Author Topic: 108 Year Old Rowhome  (Read 1798 times)

E.T.

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108 Year Old Rowhome
« on: February 24, 2020, 05:40:00 PM »
I'm starting a topic for some of the projects I'm working on in my 108 year old rowhome. I'll post pics and update as I complete things in case it helps someone else with an old house. The house still has a lot of it's original features so I'm trying to keep those when possible.

CowboyAndIndian

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Re: 108 Year Old Rowhome
« Reply #1 on: February 24, 2020, 05:44:53 PM »
PTF.

Walk us through your design before you get started. There are a lot of good people on this forum who you can bounce ideas off.

E.T.

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Re: 108 Year Old Rowhome
« Reply #2 on: February 24, 2020, 06:20:20 PM »
I will, thanks. My current projects are to resize one of the cast iron radiators and replace part of the plaster ceiling. I'll make a few posts for projects I've already completed as well.

E.T.

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Re: 108 Year Old Rowhome
« Reply #3 on: February 24, 2020, 06:28:09 PM »
The first project I did was to refinish the original hardwood I found under some grungy old carpeting in a guest room. The carpet was easy to remove but refinishing the floors took a lot of time.

I chose to chemically strip the floors since I was worried I wouldn't have enough thickness on the old tongue and groove planks to sand the carpet glue and prior finishes off. Chemically stripping was very effective but required a lot of prep work and time. If I were to do this project again, I would cut into a small section of a plank to gauge the thickness. Then I would have known there was plenty of thickness above the tongue that could still be sanded to prep for refinishing. It's important to get the old finishes off unless you know what they are, since they can prevent you from being able to seal the floor properly if you choose a finish material that doesn't match the original.

In between the planks, prior owners had filled the gaps with wood putty. Over time, the planks swell and contract seasonally so the putty works itself loose. I removed all of the putty which involved a lot of effort. I still wanted the gaps to be more filled in, since most modern floors don't have such big spacing between each plank. I chose to use a twine method which allows the boards to still move but prevents things from falling in the gaps. This was pretty easy to do, just roll twine till it's the right thickness and tuck it snugly into each gap on top of the tongue.

For sealing, I used three coats of Tung nut oil from the Real Milk Paint company. When I researched this project I found that several brands have mixers that make it less effective. Pure Tung oil can actually bind with the wood and strengthen it, perfect for much older floors. I used this oil to finish a plain pine Ikea bed frame too, it's a very warm and pretty finish. It does have a strong nutty smell at first, but that went away in a week or two. I used old clean socks over my gloved hands to rub the oil over the wood. This part of the project was very quick to apply but needed to dry for a while between coats. The Tung oil helped seal the twine fibers as well and gave a warmer color to the natural fibers.

Twine and Tung oil used to be used for finishing ships, so this is a nice long term way to seal old floors. I'll likely reapply a coat of Tung oil after 10 years, sooner if there are scratches that need to be fixed. I like it better than poly since I can use it for quick touch ups without redoing the whole floor. All in all, this project let me use materials from the right time period to refinish the floors but it is not the easiest way to go about things. If it were a bigger space I probably would have thought about using more modern techniques.
« Last Edit: February 25, 2020, 12:40:16 PM by E.T. »

E.T.

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Re: 108 Year Old Rowhome
« Reply #4 on: February 24, 2020, 06:31:21 PM »
Edited to add photos.

The first side by side photo shows the old finishes and glue on the right, and the stripped wood on the left. The second photo shows the twining process. The third photo is a side by side of the first coat of Tung oil next to bare wood. The final photo shows a wide shot after three coats. In different lighting the color ranges from a honey color to a warmer brown. I like that it brings out a lot of the different variations / imperfections in the wood which is likely about as old as the house.
« Last Edit: February 25, 2020, 12:38:34 PM by E.T. »

CowboyAndIndian

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Re: 108 Year Old Rowhome
« Reply #5 on: February 25, 2020, 06:30:47 AM »
I'm having trouble getting photos to attach but I'll update once I figure that out.

When you post, you should see an attachments button (The + sign)at the bottom. Once you click on it, you can choose a picture and pick a file.

Just remember, you cannot put up humungous pictures. I would keep it under 1 Meg in size.

lthenderson

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Re: 108 Year Old Rowhome
« Reply #6 on: February 25, 2020, 06:42:48 AM »
I used three coats of Tung nut oil from the Real Milk Paint company.

It does have a strong nutty smell at first, but that went away in a week or two.

Tung oil is one of my preferred finishes for my furniture projects but the nutty smell is nearly overwelming in my garage for a couple weeks. I can't imagine how strong it would be after finishing all the floors. Were you living in there at the time?

E.T.

