Note the beam in the pile on the right side of the photo below, the one with the perfect dark circle in the center. I have my termites to thank for that little Andy Goldsworthy-esque piece of work. Now too bad that was the beam that held up my house.
I felt I had made the right decision to take the house down, but the state I found the house in Wednesday night was a mess. Demo was completed, and all I had left standing were a few courses of dubious-looking block and a very pathetic but remarkably straight chimney. It looked like an old homestead ravaged by fire or hurricane.
Pieces of my house were stacked in hazardous piles: a few chunks of floorboard here, a termite-ridden section of joist there. Broken glass ground into the dirt. Discolored insulation puffed about the yard. Nails everywhere.
It was definitely the most stressful site visit I’ve had, as I took in the realization that I’d just destroyed my house and anticipated how to communicate my expectations about site neatness to my contractor. Thankfully there were piles of new building materials lying around, and I just tried to think about how it had to get better from here.
For an old house.
I’ve always wanted an old house. My dream was to someday find a rough old place and fix it up and make it my own, beaten-up floors and out-of-square walls and all. That’s one of the reasons I bought the farm in the first place. Though I recognized it certainly didn’t fit my vision of the old house I wanted to lavish all this attention upon, I believed that I could make it into something I’d like.
In many ways, that I didn’t love the existing house made the decision to take it down much easier, though that wasn’t my original plan. I tried hard to save it, but I realized trying to work with some of the existing beams and joists wasn’t saving anything worth saving. The final house will now be a much better product than any that I could have frankensteined onto the old floor. But part of me feels sad to think that I removed a home that stood for the past 80 years and saw a lot of life pass through its doors.
To get caught up, I bought the farm and spent the summer working with a draftsman to design a renovation. One thing led to another and the project snowballed until I was basically building a new house. I found a contractor, signed a contract, and on Sept. 28, demolition began. The first day it looked like this:
And here’s when things got dicey. Turns out that right where I wanted to cut a new front foyer into the house, the floors were uneven on either side of the main beam.
Further investigation of the beam revealed this:
If it’s not obvious from the photo, this is not what you want the main, loadbearing beam of your house to look like when you finally get right up under the hoary little floorboards. Termite damage. Lots of it. But it was certainly not unanticipated, and I had prepared myself to expect this. So after not too much headscratching and nary a moment to mourn the old house, which I had made a good faith effortto salvage, I decided to take the existing structure completely down to the foundation and build new. It just didn’t make sense to build essentially a new house on top of a crappy base. And now we could deepen the crawl space, which is about 16″ deep now and scary, condition it to increase energy efficiency, and stash several large systems such as the HVAC and water heater down there, freeing up valuable interior space. And so deconstruction proceeded. I asked the contractors to salvage as much old wood as they could, with the hope that I could make something out of it in the future.
Demo day three:
Day four. The roof starts to come off.
House attains that light and airy feel I was going for:
Day five. I’ve got a nice mountain view through what was once my house…
And this is where we are at 7:30 p.m. tonight. My contractor was at the site when I dropped by tonight, and he suspects that the house will be completely down to the foundation by Thursday. Then work begins to add a few courses of block to the foundation and get that set to put up a new house.