Pennsylvania Limestone Farmhouse Renovations to an 1863 farmhouse built of limestone

March 25, 2010

Moment of Truth

Filed under: Exterior,Porches — Duane Diefenbach @ 6:10 pm

Today Lee’s crew installed the posts and beams I cut for the porch. I was wondering what would go wrong but Lee told Lisa (something like), “Holy crap, they fit together perfectly and if I had done this something wouldn’t have fit.” I was hoping everything went ok because Lee didn’t call me at work with questions. However, Lee did have to spend some time figuring out how to put everything together (I had them numbered with Roman numerals but that only goes so far) – I had to go to work early because I was hosting a job candidate otherwise I could have saved a lot of time.

Here’s a picture of the porch with the rafters installed

Here’s a picture of a bridled scarf joint assembled. Next time I’ll get the gap smaller.

And here are a couple of other joints

If you come and visit us I’ll gladly show you the screw-ups:

1. the concrete floor wasn’t formed correctly

2. there were some mismeasurements in beams so that some joints are showing (fortunately, I left some length in some beams so that Lee’s crew could cut them to the proper length

3. the support beams were cut too short by about 1/2″

4. extra pilot holes were drilled in the beam attached to the house

My goal is too hide all these mistakes before you visit.

March 24, 2010

Posts, Beams, and Other Oddities

Filed under: Uncategorized — Duane Diefenbach @ 8:46 pm

I have handled a lot of posts and beams recently. I guess I can remember what happened as far back as late last week. I picked up the antique chestnut beams from the kiln where they were heated to 160° for 24 hr to kill any bugs. With the help of my neighbor Bill we unloaded them all except for the one to be sawed in half (lengthwise) for each end of the master bedroom. Then Bill and I moved a load of slippery (red) elm out of the solar kiln (and into my workshop) and moved in a load of hemlock and hickory to dry. The hemlock and hickory were cut last fall and were stickered in the pole barn – and their moisture content was fairly low – but after one day in the solar kiln the moisture started wicking out and the kiln was filled with moisture and the meter was off the scale (>30% moisture). Today (Wed) I checked the wood and it had a 15-25% moisture content.

On Sunday Bill and I worked on installing posts for our new cattle corral. Last year the steers we brought home went through our fence like a knife through butter. This year we’re adding 3 more strands of high tensile electric fence and posts about every 10 feet. We installed almost 20 posts (some we had to do twice because they were not lined up very well).

I took us most of the day. I’ll have more photos of the fencing project soon. We need the utilities moved from the homestead pole to the underground access so that I can use the homestead pole for supports for a gate into the cattle corral. Plus Bill and I need to assess what other materials we need to finish the project (insulators, wires, tensioners, etc.).

Bill also helped me plane the posts and beams for the front porch. I have 6×6 posts and 6×10 beams of hemlock for both porches and they needed to be planed to final dimensions. Then I needed to cut the mortises, tenons, and scarf joints to make the supports for the porches. I am starting with the larger porch near the barn because this framing is needed so Lee’s crew can build the roof and complete the framing and roofing on that side of the house.

But before I could get much work done on the timber joinery Lisa pointed out that our mason was chipping away at the mortar around the first floor window that will become the passageway from the old to new house on the first floor.  Bill and I put down our beers. So that the mason can take out the window and stones we had to do some destruction in the living room.

Here’s a photo of a discussion with Bill about what needed to happen.

And here’s a photo of  a discussion with the mason about what needed to be done

And here’s what we did

The downstairs of the old house was studded out in 1989 and insulated. Mostly what this did was make the room smaller and encourage mold and plaster deterioration behind the walls. Destruction is always fun and in and old house it usually leads you to learn something about the history of the building. What we learned is that the wainscot we knew existed in this room in the 1950s and 60s was not original to the home. The wainscot was removed when the insulation was added in 1989 and beneath the wainscot was older wallpaper and any hidden trim and baseboard had the original milk paint (some shade of deep blue/gray milk paint). When I removed the trim from around the window I found that underneath the sill was a space filled with mouse nests and corn cobs. I think the corn cobs were used to try and plug some knotholes in the sill. I also found 3 combs but no money.  Haven’t found anything more than a 1950 penny in this house so far.

