Friday, December 12, 2008

Cold Moon Rising

Full Cold Moon rising amidst clouds and trees; Derby, Connecticut, 12 December 2008, at 6PM

Tonight, a perigean Full Cold Moon rose at just about 4PM EDT. According to The Old Farmers Almanac, it was the largest and brightest full moon this year. Not only was the moon in full phase, but it was also at perigee (orbiting nearest the earth). I took the above photo about two hours after the moon rose. The afternoon was overcast, but fortunately, the cloud cover pretty much dissipated shortly after night fall, making for good viewing.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

First Snow

Kale, comfortable under a snowy blanket

Yesterday was relatively mild and nearly windless. But last night brought us our first snow of the season, followed by a clear, but very cold and blustery day. More of the same is predicted for the next few days. Fortunately, I managed to get all my containers and kale fully watered and covered with mulch during last week's warm spell. For the kale, I built layers of mulch up around the bases and sides to protect the shallow root systems, but left the leaves exposed to the sun.

Uncovering the Parlor Floor & Related Findings

This past Friday, I decided to begin removing all the wall-to-wall carpeting from the first floor of the house, starting with the parlor. Old and very worn, it certainly served the previous occupants well, but I would much rather have the original wooden floors exposed, and at least slowly get started on what I anticipate to be a long process of repair and restoration of the old planks. So it's now time for all that old carpeting to go.

I suspect that the wooden floors are in pretty rough shape. Gazing upward from the cellar, one can see that most of the original planks are still there, but many are twisted or checked, and some have areas of deterioration or insect damage. I think that the condition of the original floors was what prompted the wall-to-wall carpeting in the first place -- someone decided that the old planks needed to be hidden, and perhaps also hoped to achieve some degree of leveling of the floors without having to deal with the joist system below.

Also, from a few exploratory removals of swatches, I've found that there are varying types of underlayment between the carpeting and the floor planks. In the case of both the parlor and the hall, for example, relatively modern hardwood floors appear to cover the old planks. On the other hand, the dining room carpeting appears to be underlayed with plywood. I clearly need to determine exactly what's there, and decide how any underlayments ought to be dealt with.

So, then, on to the parlor ...

Above left: A view of the parlor, in the direction of the kitchen, with about half of the carpeting raised and folded over. The white door leads into the former chimney space, which, on the first floor, now serves as a walk-in closet and pantry, and encloses the cellar stair. Above right: The other side of the parlor. The odd looking panel (about 1' x 2') on the east partition wall allows access to bathroom plumbing.

Above: Just out of curiosity, let's remove that panel and see what's behind it. Just bathtub plumbing ... and a precipitous drop straight down into the basement!

I began by lifting the carpeting off the parlor/front foyer threshold (to which it was stapled), using a pry bar, and then worked my way down the length of the south end of the room, and about half way across each side. I folded the carpeting over and drew a long cut down the fold with a utility knife so it would lay flat. I then pulled the old foam backing up from the floor. Needless to say, it was a bit of a dirty job, with decades of old carpet fibers getting launched into the air, and many staples still embedded in both the floor boards and the edges of the carpeting.

But, doing this revealed a large area of the hardwood floor that had been hidden by the carpeting, and which, in turn, is hiding the original seventeenth century planks. Perhaps the most striking thing about this floor is just how uneven it actually is. There is a pronounced bump running parallel to the south end of the floor that gradually levels out near both the front and back of the room, as well as in the direction of the north end of the house. Perviously, one had some sense of this perturbation when walking across the covered floor, but now, there's also an acute visual awareness of it that seems to make its contours all that much more dramatic.

I went down into the cellar to try to determine the cause of this deformation, and concluded that it was caused by a transverse summer beam that had been bowed upwared, more or less in its mid-section, by a modern steel support post which, apparently, is just too long. My guess is that, right after the house was moved to its current location back in the 1950's, and placed on its new foundation, there was a perceived need to directly support the summer (as well as a number of other timbers in the flooring system). Someone must have jacked the summer upward just high enough to accomodate the post, but perhaps did not realize what was happening to the floor above. Once the problem was discovered, perhaps it was deemed too late to do anything about it, now that the post had been secured in place.

Above left: Southwest corner of the parlor and door to the front foyer. At one time, there had been an area rug or other covering (about 8' x 10') stapled down in the center of the room, and the exposed flooring was finished and sealed. Above right: Looking toward the northwest corner.

Above left: Close-up of northwest corner of the parlor. I used an old glass milk pitcher to collect staples as I removed them from the carpeting. Above right: There is an abrupt bump just at the border of the finished and unfinished portions of the floor, and running parallel to the south side of the room. The floor appears to rise steeply from the interior partition, and then descend gradually in the direction of the north end. The bump likewise flattens out both at the front and back of the room.

