Monday, June 29, 2009

Let's Go Dutch!

June 25

The masons started at about 7 am this morning, but I had to leave them on their own around 7:45 to go to the Dutch House to meet the roofing contractors.

Over at the Dutch House, the dumpster has arrived on Monday, but the roofers de
cided not to start until today due to the threat of rain. So at 8 am they arrived on site, along with a representative from our general contractor. After reviewing the specs for the roofs - and going over every little detail - the roofers began the tear off process. They planned to get the shingles off the front of the Dutch House roof and get the plywood sheathing and ice and water shield installed today so that the house would be water-tight by the end of the day (See previous posts for explanation of why we are using plywood with cedar shingles).

The tear off process went well with all the original shin
gle lath left in place. The plywood will be installed on top of it. We want to leave the lath in place because it is an historic document of the changes that the roof went through. Based on the spacing of the lath, the saw or lack of marks on the lath, and the nails used to fasten it, it's possible to learn a great deal about the history of the roofing system, and evolution, of the house. Here's a pic of tearoff:

Once they finished the tear off process they took a break for lunch which gave me and our general contractor a chance to climb up on the roof to examine the structure of the house.

If you look closely at the following pic, you'll notice that there is a narrow section of newer lath to the right of the chimney
. It extends from just below the ridge to the top of the timber frame (about to the top of the left ladder of the pair in the photo) . This is a section of lath that was added to fill in the space where a dormer had been previously.

Compare the location of the new lath to the historic photo of the Dutch House that shows the dormer:

There's been a lot of lath filled in between the original lath in the top half of the roof (the lower hald is mostly newer lath). The contractor measured the distance between strips of original lath and said that the lath was spaced 10" on center. So...naturally I asked what that meant for the roofs appearance. He said that spacing indicated that the original shingles had to 30" - 36" in length. Wow - that's long! We're using 24" shingles since we are simply replacing the roof in-kind. If at some point in the future the Society wants to restore the the roof to its earliest appearance - the lath spacing information will be useful.

We were also particularly interested in seeing the structure of the the front overhang and any part of the timberframe structure that might be visible once the shingles were removed.

With the shingles removed we had a good view of the timberframe - visible here through the roof lath (above the red fascia board):

Here are some some close-ups of some of the timberframe details for you joinery fans out there:

These photos show just the original hand-hewn timbers, however there are several circular sawn timbers visible as well. My thought is that these are probably from the restoration of the 1930s. I'll need to check our archives to see what was done in this part of the house. It also appears a good deal of restoration work was done on the brick fill between the timbers.

We also had a chance to get into the attic and look around. Besides the requisite old hornet nests, we found some old shingles (1930s - 40s maybe?), and a number of old nails t
hat span the history of the building. I think I may devote a separate post to the nails and try to tie them in with our historical strictures report that was completed a few years ago.

Inside the attic we could also view the door that allowed external access to the attic. It's located directly above one of the 2nd floor bedroom windows. Here's a pic:

We also found some framing that indicated that there may have been an access hatch into the attic from the ceiling in the center stairwell.

Once we got out of the way, the roofers finished up as they planned with plywood and ice & water shield. They were even able to get a couple of courses of shingles and the cedar breather installed. They will return tomorrow to finish this side of the house.

West Chimney Work Begins

June 23

The masons started on the west chimney of the Amstel House today. The process will involve repairing mortar joints and replacing bricks. As they got into the job, they discovered the chimney is in worse shape than expected. there's very little mortar in place inside the flues, and more bricks will need to be replaced than originally thought.

They started bu cuilding scaffolding to rech the chimney. It was built across the rear 1905 addition to keep the public sidewalk asa clear as possible (even though it gets roped off during work hours).

Here's a pic of the top of the chimney that shows the condition of the masonry at the top of the flues (Note the small "tree" that is growing out of the chimney):

If you look closely at the mortar joints at the bottom of the photo you will see that the joints have been cut so that the brick can be removed. To cut the mortar joints, the masons are using a new tool that allows very clean cuts without damaging the brick. Here's a pic of the tool:

The very top of the chimney will be dismantled and rebuilt, the flues will be parged from the top down as far as the mason's can reach - about 3 feet. The project will take several days but not nearly as long as the kitchen chimney.

