Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Unpacking A Mess

In the last post, I mentioned that I had figured out what to do about a scaffold to aid my work on the large dormers, but I had yet to work out the details.

That task took me some time, largely because it took me a while to figure out how to attach the roof jacks to the roof. Here is one of the roof jacks:

My problem was that the instructions assume that you are using these to apply shingles to a roof, so you are going to attach these to an unshingled portion of the roof. I am of course using these on a finished roof, so I took a lot of time trying to figure out a way to avoid nailing through shingles. Ultimately, I realized that I couldn't avoid it, so after a bit of time to work up my courage, I proceeded.

Here's one of the nails of the size specified in the roof jack installation instructions:

Now do you see why I had to work up my courage? These are twenty penny (20d) nails, and three of them are required for each jack. The thought of driving these things through the Farm House's tiny, brittle roof joists was chilling. Nevertheless, the thought of falling twelve feet and landing on my back was even more chilling, so I did what I had to do.

You can be sure I was extremely careful in locating dead center on each joist, and also that I pre-drilled each hole before I drove the nail in.

Here's the finished scaffold:

The board I'm using here is a scaffold plank, which is specifically engineered for this purpose. It's flat, rigid and heavy. I purchased several of these in the 12-foot length and two trestles from the man who rented us the big scaffold we used on the north side; I'd planned to use this setup on the south side, but that didn't work out. Nevertheless, the planks have already proven their utility in several ways. I even used them to help me level the ground for an enlarged pad for a new gazebo to replace the one destroyed in the windstorm. They are actually quite affordable if purchased used, and if you have the room I recommend you pick up a couple. By the way, the plank is nailed to each jack to keep it in place, and I must be careful not to step on the plank beyond the jacks on each end. 

Now that I was able to get a close look at the entire dormer, I performed triage to locate any problem areas that I would have to address before I started surface preparation in earnest. This area immediately caught my eye:

The hardware cloth indicates that this is a hole that was plugged by our pest control man, as was the hole in the middle dormer that I filled with foam. Notice that the shingles, quite oddly, rise up the side of the dormer in this area. I removed the screws and the hardware cloth to find this:

Well, this is troubling. The remaining piece of hardware cloth covers a hole caused by a missing piece of siding, there is a piece of flashing running behind the trim piece, and there is a large glob of caulk emerging from behind the flashing and continuing along the end of the sill.

As I've said, houses tell stories, and the story the Farm House is telling here is that the contractor was aware of this problem, and that rather than address it he purposely covered it up. Swell. I was there working alongside the contractor much of the time, and I checked a great deal of his work, but I didn't check everything; so far, I've found that whatever I didn't check was not properly done. Now, we're almost certainly going to have to hire a roofer to fix this, and a similar problem on the other side of this dormer, once I am done with it. Maybe I can have him repair the holes I made for the scaffolding at the same time.

I removed the trim in front of the siding, then removed the broken piece of siding. It was at that point I noticed another problem:

The arrow is pointing to it: the bottom projection is missing from that piece of shiplap, exposing the joint to the elements. So both pieces have to come off, as does the casing board on the front, so I can get the broken piece off without breaking the piece above it.

Which is just as well, because all three casing boards have to come off anyway. Here's why:

This is the board on the other side. Note how it's bent out at the bottom, causing a gap through which insects can get into the weight pocket and thus the house. All three boards are like this. I assume that absorption of moisture wicked up through the unprotected end grain on the bottom caused the boards to swell, and thus to elongate; there was no place for that extra length to go but outwards. These boards have to come off so I can correct this.

With triage thus completed, I proceeded to remove all the necessary pieces with the utmost of care. It's always an iffy proposition to remove old wood pieces, because they are often quite fragile. For this purpose, I have a set of low-friction plastic wedges that persuade wood gently:

I tap these in gently, walking them up each side until all the nails have broken free. From there, I can then remove the pieces pretty safely with a pry bar. After I removed all the pieces and vacuumed the 126 years of debris from the weight pockets, here is what I have now:

This gives us a rare opportunity to view the internal construction of the Farm House.

