Getting started

First order of business in beginning this project is to:

Get room cleared out of all the stuff that had accumulated in it over the years.  Since the room was basically unusable as an occupied space, it became very useful as a dumping ground.  We called this room the “junk room” and it has fulfilled this use and now is finally being made livable after all these years.


Prepare for demolition work.  We decided to leave the floor in place until last.  This way, as we removed the old plaster and lath from the ceiling and walls the debris would collect on the floor for removal to the trash bin.  Also, the old floor served as a floor to work off of and it also didn’t matter that it got damaged by falling plaster and lath.  

 Before we started knocking down the old plaster, we first rolled up the old insulation in the attic above the ceiling.  

Let the demolition begin:

Demolition is usually easy.  You do need to take some safety precautions (goggles, dust masks, etc).  The basic tools needed are a wrecking bar, vise grips, and a hammer.  In order to minimize the amount of dust getting into the rest of the house, we closed the door and opened the 2 windows.  In one window we put a window fan (set on “high”) exhausting the dust to the outside.  The other window served as the intake to create cross ventilation. This greatly minimizes the amount of dust settling/floating in the house. Once these preliminaries were done, we began tearing down the old ceiling.  Once you have smashed a hole in the plaster you can begin using the wrecking/pry bar to begin  pulling down the old plaster and lath.  The vise grips are used to remove any remaining lath nails from the joists.  Once the old ceiling is totally removed it is time to begin cleanup.  I purchased an inexpensive 33 gallon trash can and a box of 50 heavy duty contractor trash bags.  We would scoop up about 50 lbs worth of debris in the bag, then haul it out to the trash bin.  The reason for about 50 lbs was only because that weight was manageable and still avoid causing the bag to break. This was mainly for the old plaster which adds up to a lot of weight.  With the old lath, we threw it out the window to be used as kindling for our wood stove during the winter.

I have posted some pictures (in a previous post) of the exposed ceiling and the old oak joists .  What you see here is the unfinished attic.  The BX armored cable you see was for the old ceiling light fixture.  This was the only wiring for the room.  There were no receptacles in any of the upstairs rooms when we moved here, only single ceiling light fixtures with a wall switch.

Reason for bowed ceiling

There are a couple reasons for the bowed ceiling.  As I previously mentioned, both the floor and the ceiling sagged like a saucer.  The sag was about 4″ in the center of the room.

Sag reason #1.  The old 2×8″ oak joists (roughly 16″ on center) spanned almost 16′.  This is undersized for this span (even considering they were oak).  Looking at the span tables, the joists should have been 2×10 – 2×12, depending on the species of lumber.  I would like to state that the 2×8 oak joists were rough sawn and were a full 2″x8″ (more or less, as things were not exactly “standard” back then).

Sag reason #2.  We were told that previous Amish residents from the past had brought the bathroom facilities inside.  In order to have “running water”, they had rigged up a gravity system where they stored the water upstairs and piped it down to the bathroom below (much like a water tower).  Now with water weighing 8 lbs/gallon it is very easy to see how even having a 500 gallon tank up there would easily weigh 4000 lbs.  And, if it leaked, that would cause even further warping

The floor of this room was obviously the ceiling of the 1st floor room below.  I had previously leveled that ceiling by removing the plaster and lath in that room.  Then, instead of doing anything with the existing undersized oak joists, I went to the low point of the ceiling and “sistered” 2×6″ boards onto the existing 2×8 oak joists.  The old joists, over nearly a 100 year time frame had sagged as far as they were going to.  By sistering the new 2×6 joists to these, I actually strengthened the span.  Once the ceiling was level, we installed full length 3/4″  T&G bead board (which I stained).  We had also redone the walls in this room and wallpapered.

A photo of the bead board ceiling (in the room below) is shown above.

Leveling floors & ceilings in 120 year old farm house.

First…A little history.

Back in 1985 my wife and I and our 5 children (at the time) purchased an old farm house out in the country that was built in stages beginning in 1894.  We had lived in the city and felt it would be a good idea to move to the country.  Anyway, after about a year of looking at “out in the country” properties, we found this one.  I liked it at first sight.  Being young and strong (but not overly bright), I underestimated what I was getting into in regards to the amount of work and money this place needed.  But, like I said, when you are young, there is that feeling of invincibility…that feeling of “Yea, I can do that…piece of cake”.  Kinda’ like that saying “ask a teenager, they know everything”.

Anyway, I am not complaining.  I have actually enjoyed my life here and the work I have put into the place.  There is a sense of pride and accomplishment when you step back and say “wow, was I really able to do that!”  I really enjoy the projects (once I start them).  One of my biggest struggles is getting started.  Often I will come up with reasons why a particular project is too hard (too expensive, beyond my skill level, too busy…whatever).  But, after my wife plants the seed in my head, and after all my initial resistance, I begin to mull it over, research it, ask lots of questions…then I get started.

This old house was an obvious, very rundown, handyman special.  It had very minimal electricity, no heat, no insulation, sagging floors & ceilings, and many other shortfalls.  In order to get the bank to even give us a mortgage on the place we had to first upgrade the electric to a 200A service in order to install necessary heating. 

Over the 28 years we have been here, the projects have been many…and ongoing.

I often tell people that I live in the projects.

My latest project has been to finally tackle one last unfinished room in the house.  This is an upstairs bedroom with a seriously sagging floor and ceiling along with failing plaster.  The floor & ceiling both sagged about 4″ to the center of the room in a saucer like manner.  If you placed a marble anywhere along the perimeter it would quickly roll to the center.

Tomorrow, I will explain the reasons behind the bowed floor along with how I dealt with it.  Until then…

Pictures of the upstairs bedroom project