a fine, powdery dirt. After a few minutes of messing around down there, you come out looking like you got a spray tan of silt.
After the floor system was removed, we shoveled and raked the dirt to form a (somewhat) level surface that could more easily and efficiently accommodate an insulation membrane later on in the process. We also spent a good portion of the time removing smallish rocks. Nothing like letting your perfectionist tendencies manifest themselves in a place that will literally never see the light of day.
Thank you to my family, but particularly my brother and sister-in-law, who spent a good chunk of their weekend raking dirt and doing demo without complaint. It takes a village!
Next up, shiny new floor joists for the back of the house!
As a native New Englander, I’m familiar with the cold and consider myself to be relatively unintimidated by it. That said, for most of my life, my concerns about cold extended to my body. How do I stay warm? What kind of boots should I wear so that my toes won’t freeze off? How many pairs of long underwear is too many?
When you own a house though, and that house is currently open to the elements and is in more ways a rundown shack than a real house, cold temperatures become a larger concern. See, the thing with having a newly poured concrete floor in a basement that is not heated, in near zero-degree temperatures is that it’s problematic.
Since the house wasn’t heated, moisture in the ground permeated the basement walls/floor, froze, and then caused small cracks in the new cement floor. A few cracks aren’t the end of the world, but if left for too long, the cracking and freezing could have caused real damage.
Without the means to close up the house (please note that many walls were cut open a few feet above their sills), we had to get a propane heater to blow heat into the basement, warm up those walls and the ground around them so that the moisture would leave us alone.
Over the course of the next few days, our conversations frequently turned to the basement and how we could keep it warm. There were frequent calls to hardware stores to see if they had propane tanks of the appropriate size in stock, lots of trips down to the house to “check on the basement’s temperature” like it was a sick child, and covered the hole to the basement with blankets of tarp and large sheets of blue insulation.
All of this is a long way of saying, if your basement is freezing cold (and has been for awhile), beware of cracks in your concrete floor! We’ll continue to take on water in the basement after strong storms until we can get a curtain drain installed across the front of the house, so it will be a spring of getting friendly with the Shop Vac! Hopefully we don’t run into further cracking though now that we know how to properly baby the basement.
The cottage’s rear foundation was as astonishing as it was nerve-wracking. It’s amazing to consider that for 187 years it held up a structure. It’s terrifying because it was essentially a pile of rocks placed haphazardly next to each other that would crumble a little if you looked at it the wrong way. I kid, but it was fragile at best. In order to bring the building back to a stable place (physically and emotionally), the old foundation had to go, and new concrete had to come in.
Now we’ve come to the day when the cottage became a funhouse with the ability to give vertigo to any who entered. The floor that went from the center of the house towards the river was very tilted. Not quite to the point where you felt like you’d fall off the back of the house, but it certainly wasn’t a reassuring slant. As with the front of the house, we had to jack up the back wall so that the floor system could be rebuilt, raised up, and restored to a comfortably walkable angle.
Like most cape-style homes, the cottage originally had a central brick chimney and a fireplace in the front room. We love the idea of having a working fireplace and tried many different floor configurations to see if we could make it work, but the location of the chimney created a lot of limitations as we thought through how we want the home to work. Location challenges aside, the chimney was also in really rough shape. Some of the bricks were gorgeous (and in fact have been salvaged for later use), but there was severe cracking and general instability.