Monday House, part ii – gutting to the studs


On the first day of new ownership, the general contractor bashed various holes in the ceilings and walls to see what’s inside them. Looking for  surprises (more on this tomorrow).

Instead of walls being made of 4×8′ sheets of drywall, old houses have studs and joists that have thin strips of wood, rather like yardsticks, nailed in a dense pattern. Instead of pre-made sheets, plaster was mixed on site and trowelled onto the lath, with lots of it oozing between the laths, forming the “key” that prevents the plaster from falling off. Here’s the view from inside the wall:



The surface coat of the plaster is trowelled smooth on the face of the wall, and drys very hard and somewhat brittle. The plaster sticking to the lath is softer, and has a crumbly texture:


With time, house settling, water leaks, vibrations, winter moisture, and other maladies, bits of the plaster break off from their keys, making drooping bulges in the ceiling and walls. If small enough, they can be repaired. But in this house most of the plaster was loose or detached completely from its key. What held it up was layers of wallpaper (which used to be sold specifically to function as a stiffener to hold the wall surfaces together) and v-groove panelling.

To remove the plaster, simply bang it with shovel or crowbar. It falls down in huge clouds of dust. In the first 3 days, the entire second floor was gutted to the studs:



The option in this reno was to remove all the baseboards and casings, then remove the plaster and the lath too. In other cases, the lath and wood trim can be left in place and drywall put over the top.

The second floor debris was dropped down a rental chute into a trailer:


The upstairs linen closet looks OK, even with its door trim removed. The railing is wrapped to preserve the wood from dents, as it will be retained to grace the remodelled house:


But inside the closet, all was a real mess:


As were the crew (2 of 4 shown here):


All the baseboards and door and window casings have been bundled and labelled, for eventual reuse:


Remember the kitchen (Before):


Partially gutted:


Fully gutted:


Notice that the inside of all the exterior perimeter walls are also clad in boards. This means the stud walls consist of an outer layer of board sheathing, a true rough-cut 2×4 stud 18′ high, and an inner layer of board sheathing. This house was built to last.

Notice also the round hole in the wall, going into the chimney. It was for a wood or oil stove. There was space for another stove on the opposite side of the wall. And a coal burning furnace in the basement also exhausted into this brick chimney. The chimney is made of one layer of soft bricks, no liner, no sealing. Sometimes it is a wonder our parents didn’t all suffocate, get carbon monoxid’d to death, or become burnt toast.

They don’t make trees like this anymore:

IMG_7486 IMG_7514

next: Surprise !


4 thoughts on “Monday House, part ii – gutting to the studs

    1. Glen: this house is near you on the west side of the downtown. It is not open for tourists or lookinpeepers, and there are risks of theft and vandalism in revealing the address. It is also unlike TOH in that it doesn’t have $800,000 for renovation and decoration. It is permitted, engineered, and inspected though, so all is legit.

  1. Fabulous description of what is behind the walls of these older homes. The outside board-stud-board wall is especially interesting for its structural characteristics, which no doubt accommodated all the movement in the stone foundations caused by frost in succeeding winters. Strong and flexible, that was the function. I gather the space in between was hollow (no insulation), and because the boards and outside bricks were not airtight, was not really equivalent to air-space insulating qualities. People needed those oil heaters and furnaces. In a smaller rehab project I did with my son in Vancouver I was told to simply leave the airspace alone (not to fill it with insulation) but to work on vapour barriers. Of course there the winters are mild. But they were concerned with asbestos fibre, used in insulation some time ago, and I had to get the place approved (professional lab for a fee), before contractors would move any walls.

    1. Ben: my house, almost identical to the Monday house, had the same wall construction. We blew in recycled newsprint cellulous as insulation. It is dense, it breathes outwards thru the boards and gaps to the rain channel behind the brick so if wetted it dries. It is inhospitable to mice. It’s a helluva lot better than fibreglass, which is pretty much useless IMO. In addition to insulating, draft stopping is key.

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