More tomorrow...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Well, we're moving on up (moving on up)...

I saw an interview with Norman Lear the other day so today's title goes back to one of his classic shows...

And we are moving up...onto the roof of the Amstel House to do some work on a different chimney before beginning roofing at the Amstel House. We're also goi
ng to start roofing the Dutch House. The hearth will wait...

Here's what we discussed at out meeting on June 15 (included were the architect, mason, general contractor, and roofing subcontractor):

The kitchen chimney is complete and we are very satisfied with the final result. So should the mason's begin working on the fireplace and hearth? Not yet. We have another chimney on the house that needs work. If you're familiar with the Amstel House, it's the chimney that had the trees growing out of it - 'nuff said.

The tree (actually 2 trees) were cut out of the chimney by the masons. The chimney itself needs to be completely re-pointed. There are also several severely deteriorated bricks that need to be replaced, the very top of the chimney needs to be rebuilt so correct bricks that have shifted or are missing, and the caps (currently flagstone) need to be installed correctly or replaced. It's going to be a project that will take a few days to complete. It will require some historic brick (luckily we have extra from our first chimney project), and we'll use the same mortar mix on this chimney. Here's a pic of the current state of affairs on one side of the chimney - the other sides aren't any better:

Now, before we started anything we knew that this chimney was going to need some work so our architect included the work on our initial drawings for the kitchen chimney and roofing projects. We had the whole lot approved by the HIstoric Area Commission at the same time so we could get one permit to cover everything. We weren't absolutely positive that this chimney was going to get treated in this phase really depended on how we were doing compared to the project budget. I'm happy to report we are well under-budget which allows us to do this much needed work too.

We need to complete this chimney work before putting a new roof on the kitchen wing at the Amstel House to prevent any damage to our brand new roof from scaffolding or walking/standing on it. Since our roofers are ready to get rolling, we are going to have them start working on the Dutch House first, then work on the pent roof on the 4th Street facade of the Amstel House then finally move to the kitchen wing. That should allow our masons plenty of time to finish up the second chimney. Once the roofers start on the kitchen wing, the masons will return to work inside on the fireplace and hearth.

Besides timing of work, we also discussed some roofing details. One of the main questions for the roofer was whether they were comfortable with our mason's suggested flashing detail. It's totally up to them since they need to warrant the work. After discussing it back at their office, they decided that they would prefer to go with our original flashing plan so that's what we'll do.

We also discussed how to handle the ridge detail. Before getting into that though I should explain the roofing system that we're planning to use.

Since we may be using our kitchen fireplace in the future, and since our neighbors may use their fireplaces as well, we want our wood roof to be as resistant to fire as possible. To get the highest fire rating (Class A)for a wood roof, you need to use wood shingles that are treated chemically with a fire retardant to give them a class B rating, and use fire retardant plywood as sheathing beneath them. Since wood shingles should never be applied directly to a solid sheathing like plywood because the shingles require airflow directly beneath them to prevent rot, we will use a product called "Cedar Breather" to allow ventilation between the shingles and the plywood. For a detailed discussion of this installation, fire ratings, and everything else you'll want to know about cedar roofs visit the website of the Cedar Shingle and Shake Bureau (it's good to remember that this Bureau is an industry sponsored organization).

I have to admit that I was reluctant to use the Cedar Breather product for fear of not providing enough ventilation beneath the shingles. I did a bit of googling to look for preservation projects where the breather was used. The only well-documented project I found was a 1997 roofing job at the Chowan County Court House in Edenton, NC (Check it out here). I contacted the engineers that designed the roof to find out if they had experienced any problems attributable to insufficient ventilation. They have had no issues - so it has at least a 12-year track record. Our architect and general contractor also have used the product on preservation projects in the past and have been pleased with the results so Cedar Breather it is. (For more information on Cedar Breather visit the manufacturer's website here.)

