Thursday, December 24, 2009

Restoration of a Queen-Choosing the Queen You Wish To Serve-Part V

Finally, we get to the fun part.  Other than the fantastic exterior elements that the Queen Anne often has, the interiors are my favorite part.  It's easy to become so enamored over the details that you overlook the function of the house.

Check sinks, faucets, toilets, dishwashers, tubs and showers, and water hook-ups in kitchens, baths, and laundry for water damage.  Discolored, soft, or oddly sloped flooring around these areas can be an indicator of current or previous leakage.  If evidence of leaking is found, try to determine whether or not the leaks are active and whether the damage is caused by inappropriate use, deferred maintenance, or undiscovered plumbing leaks.  These areas will impact the function of the house more than any other interior rooms.  They are also likely to be the most costly to repair.



Inspect ceilings, floors, and walls and if you can, try to determine the building materials of each.  In our area as I mentioned before, it is not uncommon for houses to have tongue and groove wood floors, walls, and ceilings.  Other old houses have plaster and lath walls and yet others that have been updated or repaired have drywall walls.  Since many older houses (especially the ones we look at that have been neglected or have been empty for years) often have wallpapered walls and a common home improvement preference is for painted walls, it's good to know what kind of material is behind the wallpaper.  I'll explain some of the pros and cons of each.

The nice thing about wood walls is that they stay put and don't crack under normal circumstances.  You can also nail into them easily and hang heavy pictures, etc. without fear of breaking the wall.  They hold up to water damage much better than plaster.  Old growth wood doesn't rot as quickly as the the wood we have available today, so it can take a lot of water before the damage sets in.  You can drill into them to insulate or drop runs for new electrical without a whole lot of mess and the holes are easy to plug with filler.  Wood walls were meant to be papered-as were most walls during this era and even later.  In their original state, you will find wood walls and often ceilings with a top layer of paper on top of a layer of cloth that is tacked or nailed to the wooden surface.  The cloth created a mesh-like surface so that the wallpaper glue had something to adhere to.  It also helped smooth out the transitions between each board to give the wall a smooth appearance.

If you are planning to wallpaper, wood walls won't cause much trouble since the patterns in wallpapers help mask irregularities in the wall surface.  If you are planning to paint the walls, you'll need to think hard before considering a house with wooden walls.  The look of painted wooden walls is an individual preference, but if you like the look of a smooth, flat surface, wood walls won't get you there without some effort as you'll either want to line them with a heavyweight liner paper (which requires priming the wood, applying the paper, then priming the paper before you can paint it) or replacing the wood with drywall.  While there is the option of installing a thin drywall over the wood walls, I've never seen a single example of this that didn't look shoddy and cause ugliness around doors, windows, and baseboards. 
In our area where old houses are the exception, plaster is the most common wall and ceiling material.  Plaster is generally a smooth hard surface, but since it was applied by hand in multiple layers, expect to find that it is not extremely flat like drywall. The waves in the surface are part of the charm.  The upside of plaster is that it is an easily paintable surface and generally has a hard finished face that is much harder than drywall.  It resists surface dings and bumps well.  The downside is that hanging pictures and heavy objects can be a challenge as the plaster often crumbles on impact with a nail and it's better to predrill your holes for less damage.  Another consideration it that the area between the lath isn't solid enough to hold screws or nails, so you need to hit lath when hanging.  Hammering a nail into plaster is a good way to break those necessary keys as the lath bounces in resistance to nailing.  Pre-drilling and using screws into the lath will hang light to medium weight objects with minimal damage.

As you can see in the picture, I am removing the plaster and lath on one of the walls in our dining room.  This wall suffered a lightning strike at the chimney and caused a lot of damage to the dining room side of the wall.  Upon inspection, we discovered that there were many areas of loose plaster as a result of broken "keys" (which are the sloppy looking parts that overlap the backside of the lath but are necessary for keeping the plaster attached to the wall.)

Check for cracks in plaster walls as sometimes these may indicate structural issues.  Because plaster is hard and has little give, the visible cracks may just be as a result of the house settling on the property and may have been there for decades or may indicate surface wall failure without being anything to be alarmed about.  If you tap the wall surface, the sound of solid plaster is different than the sound of plaster that is missing its keys. Plaster that is missing its keys will fall off the wall in time and who wants that?  This particular wall was missing most of its keys and was inappropriately patched and covered over with wallpaper.  We removed the plaster and concrete patches from this entire wall.  It's a gritty, messy job that will dry out your skin and hair. 


Raw plaster with old joint compound patches

The plaster that I have encountered has always had a hard white surface, however, the newer part of this house introduced us to a different type of plaster that does not have the smooth hard finish coat.  As a result of time, whatever hard coat it once had, if any, is long gone leaving a gritty, sandy surface behind the wallpaper that regularly creates little piles of sand on the floor.  Most of the house has this problem but is something that can be corrected without learning how to plaster but is messy tedious, and time-consuming.


An area where the plaster was deteriorating and sand kept coming out from behind the mantle.  When the mantle was removed, the whole wall behind it fell to the floor in a pile. 

In larger cities and in the north or where the housing stock is likely to be older houses that have been renovated or updated over the years, drywall is probably more prevalent than it is here.  Anyone that has lived in modern housing is familiar with drywall so there isn't much to be said on the subject that most people don't already know.  It's smooth and flat, easy to repair, not very costly to replace, and is readily available.


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