It's startlingly sparse, isn't it? Lath and plaster (which is what the arrow is pointing at) on the inside, shiplap siding on the outside, and nothing but three inches of space and some small framing members in between. As I've mentioned in the Journal, Victorians built their houses light, in order to keep them stiff and strong. Nowadays, we use tons of wood and steel to accomplish the same thing.

You can see evidence of moisture infiltration quite clearly on the corner framing member; it's indicated by the dark area on the bottom two-thirds. the stud next to it shows it too. This undoubtedly was caused by the exposed joint where the strip of wood broke off. The back of this broken piece of siding provides further evidence:

That's why I have to replace this piece; I really can't make a reliable repair in this location, and left unchecked this kind of damage will eventually lead to loss of structural integrity.

The front of the same piece is actually far more revealing. Here's a detail of it:

The yellow area is the first truly clear evidence of the original body color of the house. It was protected by a later layer of roofing applied over the original roof cladding some time before the current coat of olive drab was applied. Note also that this provides clear evidence that the body of the house has indeed been painted only twice in its history prior to my current efforts, as I had already concluded; you can even see the yellow coat showing through the olive in places. Tucked in against the roof and in virtually constant shade, this is one of the most protected areas of the exterior, which is why this clear visual evidence managed to survive.

I must also point out, with a great sense of astonishment, that this yellow is the very color I selected for the body color in my original color scheme, as documented in the Journal:

Initial color study: north elevation

In fact, evidence I've found while working on the house indicates that, with the exception of the shingled gables (which were unpainted), I in essence recreated the Farm House's initial color scheme. I've found evidence of dark green in the trim, but I couldn't determine whether it was a forest green or more of a slate green; as for the red of the sash, you can see it here in the transom above the front door where I scraped off the paint in order to re-glaze the window:

In all humility, I'd attribute this synchronicity to equal parts of startling coincidence and good research. That, or I'm a freakin' House Whisperer, man!

In case you're wondering why we changed the color scheme, it was because we felt that it violated the Victorian precept that a house should stand in harmony with its surroundings. We concluded that the brightness of the yellow would make the house stand out too much, and make it appear larger than it was. Moreover, there is very little mustard yellow to be found in the natural elements of the lot.

Ultimately, we took the house colors from the most dominant natural feature of the lot, namely the pine trees. The green comes from the needles, and the rest of the colors come from the various colors of the bark. Our result is indeed a genuine High Victorian scheme; it's merely that there is enough latitude in such schemes to accommodate our slight tweaks.

By the way, I haven't yet installed the fall protection gear I mentioned last time, but I feel pretty safe nonetheless, for I am well-supervised:

I am very seldom alone here. I really love that. I'm a pack animal myself.

* * *

Must be dinnertime.


  1. Frightening to think what can happen when contractors are left to their own devices. Talk about cutting corners.

    1. Oh, yes, and then they'll charge you for the cut corner, too. Change order, don't ya know.

    2. Hey, why doesn't my picture show up next to my name here?

    3. Contractor's credo : If you didn't seeing, it didn't exist. But they will fix it for a price.

  2. At least the farm house is well protected from the spirit world. Those kitties wouldn't even let a poor squirrel in uninvited. well, maybe as dinner:-)

    1. Evangeline has had squirrel window-pals, but if I were a squirrel I'd stay away from the boys. They're always looking for some fresh game, IYKWIMAIKYD.

  3. You're telling me!

  4. This used to be considered a safe house! Squirrel

  5. What a great pair of supervisors. No wonder you do such good work!

  6. Thank you so much for the fabulous, super wonderful, gorgeous pictures of Tawny and the Birthday Girl Katie Scarlett. The pictures are just sumptuous!! I will treasure them always!!

    Your presence was gift enough for Katie and me but the pictures are going to make Katie go crazy and give a really big head because she looks so beautiful. Tawny, too, really gorgeous pictures and her caramel coloring is just to die for!! Thank you !! love, Katie, Tawny and Terry

    Oh, and your blog is beautiful!!, too. Really enjoy reading all about your labor of love.

    Thank you and keep those blogs coming.

    1. Anything for the pretty little cousins of the Wily Forest Cat!

      Thanks for your kind words.


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