The Monday House, part i – Before

The Monday House will be a 14 part series on renovating a typical west side house. We will start with the “before” pictures.

The house was constructed in approx 1902, so it is 114 years old. A typical brick (veneer) house for centretown and the near west side, it is about 18′ wide, on a 30′ x 99′ lot, surveyed by Nicolas Sparks. It has a side driveway; there is no back lane. The first house built here burned down in the Great Fire of 1900. There are two main floors, about 600 sq ft each. There is a steeply pitched roof to a third floor attic, which is currently rentable as an “apartment” albeit with a shared bathroom and shared entrance through the main house. There is a small addition on the ground floor back of the house of dubious merit.

Here is the main kitchen with elderly cupboards, I’d guess 1960’s:


The stove is 110v only, the house hasn’t enough power for a 240 stove:


Down in the basement is the previous kitchen, in storage:


and indeed the kitchen before that:


Of course, there is another kitchen on the second floor:


and one on the third floor too, which for years was rented to a nun:


The walls throughout the main two floors of the house are plaster trowelled onto lath, with empty studs behind the lath. There is no insulation. The “balloon frame” studs start from the sill plate on the rubble stone foundation (rubble stone is loose stones, stacked into a wall, with no mortar, but with limestone and sand between the stones. There are no footings either. So the wall is somewhat … porus. And flexes with the frost. At least the front visible foundation wall facing the street is faced with dressed limestone. ) The balloon frame studs are about 18′ long, and run right up to the third floor. The second floor is “hung” on the inside of the frame, which is wonderfully convenient for adding a continuous wall of insulation.

Back in the ground floor kitchen, there is this small door frame:


which leads to a small cupboard under the stairs. Sorry, no ten year old inhabitants were found therein:


Mind, it wouldn’t have been as comfortable as the Dursley’s cupboard:


The cupboard is under the back staircase to the second floor. It offers a quick, steep, narrow shortcut from the kitchen to the second floor. Notice the surface wiring and the plumbing chase.


On the second floor, the back staircase comes out at the head of the main stairs, which is also the foot of the ship’s ladder-like stairs to the third floor.

The previous owners, in place since the late 1950’s, didn’t use the back stairs, and instead put canned goods on the stair treads, and installed a floor in the upstairs landing to make a closet:


That floor was a bit precarious though, if you care to check out the floor joist, as seen from below, in the closed off staircase:


Upstairs is a single bathroom, with claw foot tub:


The floors are all covered in linoleum. In the fashion of the day, each renewal of the lino was placed on top of the previous layer, separated by a layer of newspapers, as cushioning:


It’s a time machine of old Citizens and Evening Journals:


Typically in houses on this street, the “good rooms” have pine board floors, with the perimeter painted red, and the centre laid with patterned linoleum. The less good rooms, where linoleum was unaffordable, had hardwood, usually maple or oak. We haven’t yet removed the lino from the house as it provides a nice cushion for the demolition work now underway, so the actual composition of the floor boards remains a mystery.

My bet is pine throughout, since the builders put in a back service stair, and the VPL  (visible plank lines, what were you thinking of??)  in the linoleum show random wide planks. Less fun would be to discover the nice wood floors were removed and the lino merely sits on the rougher subfloor boards.

As the house ages, the foundation shifts, and joists and beams get cut by plumbers and ductwork folks, leading to some settling. The house has a dip to the centre. Despite the covering of heavy wallpaper, cracks in the plaster show through:


Here is the dining room and living room, currently separated by a pair of pocket doors that slide into the wall:



The house is old. Maintenance often consisted of layering v-groove panelling and wallpaper on cracked plaster and adding another layer of linoleum. The knob-and-tube wiring seems to be all gone, but the existing wiring is … unusual … and sometimes runs on the surface of the walls. Plumbing is copper and cast iron. The house is clean and most of us could move in today if required.

The neighbourhood was home to skilled technical workers, mainly “blue collar”, like bakers, bricklayers, posties, washing machine tradesmen, conductors, mill workers, trainmen, truck drivers, and some white collar like sales and office clerks and nurses, etc. Like its neighbours, the exterior is all brick, in very good condition. There are some nice features, like this wood corner protector, which rather outdoes the cheap plastic corner strips we have today:


I do not own or determine the renovation of this house. I merely share it with you.

The new owners will read this blog, please don’t disparage their choices. There are complex tradeoffs being made between comfort, restoration vs modernization, historic ambience, etc. The existing plaster would require heroic measures to save. There will be new drywall over insulation and new wiring, but 13″ high baseboards will be kept. The old owners will be readers, too.

It is a construction site, sorry, no tours. Except you can get your Monday fix every week right here. Next week: demoliton of the plaster walls, and what we find inside the walls.



3 thoughts on “The Monday House, part i – Before

  1. I congratulate you on the ambitious recording of a home renovation. Ours would have been a 423-part series. We did most of it ourselves (kitchen, bathroom, 3 decks, moving walls, new windows, etc.).

    Our house is similiar; built around 1908, balloon frame, original brick, multiple layers of gross linoleum, on a 25×100′ lot, etc. Pretty common for the time.

    It came to us with modern wiring and drywall.

    The original electricity demarkation box is there, from 1925. I can’t remember the amperage, but it’s enough to power the house.

    Our foundation’s the same. We became concerned with the insulation the first winter when the cats’ water dish was frozen over. We parged over it and the problem went away right away.

    I expect the surface wiring is just because running it behind lathe and plaster is pretty much impossible.

    Have fun!

  2. This all looks remarkably familiar… we did the same heroics on a similar vintage home off Preston that had the same ungraceful aging and time warp. One of the hardest parts to get right is matching the wall line to the original baseboard… my advice is to not remove the baseboards, door and window mouldings like we did; instead leave them in place and align the drywall using strapping on the studs as my friend across the street did. I think he even left some of the lath in place and drywalled over. I used vertical 1×3’s 16″ on centers with shims every 16″ vertical to level out the outside wall and also the ceilings; to make each strap level I used an 8′ long 1.5″ square aluminum tube and cedar shims. I ended up ordering all new finger-jointed baseboards and trim from the Woodsource as they had the original designs of moulding knives. The whole effort of dealing with so many layers of lead paint and the impossible job of scraping chipped paint off of soft baseboards was just not practical. When finished, it all looks true to the original, so we are very happy with the result. Beware of asbestos paper on exposed heating ducts once you remove the lath. Also make sure that you repair any structural weaknesses in the framing with the lath off. Cheers and good luck.

Comments are closed.