Archive for the ‘Devendorf house’ Category

Few things damage a vacant house like a late-night fire. But that’s what happened, years ago, before we bought the house. A neighbor once told me it was set by a malotov cocktail thrown through a second floor window. There was a large, rectangular opening cut into the floor upstairs, as if a staircase was being built there. The sawn edges were charred, suggesting the opening was not created by firemen. I’ve always thought that the liquid explosive must have fallen through that opening. Charred blobs in the floor downstairs are consistent with liquid fuel splashing on impact. The blaze was evidently spectacular, as it drew a crowd from the surrounding blocks, according to kids in the neighborhood.

The damage extended from the cellar, nearly into the attic. A main beam and several joists were nearly burned through in the cellar. Flooring, door and window frames were charred on the first floor. The flames were in an upstairs wall and perhaps seconds away from spreading to the attic. Unfinished attics are tinderboxes in old houses, and fire there can destroy a house within minutes.

So it was bad.

The remediation work wasn’t too bad, though. We began by hiring Joe Rosenstiel from Jensen Engineering to review the damage and put together drawings and specifications to guide the work. L.C. (Sonny) Jacobs did the structural work in the cellar. As I recall, the work cost us about $5,000.

View of structural repairs

View of structural repairs. Steel columns installed over concrete footings, 24 x 24 x 12 in. deep

View of structural repairs.

View of structural repairs. Ganged micro-lam beams installed under burned main beam running between parlor and middle room.

View of structural repairs.

View of structural repairs. Steel I-beam running laterally beneath center of middle room.

Fire repair - Before

The remediation work in the upper floors was done by us. A center wall in the middle room was ‘ground zero’ fire-wise. This shows the condition of the wall as we found it. View is of the center wall – between the middle room and a small side room. The fire burned through both ceiling and floor.

Fire repair - During

View of reconstructed center wall, all original dimensions. Patched subfloor shows extent of fire damage. I mill my own historically dimensioned stock. Most old subfloor is T&G 1X6. It measures 7/8 thick which I mill down from 5/4 stock. It’s a pain but the result fits flush with the original, allowing minimal replacement. Lath and plaster grounds are up and ready for plaster.

Fire repair - After

The finished product. Finish plaster over brown coat. Door casings and base are all reproductions based on what was left in the house. The reddish color matches the aged patina of 100 yr old shellac we found underneath added stuff. The new finish is brushing lacquer over stain on clear pine to approximate the low-build, low-sheen of the original shellac. I only use polyurethane when I have to.

Detail showing corner block

Detail showing corner block

The corner blocks I turned in my shop, 72 pieces at 2 minutes per. All had been removed except for four in the front hall, leaving ‘shadows’ in the paint wherever they had been. Oak flooring in 1 in. strips replaced as needed.

This is what the other side of the room looked like then:

1st floor main room - before

And now:

1st floor main room - after

This really shows the extent of the damage:

1st floor main room - floor repair

All the new wood in this room replaces what was ruined by the fire. That’s the floor sander in the upper left corner of the image. Replacement of fire-damaged flooring is complete (1 in. oak strips, 1/4 in. thick). Ready for sanding.

Floor sanding is complete and ready for finishing:

1st floor main room - floor repair

The final result:

1st floor main room - after

I tone the floor by adding gel stain to the varnish. It looks older and hides blemishes the sander couldn’t get.

This is the view into the parlor showing fire damage:

view into parlor - before

The room in the foreground (living room) is where the fire originated. The piece of plywood covers a huge burn hole where a main beam was burned 33% of the way through.

parlor - after

View into parlor after restoration. What a difference!

Details showing carved trim in the parlor before and after restoration:

trimwork - before

parlor trimwork - after

The entry hall as we found it:

front hall - before

We’ve removed the modern paneling and acoustical tile. Plasterwork repair was simple. I don’t think drywall could survive a fire like that. Turns out, neither do insurance companies… plaster is cheaper to insure, seriously!

And today:

front hall - after


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