How to Have a House

Living with and understanding a home.

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It’s wet around here.

We’ve had a lot of rain around here lately. Sounds like we may have even had some records broken for the month of May. It seems like the drought we’ve been watch should be over, but it takes years to soak in and fill underground aquifers. Looks like all the flash flooding is mostly a big hassle. To add to the frustration, since we have been in drought conditions, there’s a lot of shrinking and cracking in the soil around the foundations. Of course when we get a big, heavy rain the water runs right down the gaps and cracks on the exterior of the foundation. This is when water comes in stone foundation walls, and sometimes floods poured concrete basements too.

Go ahead and panic. But just long enough to pick up the perishables from the floor of the basement. Once that is done, keep a cool head. If water is simply running across the floor into the drain, mop or wet vac the water and get one or two oscillating fans running and leave them running 24 hrs a day. Add a de-humidifier specified to the square footage of the basement. Set it up so it has a drain hose attached, set the machine to come on and run at around 50% humidity. In other words, set the fans and dehumidifier to run automatically, pretty much year round. In stone wall basements move all the storage three feet out from the foundation walls. This is opposite of what most people do, but when personal belongings are moved out from the walls, the belongings start to dry out better, and the walls sweat less because the fans keep air moving past. When a basement is set up and kept dry and fresh it will smell better and the stored items will be in better shape when brought back out.

The first thing to confirm when water comes in the basement is the proper function of the gutters, downspouts and splash blocks or downspout drains. Make sure the water is getting away from the house through the gutter system. Then make sure the house has good negative slope all the way around the foundation, even under the deck or open porches. The function of good negative slope is again to move water away from the house. If your house has a gap along the foundation wall from the effects of drought, fill the gap and tamp the soil in. This will deflect water. Concrete flat work poured up against the foundation will benefit from a mortar or flexible treatment to keep water from running in any gaps.

Once you’ve taken these measures, the only place water will come in the basement is up through a cracked slab, which is common in antique houses, or under the footing and into the basement. At this point a sump system may be needed.

Take your time. Start on the outside of the house first. Lots of basement water problems are solved in the gardens outside. Don’t tear your basement to pieces until absolutely necessary. Keep the fans and dehumidifier going and you’ll have a fresh basement.




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Moving walls.

I need to be fair about something.  Sometimes I get pretty ticked off about things.  I see something I don’t agree with and I get cranked up.  I guess I could be relaxed and just not worry about things, but I’m not like that.  I’d rather jump up and doing something. Almost anything.  Just feeling like I’m getting it out of my system is good.  I think a lot of people are this way.  Stand up comedians are the epitome of this.  They basically get to laughingly get it all off their chest.  Three nights a week, free drinks.  What a job.
     In the last several years I’ve watch home improvement shows gut first floors of homes and install the “new open floor plan concept”.  You’ve seen this. They go into a home, sell an upgrade or home renovation and remove most of the walls on the first floor.  They install beams to carry loads, blend all the ceilings into one big plane and floor the place front door to back smooth and uninterrupted.  I get this.  The simplicity of one big room is why a lot of people live in lofts.  The ease of movement in an open floor plan is unquestionable and quite freeing.  Only one TV is needed. It can be seen from virtually the whole floor, it’s 70″ across and over the fireplace if there is one.  When company walks in the front door they can see all the way to the back yard.  I think they could simplify things and just say “open floor”.  It’s not really new, warehouses have done it for centuries, there not much of a plan, the bathroom is always enclosed, other than that, it’s open.
     So buy a loft.  Get a ranch.  Move into an open mid century modern.  But think about keeping that antique house original. Welcoming others into an entryway means you have the luxury of privacy from the rest of the floor.  The cold winter air slows down and settles in a little while the other rooms are kept away and warm.  Guests move into the dining room to have dinner anticipating the room’s decoration, the seasonal ambiance and reminded this is a place where food will be.  Living rooms with no TV are general use areas ranging from quiet chats to board games on a coffee table and uncle so and so asleep on the window seat.  There’s almost always another room on the first floor where the kids, tv and dogs are tearing things up.  And of course there’s the kitchen, often considered cramped by today’s standards.  This is where too many people always pile in. Usually after dinner.  Shy people love small kitchens, they gather there.  Like fragile birds, happy to have a safe place to snack and share drinks.  There are inside corners all over the first floor.  Because there are walls.  Big pocket doors separate areas.  These doors are historic crafted slabs of wood, glass and metal.  Cast iron radiators quietly warm the house during cold weather.  With the right furniture a half dozen conversations can be going on, somewhat privately.
     I worry about all the old trim being pulled out and possibly sent to the land fill.  Same for the radiators.  The doors and lock sets might be saved in the basement.  The little windows inside entryway closets get forgotten and walled over. The wood floors, almost a hundred years old by now are hauled out, sometimes re-used, but none-the-less gone and forgotten.  I loose sleep thinking about the second floor and it’s new beam and load transfer.  I hope the old place doesn’t settle hard, or loose it’s integrity if the engineering isn’t just right.  I know, in 200 years most of these houses may not even be here.  That’s fine, I’m happy to worry about them right now.
      I settled when the laws of statistics clicked in my head.  Lucky for me, only a small percentage of the these homes are being shelled out.  When it gets right down to it, not that many antique houses are being heavily modified.  I can sleep at night knowing the trend could come and go pretty quickly.  I’m glad.  I like how antique houses are laid out.  Once I got it into my head, that almost all my customers would never dream of gutting the first floor of their antique house, I relaxed.  In fact one of my customers has been talking about moving from her amazing two and a half story antique home to a loft.  She’s already said she wants me to do the bulk of the work.  I can’t wait.  I’m hoping we’ll be building a new open floor plan concept.