cottage renovation: replacing the sill beam is not sexy work

sillbeamwideview

Our upstate cottage renovation is moving along at a rapid clip! Before we can start talking about any of the fun stuff (house and door color, ceiling height, kitchen planning), I need to tell you about some of the down and dirty work that had to be done. Warning: It ain’t pretty — but I think our woes are a valuable cautionary tale for all future home buyers. The lesson being — beware what you can’t see!

As I wrote in this previous post, during the winter our pipes and radiators froze and burst. This lead us to having to replace those, along with most of the interior floor. This circumstance forced us to address some issues the house had that we had been avoiding for years: namely, poor drainage was causing the sill beam to rot. The house does not have a foundation, but rather cement footers and wooden sill or support beams. The house is built on a slope, which means the back of the house has been hitting dirt for years — or I should say decades! The previous owner had disclosed that she had found and repaired termite damage, but it was under the house in an area we couldn’t see or access. Cement stucco covered the houses exterior, so we couldn’t really tell how bad the sill damage was. But we knew it was there. Along the ground in back of the house, parts of the sill were exposed to the elements — and didn’t look good.

sillbeamold

So off comes the stucco to see what’s underneath, and the damage on the sill beam is even worse than we expected. In some places nothing remains of the old beam, in others what’s there crumbles in your hand like Styrofoam. it runs the entire length of the house and that damage is like a virus. In the worst spot, the back corner shown here, it infected the exterior wood panels above it and some of the floor it was attached to. It all had to come out.

sillbeamroughshape

The weak support had been causing the whole house to sag. We had to lift it up 8 inches to where it was meant to be. Lifting up the floor meant that we had to remove anything that was attached to it on the interior — which meant we ended up tearing out the kitchen cabinets (which were buil-in after the floor had sagged). It was a crappy little kitchen, so we didn’t cry for it’s loss — but we did cry thinking about how much a new one would cost us!

sillbeamnew

As you can see from these photos, our contractor placed the new beams on the existing pillars, which were still solid. In replacing the beam, our contractor (Eric Carlson) had to secure multiple boards together to create a strong support. It is made from pressure-treated wood that is more durable and less susceptible to future water and as tasty to termites down the road. In addition to all this house repair work, we also dug a deep French drain around the back of the house and filled it with stones. Now the water will drain around to the side yard, rather than hitting the house.


See the first post about our renovation here.

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