Above left: Another view of the bump and the unfinished/finished portions of the overlay floor. Above right: Close-up of the unfinished area of the floor. Even though the floor boards are milled tongue-and-groove, quite a number of them are face nailed. Perhaps this was done to eliminate movement and creaking. Although the floor is exceptionally uneven, it is also very solid and quiet.

Above left: The cause of the bump in the floor above -- a transverse summer beam near the north end of the house is being bowed upward by a steel post. The steel post is simply too tall. Above right: The end of the summer beam where it joins the sill. The underside of the summer is notched where it fits the sill pocket, and there is another (wooden) post supporting the end of the summer. The connection between the summer and the sill seems tenuous, at best. Perhaps this is partly a result of the bowing, but the same situation also exists with the other transverse summer at the south end of the house. My guess is that the sill is too far forward. In any case, this accounts for the wooden support post at the sill end of the summer (there similarly is a steel post at the sill end of the other transverse summer, as well).

Needless to say, this situation presents a significant challenge. I do not find such an abrupt deformation in the flooring acceptable for a home that is meant to be lived in. On the other hand, any adjustment will need to be done in a fashion that maintains the structural integrity of the floor system, while ensuring that nothing of historical value is unnecessarily damaged or removed.

Another interesting aspect of this newly discovered hardwood floor is how difficult it is to assess its age. The floor is comprised of milled tongue-and-groove boards that are consistently 12'-6" in length, except for the first four courses at the front of the room.The boards are of five different widths. I've measured nominal widths of 5", 4", and 3", and actual widths of 4" and 3". They are randomly placed with respect to their relative widths. And despite the tongue-and-groove construction, many of the boards are randomly face-nailed, all with machine-made, square-cut nails whose heads appear identical to those of the 2-1/2" nails that I've extraced elsewhere from the house.

Above left: Machine-made square nail, used to face-nail one of the planks. Above right: What on earth is this?! It looks like a metal wedge for securing a hammer or axe head to its handle, but perhaps not quite. I found this approximately in the center of the floor.

All this leads me to conclude that this floor is extremely old. Perhaps of the same vintage as the overlay floor in the hall chamber upstairs. But exactly what its age is, is very difficult to say. And this presents yet another dilemma: If this floor is historically significant, then I am not going to remove it. But what about the seventeenth century planks underneath? Basically, we seem to have one historic construction covering up another. So what do I do about that?

One possibility might be to remove just a few courses of the overlay boards from some specific area of the parlor that can be isolated from foot traffic. For example, maybe the first six courses at the front of the room, right beneath the two front windows. A cap molding of some kind could be installed along the edges, and the resulting trough could be filled with, say, a wide accent table or low-boy. This would prevent the area from being walked on, while allowing at least a portion of the original planks to be displayed.

Interestingly enough, I was considering this idea last Saturday afternoon, and later that same day, came across an article in the Winter 2008 issue of Renovation Style magazine (pp. 56-69, and p. 128), which described a somewhat similar situation. In this case, the homeowners had renovated a nineteenth century farm house, and decided to leave a portion of the internal construction of an old wall and chimney exposed. In my own situation, I am concerned primarily with historical preservation and repair, rather than renovation per se. But the analogy was there, nonetheless, and the discovery of that article made for an interesting coincidence.

Anyway, back to the problem of carpet removal.

So, I continued removing the rest of the carpet and foam backing, and then set about prying up the nailing strips all along the edges of the floor. Still having some ambition after all that, I also removed the carpeting from the front entrance foyer, and the first three treads of the second floor stair. The foyer floor turned out to be a true modern hardwood floor, with short boards of uniform width, randomly placed, and absent of any face nailing. This is not an overlay floor -- the old planks forming the original foyer floor apparently are long gone. As for the stair treads, they are clearly in rough shape, and are going to require quite a bit of tending to.

Above left: Carpeting and nailing strips completely removed from the parlor. There still are quite a number of random staples and nails all over the floor that need to be removed. Above right: This photo shows that there had been several generations of area covers, all at slightly different distances from the wall.

Above: While working on the parlor, I also removed carpeting from the front foyer.

Above left: View from the foyer into the parlor. Above right: I also removed carpeting from the first three steps of the second floor stair (I had not yet removed the tacks when I took this photo). The treads are very worn, checked, and full of nail holes from earlier carpeting or runner installations. They clearly need quite a bit of attention. My guess is that these treads are not completely original, but nonetheless, quite old (perphaps mid to late eighteenth century). The hand rail had been temporarily removed to get a large piece of furniture upstairs.