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Re: 108 Year Old Rowhome
« Reply #7 on: February 25, 2020, 12:19:51 PM »
I used three coats of Tung nut oil from the Real Milk Paint company.

It does have a strong nutty smell at first, but that went away in a week or two.

Tung oil is one of my preferred finishes for my furniture projects but the nutty smell is nearly overwelming in my garage for a couple weeks. I can't imagine how strong it would be after finishing all the floors. Were you living in there at the time?

Yes I was living there, but the room I refinished has two large windows and a ceiling fan so it was easy enough to keep the space ventilated.
« Last Edit: February 25, 2020, 12:58:24 PM by E.T. »

E.T.

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Re: 108 Year Old Rowhome
« Reply #8 on: February 25, 2020, 12:53:38 PM »
My next project will be to replace part of the ceiling that was water damaged. I hired someone to replace the roofing and fix the leak but the damage was already done to the plaster. I tried drilling holes and gluing the delaminating plaster back to the lath behind it, but that wasn't successful. When I push on that section of the ceiling, it still gives and I think it will continue to pull away from the lath at this point. Next I pulled off the top layer of paint, paper, and repairs from the previous owner to take a look at the actual plaster. It seems pretty water damaged so I'm thinking my best course of action will be to pull out the crumbling area and start fresh. Attached is a pic of the crumbliest area. The little gray spots on the painted section are the failed glue attempts.

Anyone tried to save a plaster ceiling before?

E.T.

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Re: 108 Year Old Rowhome
« Reply #9 on: February 25, 2020, 01:23:12 PM »
The other project I'm working on is to replace one of the cast iron radiators that heats the house. One of my favorite things about this old house is the radiant heat, it feels so much cozier to me than central heating. All of the original radiators are in great working order and well sized to the house. One radiator is more modern and it's oversized, taking up a lot of prime kitchen space. I decided to get a replacement radiator that is from the same era as the originals and now I need to connect it into the system. A word to the wise, if you plan to do this in your home, don't get rid of your old radiator before connecting the replacement one. I didn't think of that and now I am struggling to fix the fittings mismatch with the replacement radiator. I learned that radiator valves and the fittings that go onto the hot water pipes are typically a matched set, so I wasn't able to find an adapter that could fix the mismatch. I'm going to try removing the fitting that's on the radiator to replace it with a new matched set, but that will involve a spud wrench, lots of strength, and some luck. I had a couple of plumbers quote me to do the same thing and it would have cost more than $200 just for coming out, so I might as well give it a try on my own.

CowboyAndIndian

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Re: 108 Year Old Rowhome
« Reply #10 on: February 26, 2020, 09:16:21 AM »
With a 108-year-old house, how are you handling lead paint and asbestos?

I bet those radiators and windows were painted at some time with lead-based paint.

E.T.

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Re: 108 Year Old Rowhome
« Reply #11 on: February 26, 2020, 03:13:16 PM »
With a 108-year-old house, how are you handling lead paint and asbestos?

I bet those radiators and windows were painted at some time with lead-based paint.

Generally that's my assumption as well. I work on any projects involving older painted surfaces in this house as if I'm dealing with lead paint by either encapsulating or tightly controlling the dust / using a HEPA vacuum and wearing appropriate particle filters and eye protection while working. The first thing we did before moving in was paint the whole place: ceiling, walls, windowsills, and trim. The original radiators aren't flaking at all and they have newer covers preventing kids from accessing the radiators. The replacement radiator I chose had flaking paint, so to be careful I painted over it with a high heat enamel which should help encapsulate potential lead paint. I'll put a cover over that one to be safe as well. I think that's adequate prep, but it helps that I don't have kids to worry about in the house. I think asbestos is more of an issue with tiles, roofing materials and insulation, so I don't have practice dealing with that potential issue.

Have you had to deal with lead and asbestos? Did you decide to test for it?

CowboyAndIndian

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Re: 108 Year Old Rowhome
« Reply #12 on: February 26, 2020, 05:06:01 PM »
Have you had to deal with lead and asbestos? Did you decide to test for it?

I took the easy way out. I only saw houses that were built after 1978. I ended up buying one which was built in 1986.

We lived in New England and Upstate NY in old houses before we bought our house. My wife also vetoed any older house since it had very little to no closets.  You should see my present house, closets galore!

jpdx

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Re: 108 Year Old Rowhome
« Reply #13 on: February 27, 2020, 12:00:41 AM »
For your cracked plaster ceiling, look into plaster washers. These are like thin fender washers with a bunch of holes in them. Install a series of them with drywall screws, hitting the joists wherever possible, otherwise hitting the lath. Then mud or plaster over.

lthenderson

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Re: 108 Year Old Rowhome
« Reply #14 on: February 27, 2020, 06:50:59 AM »
Have you had to deal with lead and asbestos? Did you decide to test for it?