At the ridge of the roofs we will use a Boston Ridge with an vapor-permeable ice & water shield beneath the shingles, and the cedar breather beneath the shield as illustrated here. This will allow air to escape from the attic, while insuring that the ridge shingles can still breathe. Without a ridge vent humid air will be trapped in the attic and cause the roofing system to fail prematurely through rot.

All of this would be a non-issue if we were content with a Class C fire rating that can be achieved by treating the shingles and applying them in the historic manner - directly on shingle lath. Applying directly to lath that is appropriately spaced allows excellent ventilation. It's a system that has performed well for hundreds of years in the U.S. (with the exception of roof fires).

Enough about that...The roofers provided us with shingle samples so we could approved them before work begins.

These are for the Dutch House. They are sawn on both sides, 7/8" thick at the butt, and have a bevel cut on the end to match the existing Dutch House shingles.
In the 18th century, shingles were split by hand using a tool called a froe. Then the shingle surfaces were smoothed, or dressed, with a drawknife. While we could do that today, we decided instead to use sawn shingles which still have smooth surfaces though may show some saw marks. An option that is, in my mind, definitely not appropriate are modern shakes that attempt to mimic a hand-split appearance and are often marketed as appropriate for historic buildings. They are what's on the Dutch House now. I think they are too primitive looking for a middle class, urban artisans house which is what the Dutch House is.

As you can see in the photo, they are slightly thicker than the existing Dutch House shingles which is fine with us and will make them last longer. You'll notice that one of the shingles is very wide (11"), and we don't want to use it as is. A shingle this wide will need to be ripped (sawn along its length) to make it no more than 9" wide. Smaller widths help prevent the shingles from splitting or cupping over time.

These are for the Amstel House (below). They are standard "Royals" - 24" long, 1/2" thick at the butt, and clear (no knots or other imperfections):

We also asked the roofers to provide us with a copy of the label that certifies the fire-treatment on the shingles, and the material safety data sheet. If you are installing a wood roof, particularly on that has been treated with either a fire retardant or a preservative to prevent fungal decay (you can't do both treatments - they're incompatible chemicals), you should ask your roofer to provide you with this information and keep it in your project files. Here's a pic of our shingle label (faxed copy):

They also provided us with samples of the ridge cap that they'll use on the Amstel House (It's pre-made), the Cedar Breather, and the ice & water shield. The ridge cap for the Dutch House will need to be made on site by the roofer.

The roofers are supposed to start at the Dutch House on Monday June 22, and the masons at the Amstel House on Tuesday June 23. Before the roofers get started at the Dutch House, I'll need to get in there and secure anything that might be damaged by vibrations caused during hammering.

That wraps up a nice long post! Talk to you next week when the roofers and masons arrive!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Don't Go Breaking My Hearth

June 10

The masons have been examining the hearth and have some more discoveries and questions. Before getting into that though, let's finish our discussion of the damper.

Here's a photo looking up the flue. It's dark at the top becasue the damper is in the closed position. There are two wires hanging down. On the left in the photo is the main wire for operating the flue. It runs through a couple of eye hooks embedded in the masonry to help it stay against the wall of the curvy flue. The one on the right in the photo hangs freely.

The main wire connects to a peg located in the smoke chamber just above the lintel. By securing the wire to this peg, tension is maintained on the damper and the damper remains closed. By removing the wire from the peg, tension is released, and the damper flips open (it works on an offset hinge with the weight of the damper causing it to open).

Since the damper works due to gravity, if there is a substantial snowfall sitting on top of the damper, it could get stuck closed. That's what the second wire is for. The second wire can be used to release a stuck damper. It's attached to the opposite side of the damper than the main wire. Alternately pulling then releasing both wires will release the damper. The catch will be avoiding having a load of snow dumped on your head when it opens! Here's a pic of the open damper:

Now back to the hearth...

