Monday House, part iv, structural repairs


Down in the basement, some holes were dug for new support posts. The wooden post shown here, possibly as old as the house (114 years) was totally rotted off where it met the floor. The cement floor had been poured around the post, which rests on the original dirt floor. Recall the centre of the house has sagged about 2″.

Notice that two temporary posts have been installed, one by the broom and one in the far right by the cement bag, to hold up the centre of the house while the centre wooden post is removed.

Since a forest of new posts is required to replace the load bearing walls on the main floor that are to be removed, the engineer also relocated the replacement posts to better support the ceiling. That is why the hole is about 24″ to the left of the old support post location.

In the posed picture below a worker carefully digs the holes. The red debris in her dirt pile is old bricks. The original “finished” basement floor was brick. Later, a thin layer of cement was poured over the top, in small batches. I wonder if the bricks came from the first house on the lot, which burned down in the great 1900 fire. They are coarser than the bricks used on the exterior of the 1902 construction.


The new hole is about 24×24 x 10″ deep, carefully excavated to undisturbed subsoil. Rebars will be placed in the hole after approval by the engineer and city building inspector, then 10″ of cement will be poured to achieve a specific strength.


In the background of the above pic notice the curious door with a glass bottom half. It is the retired front door of the house, now upside down, repurposed when the wine cellar was built under the addition in the 1960’s. While a good waste reduction procedure, it was probably done because it was cheapest to use materials close at hand. There was the additional benefit of being able to look into the wine cellar and see the grape carboys and johns fermenting and venting without having to let warm air into the home winery.

In the back corner of the basement, the cast iron plumbing stack has been decapitated. From this point up, it will be all new plumbing.


While dismantling the drain pipes, there was a shocking, horrifying, scary-as-hell discovery on the second floor. Your household drain pipes consist of two parallel pipes: one takes the waste water and materials down to the sewer. The second is a vent pipe, that takes the sewer gasses up and out through a vent stack you see on the roof. The vent pipe takes not only your own gases out, but also gases that might come in from the street sewer (unless there is a working trap to keep them out, somewhat unlikely in this old house). Anyhow, up in the main second floor bathroom some plumbing changes were made. A new plastic vent pipe from the upstairs facilities needed to be connected to the main vent stack going up to the roof. Alas, there was no suitable connection to the vent pipe, so THEY BASHED A HOLE INTO THE SIDE OF THE VENT PIPE, breaking off a big section of brittle cast iron pipe. This was then hidden away between the vanity cabinet and the wall. For how many years have sewer gases been able to leak into the house? For how many years has rainwater or condensation coming down the pipe run into the house? Is this why the side of the vanity was mouldy and rotted?

So, drumroll, the picture of the bad connection, please:

pipe connection 4

That’s the cast iron pipe going vertically; the newer plastic pipe “joining” it via a bashed hole in the side of the cast iron. Some bits of fibreglass “insulation” hang down loosely from above. They may have been wadded around the pipe to hide the hole.

But wait, there’s more.

That’s not the only new discovery last week.

While examining the basement ceiling joists to determine where the new loads would be coming down from above, this curious oddity was spotted:


If you look carefully just to the right of the heating duct and follow the receding wires, you will see in the dead centre of the picture just the dark end of a joist in the distance. And another end of the same joist directly at the very top of the picture. What’s missing? There is no more joist between these two points, to rest on the top of the 12×12 main beam that runs across the basement. And just for fun, notice the big beam isn’t sitting on top of the supporting wooden post anymore either. Hmm, just what does hold these old houses up? Why do plumbers and ductwork people think they can just cut apart the joists under the load bearing walls? Why do old houses sag in the middle? Your guess is as good as mine.

A new LVL joist will be inserted to replace the de-middled old joist.


Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL) replaces a lot of traditional lumber, which is trees cut up into dimensional bits of stick. LVL factories cut tree trucks into very thin veneer, which is then glued back together to make specific dimensions of lumber, with no weak knots or checks or cracks or splits, with precisely known load carrying capacity.

In addition to the LVL replacement joist for the basement, a number of load bearing walls will be removed in the centre of the house. LVL lumber beams will replace the walls. Two of each LVL beam will be bolted together to make a thicker beam once in place, but the workers prefer to handle the beams singly as this is lighter and won’t need a hoisting mechanism.

Here’s where the beams will go on the main floor:

low res beam scan

The former hallway wall (load bearing, down the centre of the house) and the load bearing kitchen/dining room wall are being removed. Red lines show the beam locations. Beams don’t hold up the ceilings by themselves. They need posts to hold them up. Red dots show where the new posts will carry the point load down to the basement, where the new posts being set in cement will pick up the load.

Notice that the kitchen beam does not go fully “wall to wall”, but stops about 3′ from the outside walls. Because it is a rubble stone foundation, you cannot put a heavy load on one small point. The loose stones will simply be pushed aside.  Instead, the load is taken down to the basement via posts, to a new concrete footing which in turn has to be some distance from the stone foundation wall so as to not undermine that wall ….  The trick is to incorporate the leftover stubs of wall that cannot be removed into a suitable floor plan so they go unnoticed. How many stub walls can you see in the picture?

Three blue dots show where additional posts are being put in the basement to hold up the old beams and replace wooden posts. There’s actually seven new basement posts and three on the main floor. Whew. Don’t want to make mistakes here, ergo, the Engineer.

In other news, the kitchen wall was removed revealing the “back staircase” which is to be torn out (cute, but steep& narrow; space better used for larger kitchen on main floor and larger bathroom upstairs).


Look carefully. Can you spot the old hidey hole for Harry Potter?


And out front, the old appliances make their way to recycle heaven:



Note to the easily alarmed: the oddities highlighted in this story and last week don’t mean this house is especially badly made. In fact, it is very well made and a paragon of solidity. The rotting posts, the floor sagging, the odd cut or split joist, the disconnected plumbing, all are typical in old houses. Some are visible before buying the house; some only become visible after breaking into the walls. Contractors know to look for these things, and expect “surprises”. Savvy homeowners and renovators do too. One of the virtues of a gut and rebuild is to open up the walls and replace the utilities and services that are likely beyond their best by date.

One thought on “Monday House, part iv, structural repairs

  1. This is a fun series, especially for a retired renovator like me. To answer the sagging middle-of-the-house question: Apart from the dodgy basement support poles in this house (and the butchery inflicted by tradesmen over the years), balloon-framed houses typically exhibit the center droop. The exterior studs shrink hardly at all over their length; interior framing members – joists, sills, plates, etc. shrink significantly more across the grain as they dry and age. As much as a quarter inch on a two inch thick plate, a half inch or more on a 2 x 8 joist. Accumulated up through the house it’s common to find a 2 to 3 inch sag on upper floors. It’s always fun fitting cabinetry in those circumstances, but you never lose your marbles – they always end up along the baseboard at the central wall!

    Soil settlement due to underlying leda clay deposits can also create some topsy-turvy conditions. Fast-growing trees (I’m looking at you ,City-planted Norway Maples! You too, self-seeded Manitoba Maples) suck huge quantities of water from the soil, drying it out and creating voids in the clay and playing havoc with foundations. The Flats don’t have so much of a problem with this, but Centretown is notorious for clay deposits.

Comments are closed.