For lead paint I don't worry too much. I just wear a good respirator and make sure I clean things up with a shop vac that has a filter. Lead is perfectly safe to touch, just not to breath in dust particles.

Asbestos is a bit more of a concern since it can break down in superfine particles and get in the air. I have never worked around something with a high percentage of asbestos. I did recently scrape down a ceiling with minute amounts of asbestos in the popcorn according to a test. I again wore a respirator and sprayed down everything before scraping to remove to minimize airborne dust. I closed off the rooms with tape and plastic sheeting until I had everything cleaned up and sealed in plastic bags.  This is basically the same thing the professionals do with the addition of creating a negative pressure situation in the room they are abating.

E.T.

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Re: 108 Year Old Rowhome
« Reply #15 on: February 27, 2020, 12:23:51 PM »
For your cracked plaster ceiling, look into plaster washers. These are like thin fender washers with a bunch of holes in them. Install a series of them with drywall screws, hitting the joists wherever possible, otherwise hitting the lath. Then mud or plaster over.

Have you used them? I'm thinking my ceiling might be too crumbly at this point but I'd love to have another option for rescuing it.

I think the glue method I tried might be the same idea as the washers for reattaching the laminate to the lath. I used this article as a starting point: www.oldhouseonline.com/repairs-and-how-to/how-to-fix-plaster-ceilings

jpdx

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Re: 108 Year Old Rowhome
« Reply #16 on: March 03, 2020, 10:09:01 AM »
I have used them successfully for wall and ceiling repairs, but I found that they only really work if you can screw them into a stud or joist. If you try to screw into the lath, it might not have enough bite, or you might miss, or the lath might be loose. You'll have to assess whether your ceiling is too crumbly, but you'd be surprised what you can rescue. Either way, if you own an old home with cracking plaster, it's good to have a box of plaster washers on hand. I have not tried the glue method and honestly don't have much confidence in going that route.
« Last Edit: March 03, 2020, 10:31:15 AM by jpdx »

E.T.

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Re: 108 Year Old Rowhome
« Reply #17 on: March 04, 2020, 06:33:55 PM »
I have used them successfully for wall and ceiling repairs, but I found that they only really work if you can screw them into a stud or joist. If you try to screw into the lath, it might not have enough bite, or you might miss, or the lath might be loose. You'll have to assess whether your ceiling is too crumbly, but you'd be surprised what you can rescue. Either way, if you own an old home with cracking plaster, it's good to have a box of plaster washers on hand. I have not tried the glue method and honestly don't have much confidence in going that route.

Thank you for posting this tip! I tried it out and managed to secure most of the ceiling back to the lath. It worked way better than the glue did. It seems much more stable now and there's just a smaller round section that was too crumbly to reattach. I think I can just patch over it and it will be good enough.

jpdx

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Re: 108 Year Old Rowhome
« Reply #18 on: March 05, 2020, 10:49:07 PM »
Glad it worked! For my next project I am about to try mixing plaster of paris into joint compound. It apparently makes it much stronger and more suited for filling larger voids. Then you can top coat with regular joint compound. Something you may want to look into for this repair.

Fishindude

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Re: 108 Year Old Rowhome
« Reply #19 on: March 08, 2020, 08:08:53 AM »
Our old house is at least this old too.   Rather than patch plaster, we laminated a layer of new drywall right over the ceilings and finished it, twenty five years later, so far, so good.

dilinger

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Re: 108 Year Old Rowhome
« Reply #20 on: March 10, 2020, 12:04:43 AM »
I have used them successfully for wall and ceiling repairs, but I found that they only really work if you can screw them into a stud or joist. If you try to screw into the lath, it might not have enough bite, or you might miss, or the lath might be loose. You'll have to assess whether your ceiling is too crumbly, but you'd be surprised what you can rescue. Either way, if you own an old home with cracking plaster, it's good to have a box of plaster washers on hand. I have not tried the glue method and honestly don't have much confidence in going that route.

Thank you for posting this tip! I tried it out and managed to secure most of the ceiling back to the lath. It worked way better than the glue did. It seems much more stable now and there's just a smaller round section that was too crumbly to reattach. I think I can just patch over it and it will be good enough.


If the ceiling is super crumbly, use a roll of adhesive fiberglass mesh. It's similar to the drywall tape (for people who like to use mesh instead of paper), but can be found in rolls that are up to 4 feet wide. Cut off a piece of that, stick it over the crumbly bits (take off any large heavy chunks that are falling off and might pull off the mesh, though!), and then use your plaster washers through the mesh to hold up both the plaster and the mesh. Then skim coat, and your ceiling will be nice and stable and still look like plaster.

Or you can use 1/4" drywall over the whole thing if you don't care about old house stuff and just want to be done with it. I've done both. :)