About 9pm that evening Lisa and I finished up vacuuming up the debris and installed some plastic to keep the masonry dust out of our living space. Here’s what the opening looks like as of Wednesday evening (looking from the addition into the old part of the house):

Tuesday morning I was going to at least go into work for part of the day, but it was clear that I needed to get the posts and beams cut so that Lee’s crew could start building the front porch. I started at about 6am on Tuesday (and with various interruptions during the day) wound up getting all but the last joint at the corner post (post and 2 beams) completed by 11pm that evening. I got up at 5:30am on Wednesday and finished the last of the joinery.

This is one of the joints I attempted to make for linking the beams across the posts (a bridled scarf joint):

Here’s a photo of the posts and beams. The one one unfinished end in the photo is because I left all the posts long so that they could be cut to length when installed. By tomorrow or Friday we’ll find out how well (or badly) they fit the porch space. If not, at least I have learned enough that the posts and beams for the rear porch will fit better and go together faster.

Finally, as a wrap-up for this post (no pun intended) is a photo of the antique chestnut beams that Lee’s crew installed in the master bedroom.

March 18, 2010

Busy Week

Filed under: Uncategorized — Duane Diefenbach @ 7:30 pm

Sorry for little info on the progress of the house but work has been really busy and between work at work and work at home I have had little time to blog. Here’s an update.

The geothermal drilling was put on hold until the company got all their equipment repaired. In the meantime, this meant we could get the electrical and plumbing completed.

Last Friday (12 March) I drove to Brattleboro, VT to purchase four 24′ chestnut beams for our master bedroom. I left Bellefonte at 5:45am and arrived in Brattleboro at noon where I met my parents for lunch. After lunch we got a call from the guy selling the beams that he couldn’t get away from work. Anyway, we got directions to the where the beams were stored, cut them to 16′ and loaded them on the canoe rack of my truck. I met the guys girlfriend in town and paid the balance due and was on my way back to PA. The rack barely supported the weight and I wasn’t sure if I’d make it back!

But I did and on Saturday delivered them to Braucht’s Dry Kiln to have them heated to 160°F for 24 hrs to kill any insects. I haven’t had time to pick them up.

This week Dave Walker, the stone mason, completely opened the passageway from the old to new house through the stone wall.  After he poured a threshold between the two, Windsor (all on her own) stepped in the fresh concrete and left her footprint. I think we have a dog print in almost every bit of concrete we’ve poured on the farm. Dave is slowly re-pointing all the stone and laying stone to frame in the new doorway between the basements. We’ll have pictures soon.

On Tuesday I took the day off work to prepare for pouring concrete slabs for both porches. Basically, all I accomplished was drilling 5 footers using a 3-pt posthole digger. Four of the 5 holes were easy. The one problem one was right where our former “septic field” was located. This drain field was simply a hole full of crushed limestone the size of baseballs. So when I drilled the holes  and pulled up the auger the hole sides collapsed. By the time I was done I had a 3′ deep hole that was 3′ wide. The one good thing was that when drilling one of the holes for the back porch I didn’t hit the water line to the barn that I knew was nearby!

On Wednesday the excavator arrived to dig trenches for the electrical and uncover the access for the septic tank. Also, the building inspector arrived to check out the electrical wiring in the house, the plumbing, and the framing (plus the footers I dug for the porches). Everything passed except that we didn’t have a permit to set a new homestead pole and meter. Something else to do on Thursday.

Today (Thursday), with the help of our neighbor Tom, I built forms for the porch floors, leveled the stone, and tied in rebar. Fortunately, I dug the footers on Tuesday because it took a good 4 hours to get things ready for the concrete truck. I estimated I needed 4.5-5.0 yards of concrete. Turned out to be 5.6 yards. But by 3pm everything was pretty much done except waiting for the concrete to cure.

Here are photos of progress on siding and painting (you can’t really tell what has been painted because the primer and paint are almost identical), plus the trenching and concrete work.

Here is a photo of the electrical conduit from the house to the barn.

Here’s a photo where you can see that the siding on the front of the house is almost complete and the porch concrete pad has been poured.

Below is a photo of the concrete pad for the rear porch. The sheathing on the right is where the sliding door will be installed.

And here’s the pad for the front porch

So before Monday I need to go get the beams (and get one sawn in half for each end of the bedroom) from the kiln, run the sump pump drain from the basement to our cistern, and plane and cut the posts and beams for the porch. Lots to do. Hope I have time to update the blog.

March 10, 2010

Busy Day

Filed under: Uncategorized — Duane Diefenbach @ 9:03 pm

Today started with Lisa and I driving up to the solar kiln to unload the first batch of wood. The cherry Ethan and I loaded last week was down to ~6-8% moisture content after 5 full days of sun.  We uneventfully moved the wood to the workshop. Then we went up on the roof to try and pick out colors for the new house.

