Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Joist a Walk in the Park

We dropped Mathilde off at the Toulouse airport on Sunday, and since we didn't hear about KLM airlines suddenly loosing altitude because of excess carry-on baggage we assume she made it OK. Mathilde, the French economy regrets your departure; and we sure appreciate all the treats you showered on us. Even though she came fully expecting to work (and bringing the latest state-of-the art gloves for all of us) it was in Mathilde's so-called bedroom where the action would be happening. So, we respectfully traded construction for tourist activities.

No more excuses not to work, and the lure of centuries-old soot and cobwebs only a nostril hair away, we are back at it. The 'sponginess' in the floor joists on the deuxieme etage (the USA equivalent of the 3rd floor---the ground floor doesn't count) resulted in our pulling up the existing OSB subflooring and beginning the lengthy process of figuring out how to remove the 10 oak joists. The spaces between the joists were not equal and some of them had a rather prominent bend in more than one plane. I think Doug mentioned earlier that there was also a fairly dramatic slant to this floor. We could have handled the lack of plumb but the sponginess was too scary. The combination called for elimination.

The joists were embedded in the exterior stone wall at various depths and by various mechanisms, not always apparent. Sometimes they would pull out but more often not, so that they had to be sawn off flush with the wall. Battery-powered saws are good for cutting through wimpy American pine and fir, but definitely not two hundred year old oak, even oak with a bad case of woodworm. In an effort to introduce job safety, Doug tied a rope around an adjacent joist, then drew the rope under the joist to be removed and looped it around the adjacent joist on the other side to support it once it was set free. No additional trips to the hospital were required by this procedure. We hauled the old timbers in to the Depot Vente Brocante (similar to a antique/secondhand store) where we consigned them for 25 Euro each, and if they sell we collect 14 Euro each. Structurally they are no good, but for someone wanting that "instant rustic" look they will serve the purpose.

The challenge of installing the new solive du sapin (fir floor joists) was figuring out how to hang them so that the floor would actually approach level. Along the exterior wall where possible, Doug used L brackets to attach them to the header beam, which was 4 or 5 inches off plumb itself. The joists had to be notched or shimmed in varying degrees to reach level at the opposite end where they sat upon a cross beam.

It doesn't take long to realize that so many of these renovations are cobbled together at best because over the centuries things have settled, walls have been removed, windows have been put in/taken out, beams replaced, plumbing and electrical installed in stone walls, yet these houses still stand. New construction is clean, precise, square, level. This is everything but. But it is full of stress, frustration, tension, misinterpretations. Anyone who has ever engaged in DIY knows what I mean. In case you're wondering, we were still speaking to each other when we went to bed.

Note the darker, sagging old floor joist and the lighter, straighter replacements.

The water heater sits in the corner of the deuxieme etage, perched on three spindly legs and brackets against the wall but no bolts. It sat squarely on one of the joists that had to be removed. First step was to drain the water from the heater, so that at least if it did take a tumble, we might not be scalded or be crushed to death. Doug borrowed a stanchion from a friend down Cours St. Jacques, but since it wasn't quite long enough, he erected a 'recipe for disaster' platform to raise it up. It involved the jack from the truck and a stack of the 2 foot long ends cut off the new floor joist. After a few Erector Set experiments he got it to levitate the water heater long enough to saw out the joist, slide in a new one and create a secure landing and refill the water heater. And we were able to launder out a few layers of soot and cobwebs from various body parts that night.

I should add that at the onset of this project I insisted that we invest in a DIY's best friend---un aspirateur....or a shop vac. Can't go anywhere without it. (We now have about four of them on two continents.)


sarah alexander said...

the difference between the old and new joists is amazing. i can't believe the things you guys are doing!

Judy said...

What a re-building process! How do you remain sane enough to remember to stop and "document" each step with photos? They are great...makes us feel as though we were there, but without all the work! Judy

Judy said...

Who thinks up the titles for the individual blogs? ...."Joist a walk"...come on guys, are you punchy when you write these?? Judy

nancy said...

Oh Judy, Doug came up with that title after my suggestion of "BEAM Me Up, Scotty" (get it???). I thought his was brilliant. I guess it could just as easily have been "Installation of Joists, Day 4". Just a little goofy humor, but sometimes we do agonize over the title---hard to imagine!

sarah alexander said...

Personally, I LOVE all your titles! They are witty and very clever.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Sarah...I have always really enjoyed your titles...they show a wonderful sense of humor!

You are doing things Luke never even thought about...I am totally fascinated!

Please be careful...I see some possible dangers...and Scotty isn't here anymore to "beam you up" in a crisis! HA!