Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Thoughts on Antique Houses (with book teaser)

I confess to coveting this antique house for sale in our neighborhood.

Built in 1600's, it was originally home to a family fleeing the Salem Witch trials and has been in the same family for eight generations.

Our town was a haven for those persecuted in Salem. We even have a Salem End Road.

How is it possible to gaze on these spaces and not want to live there?

So many wonderful odd passageways.

But a look at the framing is a bit of a reality check.

Because the truth is that antique New England homes are reserved for those among us with large bags of cash and the patience to deal with the Historical Society. One will also need a very hearty constitution as there is little to be done to escape the antique drafts and cold.

Not to mention, that the family Pike, given the option, would have likely opted for baseboard heat, air conditioning, and vinyl siding.

Now the Mr. has worked on his share of antiques and what I have learned through him is that there is no such thing as a simple repair on one of these treasures.

Here's an excerpt from "How Hard Could it Be?" which sums things up nicely (please forgive me if the font is too big or too small as I still haven't mastered the cut and paste with reasonable font trick).

I once got a call from the owner of a colonial era house on a Saturday afternoon. “Bryan, can you come over to plane a door down for me? It’s stuck.” Not something I would normally charge for, just a good client freebie. Went over with my truck and tools to take care of the problem. Sure enough, the front door was stuck tight. It also bore no resemblance to a rectangle. Nor did the jamb. 

I went out front to survey the house and into the crawl space below to have a look. Now, the front door had been dragging for some time, as evidenced by the 1/2 inch deep arc it had gouged in the floor. “When was the last time you oiled those gutters on the third floor?” I asked. “Oiled?” he replied. I explained to him that if you don’t linseed oil your wooden gutters every few years, they’ll rot.

Raw linseed oil is the preferred potion. If you use the boiled stuff it’ll just evaporate on you, leaving you no better off. Boiled linseed is usually used as a medium for matching old stains, like on a vertical grain fir wood deck.

The rot will eventually cause a leak. The leak will create a sinkhole at the point of the drip. The sinkhole allows water to collect in your field stone foundation where, in winter, it will cause a frost heave that can move the stone. Unfortunately, your floor sill rests on these stones and when unsupported, will droop. In a balloon frame house the wall studs are nailed to the sill, and the floor hung off them. So, if a 6” stone is missing from your foundation, you may experience a 6” drop in the house above it.

I told this poor soul that in order to have his front door open long term, we needed to do the following:  
  1. Dig a hole on each side on the foundation into which we’ll put house jacks.                  
  2. Slide a steel beam through the foundation supported by the jacks.  
  3. Jack the house up 1/4” per day for 24 days. (1/4”x 24=6”) We do this in order for the house to adjust to the movement.

At this time, we can begin repairs. These will be pinning and securing the offending stone, cutting out and replacing the rotted sill, (trust me, it’s rotted.) Reattaching the wall to sill and floor to wall. Removing and re-framing the door jamb, and (in the shop) truing up the square of the door for rehanging. Then we’ll fix any broken plaster that resulted from all that jacking, and replace the rotted gutter. So, it’ll take most of a month and cost you $12,000.00. “ $12,000.00 to plane down a door?”

For those of you unfamiliar with fieldstone foundations, they are typically just piles of rocks, without mortar, on which the house rests. One house the Mr. was working on actually had small Stonehenge type towers of carefully placed rocks in lieu of supporting beams. 


  1. Old houses are cool to look at but I wouldn't want to live in one. Is the Mr. really writing a book about his experiences? I would love to read it.

    BTW if you cut and paste into Notepad and then re-select the text from Notepad and copy and paste to anywhere else it will remove the old formatting and give you a fresh format where ever you paste it.

    Merry Christmas,


  2. I guess all you have to do is read a few excerpts from the Mister's book whenever you get antique house lust...too bad, that one's a beauty!

  3. As you know, we live in a house built in 1824. It has tons of charm but it's not insulated as well as it could be and it's so it's drafty and there is always maintenance to do on them. I love, love,love the older homes. Love the lower ceilings. They have so much character!