The masons began investigating around the hearth where
it meets the legs and rear wall of the fireplace. As they removed fill and some bricks, they revealed more of the fireplace leg. Interestingly, the legs of the fireplace have whitewash extending about three inches below the current hearth and floor surface. Additionally, the bottom-most whitewashed brick does not have a chipped off corner (remember the rounded corner treatment that we discussed in earlier posts). Since the brick is whitewashed, it would have been visible, and to be visible it needs to be above the hearth and floor level (which it is not currently). So it appears that the floor was originally lower than it is now. Somewhere in my memory I recall that the kitchen floor is not original, but I've not heard that the level of the floor changed too. Here's a pic of the left leg of the fireplace showing the floor level and the whitewashed bricks.

Another piece of physical evidence that supports this idea of a lower floor is a ghost line for the baseboard on the kitchen wall to the right of the fireplace. The current baseboard stops at the point where the hearth begins. Beyond this, its possible to see that the plaster has been replaired where the original baseboard was installed (remember that in the 18th century finish woodwork was typically installed before plastering took place and as a result was "plastered in" so to speak - this fequently results in "ghost lines" showing where the old woodwork was before being removed). The ghost line from the original woodwork is lower than the top of the current baseboard - though not by much. It's a little hard to see the actual line in the following picture, but you can certaily see the bright white plaster patch that was used to fill in the wall where the old baseboard was:

The mason's stopped work at this point to allow us to discuss the findings before proceeding. We have a meeting scheduled for June 15 to discuss the final work on the hearth, and start planning some roofing work.

In the meantime, it's time for me to start getting ready for the annual garden party and plein air art exhibit tomorrow!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Time For A Bath

June 8 & 9

I'm running out of 1970s TV show tie-ins already...

I just came back from fishing on Lake Champlain with the guys. The weather was great (unlike here recently) and the fish were biting so it was a great trip. Since it rained here again over the weekend, the masons decided to allow one more day for the mortar to dry before giving the chimney its acid bath on Tuesday. Let's check out a few photos of our newly bathed chimney...

This photo shows the newly washed chimney with a good view of the temporary flashing that was installed to keep water out until the new roof is installed. Because it was just washed, it looks (and is) much cleaner than the bricks in the rest of house. Over time, the chimney bricks will darken and be a closer match for the bricks in the rest of the house:

And another view of the washed down chimney.

In the next photo, if you look closely at the mortar joints, you can see small bright white specks throughout the mortar. These are not oyster shells, but rather they are pieces of lime. Oyster shells were historically used to make quick lime (more on this in an upcoming post). The masons added these pieces to the mortar mix after consultation with members of the New Castle Historic Area Commission. It helps the new mortar better match the existing mortar better. Even though a casual passer-by will never see the mortar in a chimney close enough to see the bits and pieces (the "aggregate") in the mix, we want to establish a consistent mortar mix that we can use on all projects going forward including street level pointing.

Following is a good closeup of the salvaged brick at the top of the chimney. You can see how much character they have relative to brick used in new construction, and how much each brick differs from another - unlike modern "restoration" brick. Color, size, and texture were the three main visual characteristics we looked for as we selected salvaged brick for this project. In both this photo and the one above, you can get a good sense of how the glazed header bricks really sparkle in the sunlight. Besides their color, this attribute makes glazed headers ideal for creating patterns in the brickwork, like so many 18th century houses in Salem County, NJ:

This photo shows the installed cap on the flue for the bedrooms corner fireplace (foreground) and the damper on the kitchen flue. Both the cap and damper are held in place with silicone caulk (see it glistening around the perimeter of each?). For the cap, the masons used ceramic tile instead of flagstone. They said that flagstone has a tendency to crack during expansion and contraction cycles and they think the ceramic tile will hold up better throughout those cycles. Also, notice that the top of the chimney is covered in mortar, and that the mortar slopes away from the center of the chimney toward the edge to help water run off the masonry and help preserve the chimney:

Here's a close up showing the very low profile of the damper. It's essentially invisible from street level so has no impact on the chimney's visual character:

The masons will return tomorrow to work on the fireplace hearth. I'll also describe the interior workings of the damper so you'll know how to open and close it.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane's dog was named...

