Total demolition provides a look at the big picture

HOME WORK

February 06, 1993|By Karol V. Menzie and Randy Johnson

All the careful staging that goes into a dramatic performance -- making sure actors don't walk through walls, arranging for everyone to enter and exit in the right place, establishing where characters are to stand -- is designed to be invisible in the performance.

That's also true for the staging of a remodeling job or rehab. Work must be organized to flow smoothly, so everything ends up in the right place and, when it's done, it all seems perfectly natural.

There's a general formula for the process: demolition and cleanup; framing; electrical, plumbing, heating and air conditioning systems installation; roof; drywall and finishing; floors; surface finishes.

But there are variations in each job. The last house we worked on was so big we tried to finish demolition and framing in one area before moving on to the next. There was plenty of space to store debris and materials, and we were able to stretch out costly trash-hauling.

The house we're working on now, however, is so small that it made sense to finish each stage throughout the house, more or less. That means doing all the demolition, except for two small rooms at the back of the house, and getting rid of all the debris immediately. And no hired hauler; we're making regular trips to the landfill. We may hire someone to haul away the last loads of plaster: two large and one small ceiling still have to come down. But after two weeks of dedicated demo and trash management, those ceilings, and the Masonite covering downstairs floors, are all we have to rip out.

One result of following this route is that we have had to redraw both master bath and kitchen plans. When the old paneling and walls came out, we lost space in some areas and found it in another. There weren't major changes, but we were glad we hadn't rushed into framing.

But the main benefit of the total-demo philosophy has been uncovering a problem we suspected but didn't know the extent of.

The house is built in a fashion that's typical of its neighborhood, with first-floor joists running side to side and second-floor joists running back to front. The second-floor joists and the roof rafters are supported in the middle of the house on side-to-side beams.

Over the years -- neighbors tell us the house may be 150 years old -- these beams have sagged, and the roof and the second floor have sagged with them. The first floor is also sagging, because it wasn't supported properly on its side-to-side joists, and because it has picked up some extra weight from the floors above it was never meant to bear.

Uncovering the ceilings, joists and old framing makes it clear that the roof and both floors need to be leveled up. So, when the front part of the house is completely cleaned out, we'll start at the top, leveling the rafters and joists and rebuilding the beams. (We start at the top because pushing up from the bottom, either the first floor or basement, would mean trying to lift the whole house, and because lifting the lower floors means you have to have some space to lift them into.) All this would have been impossible if the demo weren't done.

The small size of the house -- it's just 11 1/2 feet wide and a little over 45 feet deep -- gave us another staging problem. We're putting a master bath on the second floor, with whirlpool tub, separate shower, the works. Whirlpool tubs are not small objects, so getting one upstairs means putting it in its space while the house is still completely open and there's no framing, no walls, to get in the way. (It's sort of like an actor walking through a "wall" in rehearsal.)

Bringing the tub in first means we had to know exactly how big it was going to be. So, oddly, it's the first thing we've bought for the house.

Fortunately, the plumbing-supply house is nearby, and they'll deliver the tub to the first floor. All we have to do is get it up to the second. It's 5 feet long and almost 4 feet wide. It weighs 150 pounds. We're not convinced it will go up the half-round staircase; it may have to go back outside and in through the second-floor front window.

But at least there's a nice empty space to set it down.

Next: Solving a structural problem.

5

Mr. Johnson is construction manager for Neighborhood Housing Services of Baltimore. Ms. Menzie is a writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St. Baltimore, 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

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