I’ve said before one of the reasons I continue to work is that I love taking an old, neglected house and turning it into a home families can be proud of. We’ve just begun that process with the Roadrunner house. And unlike some “flippers,” we believe we have an obligation to the future owners of our projects to provide safe, quality housing. That means we often spend money where nobody will ever see it, in areas where some would cut corners to save on expense and make more money. You can call us stupid or ethical; that’s up to you. Continue reading
Here’s a quick update on St. John’s house. Our contractor, Abigail, has stripped all of the old paint from the exterior of the house, repaired the siding, and primed the exterior. She’s still working on the drainage and will have to rebuild and reinforce the pier and beam foundation.
Pier and beam is a method of building that was more common in the first half of the 20th century and before than it is today. It is much more suitable for soils that move than a concrete slab, even a floating slab. When St. John’s house was built, at least one of the piers was an old tree stump. For much of the 20th century, piers were simply cinder blocks stacked on the surface and shimmed to make the house level. Today, most new piers are formed concrete sunk into the ground. The depth of the pier depends on the depth of bedrock and the type of soil. (Technically, there is a functional and semantic difference between piers that hit bedrock and those that don’t.)
Beams are usually 2×12 or thicker boards that run the length or width of the house. The beams can be sistered (nailed or glued and screwed together) for additional strength. Floor joists run the opposite direction and sit atop the beams.
Pier and beam construction leaves a crawlspace under the house, which is both the primary advantage and disadvantage to this type of construction. Leveling the house is often a matter of shimming between the piers and the beams. The crawlspace provides easy access to plumbing and much of the electrical if you need to make a repair. On the other hand, if the crawlspace isn’t secured with skirting, it provides a wonderful habitat for animals such as rats and raccoons. Unskirted crawlspaces also allow winter winds under the house, making the floors harder to heat (even with insulation, which was not usually installed before the 1950s) and adding to the risk of broken pipes.
All that leads to the drainage problem I mentioned above. St. John’s house had multiple leaky pipes, and the grading retained water under the house. With the rains we’ve had this spring, Abigail’s team is still working to drain the water that pooled under the house. Once that’s done, we can level the house and work on the yard to prevent the problem from recurring.