Oh no...If I tell you know now you won't read the whole post. I'll tell you at the end. It's actually relevant to the discussion.

Yesterday the masons were back on the job. They finished up the flashing, did some final parging in the flues and cleaned up the site in time for tomorrow's garden tea.

They are leaving the scaffolding in place because they need to wash down the chimney on Monday. They want to give the mortar a couple of days to dry out before washing it down with a muriatic acid solution (same stuff they used to clean the bricks). I understand that there is a fine line between the mortar being too wet and too dry. If they wait too long to wash it down, blotches appear on the chimney. So...Monday it is.

I also met today with the architect and mason to discuss flashing options and finishing the fireplace itself.

Our mason is proposing using a flashing method that has the flashing come up the side of the chimney just to the top of the shingles. Then it turns into a kerf cut in the chimney (the kerf is technically called a reglet). Once inside the reglet, the end of the flashing is curled upward to prevent any water that might seep in from getting into the masonry. The reglet is filled with caulk. A separate piece of flashing is used for each course of shingles - its length is equal to the shingle exposure plus about four inches.

The advantage to this method is that the flashing is not visible from the ground. He's used it on several jobs in Pennsylvania. Before we finalize the decision to go with this method, we need to speak to the general contractor and particularly the roofer to make sure they are comfortable with the process. After all, they are the one who are going to get a phone call if the roof starts leaking.

We also discussed our approach to the fireplace. We are going to do as little restoration as possible, preferring not to mess with original fabric if we can avoid it. The basic restoration work will be limited to replacing badly deteriorated brick at the back of the fireplace, pointing areas of missing mortar,cleaning up a layer of mortar near the door of the bake oven and replacing a few bricks that are missing from the legs.

We'll also temporarily place some rectangular hearth bricks around the inside of the fireplace where the masonry was removed. These will be a different color than our existing hearth bricks and will help us visually delineate the change in the fireplace. Eventually, we do plan on putting square bricks down in the hearth - probably not until later this year.

That will get us to a working condition in the fireplace while disturbing as little of the 1738 material as possible.

We will also order a big iron fireback, 30" x 22", to protect the rear wall of the fireplace. We think they probably had one in use in the 18th century since there is no soot on the bricks at the bottom of the rear wall. We'll also order an iron lug pole while we're at it, so we can get some trammels in place for interpretation purposes.

As we finished up the meeting, another storm blew in. Like yesterdays, it was short, but much less violent, and resulted in substantially less damage around town. Whew.

I guess that's it for today. The mason's won't be back until Monday so I'm off to the Vermont side of Lake Champlain for a weekend of fishing!

And, of course, I owe you an answer...

Roscoe had a basset hound named "Flash". Flash loved the Duke boys, but hated Boss Hogg.

I watched too much TV as a kid.

Just the good ol' boys
Wouldn't change if they could
Fightin' the system like a true, modern-day Robin Hood
- Waylon Jennings

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A call goes out for the Mighty Heroes...

...but apparently only Tornado Man comes to New Castle. But I'm getting ahead of the story!

June 2

The day started out with very nice weather, though we knew t
hat thunderstorms were in the forecast for the afternoon. The masons started on the chimney quickly. Today they were working on finishing the chimney up. That includes installing a damper on top of the chimney, and installing temporary flashing where the chimney meets the roof.

Why are we putting a damper at the top of the chimney instead of installing it in the smoke chamber like a modern living room fireplace? We want to keep the fireplace as close to the 18th century as possible, and if someone pokes their head in the fireplace and looks up we want them to just see the flue. More practically, a damper at the top of the chimney helps protect the flue from rain and other debris (there is a nearby tree) that will hasten its deterioration. It also will keep animals and birds out of the flue.

To operate a flue located at the top of the chimney a long wire needs to hand down from the damper to the lintel so we can open and close the damper as needed. Actually, its a good idea to open and close chimney-top dampers on a regular basis (at least once a month) to prevent them from rusting and getting stuck in the closed position. Our damper will have a secondary wire to help free it if it does get stuck.

