Breaking Into the Void with Friends

Breaking Into the Void with Friends

Last week we dropped the floor in the mother in law house to start fixing. We were hoping to quickly fix it up so that our relatives, Abby and Keanu, could move into it and finally remove it from my to-do list. We were severally disappointed in our hopes. This week we go into the void between the ground and the floor of the house to start fixing the myriad problems.

The friends who helped break into the void

We got a lot of tricky work done on the mother-in-law house this week. None of that would have been possible if it wasn’t for the many hours of labor that our friends and family contributed. We are extremely thankful for their help and friendship. This week our helpers were Brigham (a friend from our church), Keanu (my brother-in-law), and Forest (our neighbor). Thank you all!

Brigham, Keanu, and Forest.
Brigham, Keanu, and Forest (left to right) helped this week. Without them, we would have been lost at sea.

A slow start

When we evaluated the project one thing was clear: the central beam of the house needed to be replaced. To do that we would need to lift all the joists off the beam. However, I was concerned that there were too many collapsed joists for that to work. The first 5 or 6 joists on one side of the house were barely hanging on. We had to replace those first.

So we went to work. Forest and Keanu started dropping the siding on the exterior so we could attach the new joists to the rim of the house while I crawled into the void and started putting joist posts in place to take the pressure off the first two joists. Once I had the posts in place I started pulling the disintegrating joist out, it was slow work. Whenever I got under the joist with a crowbar that few inches of it would crumble. I basically had to take out the entire beam in three-inch to six-inch pieces.

I finally got the joist out and we started putting in a replacement. At this point we learned that the floor had sagged and the new joist would not slide into place without lifting the floor higher. So we started a cyclic pattern of raising the floor with the posts, trying to get the joist in, raising the floor more… Finally the joist popped into place. It had only taken two hours.

Thankfully the second joist went much faster now that we had the floor raised properly. With two joists replaced we pulled out the joist posts and moved them over so we could start working on joists number three and four. In no time at all, we had joist three out and replaced. Smooth sailing at last!

An unusual approach…

When we knocked out joist number 4 we discovered something we hadn’t noticed before. It was not actually resting on the central beam, and was one inch thinner on one side. These discrepancies were not due to rot or decay, they were because of the chimney which the joist ran through. After some discussion we decided we would have to rip an inch off one side of our new joist and try to push it through the old ones gap in the chimney. We would not have a table saw until the next day so we called it quits until then.

Several new joists in place.
The first three new joists are in place by the end of day one.

We reconvened the next morning with Forest’s table saw standing at the ready. It was another two hours before that joist was finally in place. In the end, we ripped an inch off the width but couldn’t line it up well enough to fit it through the really tight gap in the chimney. So we had to cut it in half, shim it on the far end, splint it with two more boards where we cut it, break out some excess mortar from inside the chimney gap, use a fourth joist post to raise the floor next to the chimney another 1/2 inch, and use the blunt end of a splitting maul to drive the joist through the chimney.

With that done we decide to replace two more joists before tackling the central beam. Thankfully they came out and went in quickly and without difficulty. We were ready.

The point of no return

In order to remove the central beam, we had to take the weight of all those floor joists off it at the same time. We only had four joist posts and were concerned that they might not be able to hold the entire house at once. So, we decided to do it one half of the beam at a time. To make things better, once we started this process we couldn’t stop until the new beam was in, this was the point of no return.

We used two 16 foot 2×8’s as a temporary beam running under all the joists we needed to lift. Then we placed 3 of the four joist posts under the beam and started hoisting up the floor (the fourth we held in reserve in case there was a location that needed extra help). Soon the house was creaking and we could see gaps between the joists and the beams. We were in business.

Forest busted out the sawzall and dropped that half of the beam. The boards that make up the new beam would need to be staggered so that the joints would be as strong as possible. That meant we could not place all three of them for this side at once. So we placed in the first two boards where the old beam used to be. We had to do some trial and error replacing the shims which had rotted out but soon enough the first part of the new beam was in place.

We took a deep breath and lowered the joists down onto the partially constructed new beam. The beam held! We were clear to move onto the second half. The harder half.

Cramped working conditions

For the first half of the beam, we were able to work on it while standing up in relative comfort. For the second half, we would have to do it all while in the two-foot to three-foot gap between the floor and the ground. To make it better we would now have water heaters and pipes to squeeze between and work around. None of us were looking forward to it.

Resignedly we crawled into the void. Many of us were under there for several hours straight before the project was done.

Thankfully the second half actually went better than we had feared. The temporary beam held the floor up without problem (it was at least twice the weight of the first half). We had to take the beam out in smaller pieces to work around the plumbing but it came out easier than we had feared. The new boards slipped into place with only one mis-measurement. It still took most of three hours, but it could have been so much worse.

A good days work concluded

After a long day’s work. We all crawled out from under the floor for the last time. The central beam was in place and holding the weight of the structure. The first major hurdle to reclaiming the floor of the mother-in-law had been cleared! We were all tired and filthy but feeling good about what we had accomplished.

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