Sunday, May 26, 2013

Rotten sill in rotten weather

We've had some very British weather in Maine lately, constant rain or drizzle for days. I suppose that may be why they called it New England.

I have a backhoe coming Wednesday, to dig the cellar hole for the extension, and so I need to be ready for it. It's not a particularly deep excavation, so there's no need for shoring, or there shouldn't be, even if the rain continues. But we will need to dig right up next to the foundation for the existing kitchen. This presented a slight problem that would need to be addressed.

When we bought this old farmhouse there was a massive hole in the kitchen floor. This was where the condensation from cast iron water pipes that used to run along a chase where the baseboard should have been had sweated, probably for generations, all through the floorboards. I expect every summer, in the Maine heat and humidity, those pipes dripped all season long, whenever cold well water was run through them. The chase probably didn't help matters, because it simply confined the water and slowed any drying that would otherwise have taken place.

The old timers undoubtedly did this otherwise silly thing to avoid running pipes through the crawl space, where, in the days before insulation, they almost certainly would have frozen every winter.

I repaired the floor with a new set of joists, rerouted the water through the crawl space in properly insulated copper pipes, and allowed the air to circulate freely in said crawl space each summer and fall, "banking" it up for the winter like a proper Mainer.

I hoped that was enough.

I should have suspected that the damage had reached the sill, but I'd been down under the kitchen floor numerous times with a flashlight and screwdriver looking for damage, and found none. But I knew that if I was to dig away at the foundation close to this sill, then cover it up with an extension, I'd better inspect it, and repair it if needed.

This is what I found by the time I stripped away three layers of old siding and some spring boards.

You can see that a whole section of 6 by 8 inch hemlock sill has rotted out. There's just enough solid wood on the back side of the sill to fool me into thinking it was solid, looking from inside the crawl space.

A decade or so ago, finding damage like this in my home would have given me night sweats, but today, with years more experience, I know what to do.

I used the second-best chainsaw with a freshly sharpened but disposable chain, and a four-foot pry bar, to wreck out the rotten section, which was fully nine feet long, counting the joints. There was a handy scarf joint on the left hand side. All I would need would be a piece of 6 by 8 long enough to do the job as well as some time and good weather to fit the new section.

Unfortunately,  I had only one of those three things.

I found the replacement sill easily enough; a nice well-seasoned piece of old hemlock was right there in my gash wood pile.

But with the backhoe coming Wednesday, and the incessant rain, I wouldn't have decent weather, and that, I'm sorry to say, ate into my time, as well as my precious patience.

Here's the primary source of my lost time and patience, a damaged section of the propane pipe to our on-demand hot water heater.

I managed to cut part-way through it with the chainsaw while sawing out the new scarf on the right hand side of the sill job. I blame the conditions. My eyes were filled with sweat, rain and sawdust, the water was dripping on my head from the roof line above, and my patience, well, I leave you to guess how many swear words were used. Not enough to turn the sky blue, unfortunately. It's still bloody raining out there now.

Poor Aimee was just about to pop two loaves of bread in the oven, completely unsuspecting that her loving husband was doing his best to blow both of us to kingdom come!

It took me far too long to realize what was happening, and it didn't help that I was burning wreckage in an old oil drum I use as a brazier for such things not twenty feet away from the leak. But the wind and the rain made an explosion unlikely, and as soon as I figured it out, I ran over to the propane tanks and turned them off.

Then it was a trip to Belfast to pick up repair fittings, and the repair itself, a waste of at least two hours, durn it.

At least I was warm and dry in the car. I did myself the favor of changing my clothes before I left, and that made me feel better.

Years ago, I could have driven only three miles to Paul's hardware store in Brooks, but nowadays, with Paul retired and the store long closed, it's fourteen miles to Belfast and back to get hardware on a Sunday. It's only eight miles to the nearest hardware store on a weekday before three pm, when Buxton Supply is open in Monroe. But Buxton caters to the contractors, not the weekend DIY crowd, and so they open and close early each day, and don't open at all on Sundays.

Still, a trip to town, a few twists of my flaring tool, and disaster was averted. The bread got cooked, the new sill section fitted, and all was well that ended well.

And Aimee was even good enough to bring me a life-saving cup of hot sweet British tea.

After she was done laughing at me, that is, for chainsawing through our gas pipe.

Never mind. The worst is over.

Tomorrow I'll sister a carrying bean made of double-thick twelve-inch pressure treated lumber boards to this sill. This new supporting member will run from the corner post of the main house all the way over to the garage, and will be capable of supporting the entire wall should it need to. Then we can do what we like to the foundation Wednesday. The new beam will also act as a convenient ledger board for joining the new extension to the old kitchen.

As I was pounding the new sill into place (with a four-pound lump hammer) some more debris fell out of one of the stud bays, which have acted as our own private museum stash.

Apparently Dr. Carl S. Stuart's hen liniment was useful around here, circa 1917, good for scaly leg and bumble-foot, no less.

I have some pretty bumbly feet right about now, after all my exertions today. Maybe it would help perk me up.

Or your Edwardian Mainer could read a newsprint copy of "Good Stories", with a lot of advertising for clothing, fashionable dresses and so on. Looks like costumes for Downton Abbey, or The Village. The consumer society, circa the Great War era. Just before the great influenza epidemic of 1918. Farm produce prices were high, then, with the war and all. I remember that from my Montana history studies, years ago.

It might have been a relatively prosperous time on the Great Farm too, for Perry Amsden's dad and uncle and their families.

If it was, it's a pity they didn't invest some of their profits on pipe lagging. I expect you could have bought some for less than a quarter back then, enough to stop that old pipe run from sweating.

Enough to save all this trouble!

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