The damper for the kitchen flue has been custom made by our masons. Here's a pic for you damper aficionados:

What about the flashing...Why temporary flashing? Because we will be replacing the roof in a couple of weeks. We're looking at a way of installing the permanent flashing that will make it less visible from the ground (relative to traditional step flashing). More on that in a future post.

The masons were on the roof with about 10 minutes of flashing work left when Tornado Man arrived in New Castle about 3:45. Now, truth be told, it wasn't actually a tornado, but according to the local weather service it was a thunderstorm with sustained winds of 50+ mph and at least one gust of 74 mph was recorded at the airport about 1.5 miles away. Yikes!

While the masons were trying to batten down the hatches topside, I started collecting their tools and brought them inside. Luckily the guys got off the roof safely (it blew in very quickly) though the tarp couldn't be fully secured due to the high winds. Then the power went off. Flashlights in hand, we all went up into the attic to finish securing any openings around the chimney because the flashing wasn't complete. With carpets, tarps and buckets we insured no water damage would occur inside. We found 3 different roof leaks so its a good thing that the new roof is scheduled soon!

The storm was fast and furious - and we were in the attic for most of it - so we missed all the visual pyrotechnics. We did hear it pretty good though! Within 10 minutes or so, it was over. The guys cleaned up and took off, and I went outside to survey the property.

The Amstel House property did pretty well - lots of small to medium-sized branches and a couple bigger than average limbs but no major damage...whew. I better go check the Dutch House and the Old Library...

Off to East Third Street....Whoa!

Upon turning the corner of Silsbee's Alley I met with a scene of complete disarray. A BIG tree down near the Dutch House had fallen across Third Street taking the power lines with it. Luckily it did not damage any houses (across Third Street is the open space of the Green), and it fell right between two cars throwing some sidewalk bricks up on the hood of one of them. It also threw a carriage step about three feet into 3rd Street. Thankfully our city workers were right on it.

Another tree was down across the green. I walked around town a bit and found 7 more trees down: 4 in Battery Park, one on Delaware Street near Cloud's Row, one in the garden of the Read House, and one at the corner of 2nd and Chestnuts Streets. This last one actually did hit one house damaging the roof and chimney. When I saw it it seemed to be suspended by utility wires and was hanging over the corner of another house, threatening it as well.

I took a bunch of pictures to document the storm of June 2009 and will add them all to our archives just in case some future historian wants to hold an exhibit on storms of New Castle. Here's a few photos for anyone that missed the carnage:

East 3rd Street:

East 2nd & Chestnut Streets:

Battery Park:

So now its clean up time! We're hosting a garden tea in the Amstel House garden in two days. I'll spend some time this evening in the garden picking up debris. Problem is...there's another thunderstorm expected tomorrow afternoon. Lets hope its milder than today's!

Sunny day sweepin' the clouds away...

The weather couldn't be better today - bright and sunny with clear skies and cool air. I'm going to have to figure out some legitimate reasons for being outside today.

Having successfully completed my brick mission, the masons spent part of the morning cleaning up the bricks I salvaged. While they were working on cleaning bricks, I reinstalled the garden exhibit in the Amstel Garden House. It was sort of like being outdoors...the doors were open at least.

Once the masons finished cleaning bricks, it was back up on the roof to get to work on the chimney. At the end of the day they made pretty good progress laying brick and parging the flues as they went.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Your mission should you choose to accept it...

May 27-29 to get about 150 more bricks.

Eh...what's a few more bricks at this point. The masons want to fix the bond pattern from an earlier restoration that doesn't match the wall at the peak of the gable so they need some extras. So I'll make two trips to the brick pile instead of one this week.

They've cleaned all the bricks that I've already salvaged and are in the process of rebuilding the chimney. By Friday, they had just 11 courses to go, and the chimney was visible from the ground:

At this point it looks like the chimney will be completely rebuilt by Wednesday next week. That will make our local Araspaha Garden Club members happy since they are planning an anniversary tea on Thursday.

When it rains it pours around here...but that's another story!