We have tentatively chosen colors that closely match the colors of the primed trim (parsnip) and siding (bayberry wax)…  We admit it makes us feel like we lack any ability to make intelligent color choices but the green and grey of the primer brings out the green/gray colors in the stone.  We hope it works and to hedge our bets we are going to paint one section of the house and see how it looks before we commit to doing everything in our color choices.

Then the mason arrived to start making holes in the side of our stone house so we can get from the old house to the new house. His first recommendation was to re-point the stone basement (see our very first blog to view what the exposed foundation looked like ( My reaction was somewhat skeptical but after he starting removing stones I think we’re lucky the house didn’t fall down when we excavated the foundation.

Here’s a picture of the basement to basement passageway that Dave started to clear

Once some stones were removed it was clear that the foundation needs re-pointing to keep it together. The mortar today is mostly mud (or missing).

Here’s a view from the new side of the basement.

March 8, 2010

Eight Days of the Kiln

Filed under: Uncategorized — Duane Diefenbach @ 7:53 pm

Ethan and I loaded the kiln with cherry (for our future kitchen) on the 27th of February. While I was away there wasn’t much sun and the kiln barely made it up to 90 degrees until Friday. Then the sun came out and the past 5 days the kiln has reached 110-120 degrees every day.

A graph of temperature, relative humidity, and dew points tells the whole story. With little sun, relative humidity slowly declined but once the sun came out you can see a large decline. I measured wood moisture on Saturday and it was in the 12-14% range. On Sunday it was in the 10-11% range. Today it was 6-9%.

On Saturday I opened up the vents and that resulted in a rapid decline in moisture content and relative humidity. This evening I shut down the vents a little and will let it dry for another day (it’s supposed to be sunny again). If the moisture content readings of the wood stay in the 6-8% range I’m going to move the wood down to the shop and load up some of the pine I have been air drying.

Click the following link for a graph of the kiln conditions: Cherry

Update on the house

The well casing will be $12.25 per foot. Calculate that cost if we need 50 ft/well for 6 wells. Ka-ching. Today they didn’t even get another well drilled and the mud is over 6″ deep and spreading across the yard towards Lisa’s garden. The electricians are almost ready for inspection and the plumber is returning tomorrow. By next week we can have the framing, plumbing, and electrical inspected.

Now we wait for the well drilling to be completed because that has to be finished before the utility trench can be dug.

In the meantime… siding of the house continues and footers for the porches need to be dug and poured. This evening Ethan and I ripped off the small roof over the back door so that there was more room to side the house.  And Lisa and I need to choose a paint color for the house…

March 7, 2010

Two Nice Days and Mud

Filed under: Electrical,Geothermal,Plumbing — Duane Diefenbach @ 7:36 pm

I was out of town all last week as the plumber, electricians, and geothermal contractors arrived to work on the house. Great timing.

So most of the wiring in the house is completed and should be wrapped up on Monday. For the most part the directions we provided before I left worked out fine. There are only a couple of outlets and such that need to be changed. They also wanted to know where the cable outlets should go… something we didn’t think about since we don’t have TV. We probably should be considerate of future owners.

The plumber has just about all the drains and vents completed. He is going to wait to tie into the septic after the excavation is completed for the electric and geothermal. The water hookup will have to wait until a passageway is opened through the stone wall in the basement, but probably later this week the plumber will start on that part of the project.

Here is a picture of the first floor looking towards the kitchen and entryway.

Here’s a picture of the master bedroom and bathroom

The geothermal crew arrived to both install the heat exchanger, ductwork, and drill wells. The first 2 days they drilled one well. They hit water at 30′ and the hole collapsed before they could get the pipe down the hole. That meant they had to redo it with 50′ of casing – which means $$ at something like $12/ft of casing. We will be having a discussion on this topic on Monday. The drilling looks like this…

with lots of trucks, drilling rigs, excavators and mud. Did I mention the mud?

Here’s the interior progress on installing the heat exchanger and ductwork. The cast iron grate on the right is where the opening to the old house will go.

Below is a view of the crawl space under the master bedroom.

On the exterior, the roof is completed and the siding is going up quickly. Here’s a photo of the east side of the house.

And the southwest side…

While I was gone there was little sun so the solar kiln didn’t do much drying. However, the weekend was very sunny and the cherry has a moisture content of about 10%. With a few more days of sun it may be dry and I can start another load of wood.

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