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300 Center Street





The renovation of our old house in Massachusetts covered a 3 year period.  The house was built in 1762 by a sea captain.  In the ensuing years, it became a tavern, a shoe shop and a poor farm, before my grandfather purchased the home sometime in the late 1920's.

In 1983, my father and I began the renovation by jacking up the house and lifting it off the loose stone foundation.  There had only been a dirt floor root cellar under the house where my grandfather stored his potatoes and squash that he grew in his garden.  Over the years, the moisture from the ground had rotted most of the sills, joists and floor boards on the first floor.  In fact, there was a big hole in the living room where my aunt had fallen through the floor, into the root cellar.  

The first order of business was to enlarge the old root cellar into a full basement.  Over a two year period, the remaining soil was removed from under the house.  We soon found out why there hadn't been a full cellar in the first place.  The ground was hard packed clay that could only be removed by hand with a pickaxe.  In addition, there was a huge boulder along with numerous rocks embedded in the clay.  It was backbreaking, tedious work that we performed on weekends and evenings after work.

Finally, we got to the point where we could pour footings on the three walls that needed them and began constructing a stone and mortar foundation, using many of the stones that we pulled out of the ground plus those from the old foundation.  Later we poured a concrete floor and shored up one of the chimney bases which had been built on top of the boulder that we had to remove.  The other chimney had been built upon a large brick vault that had a curved ceiling for support.  We surmised that there had once been a full cooking hearth and chimney located above this vault rather than the single flue chimney that was currently there.

After the basement was completed, we began constructing an entirely new sub-floor with new sills, girders and joists as none of the original floor could be salvaged.  The house was a post and beam construction and for the most part the posts and beams were in good condition.  However, all the studs that had been resting on the sills were rotted to some degree.  While the house was still jacked up, we removed all of the remaining floor, built the new floor on the foundation and then lowered the house onto the new floor, securing all the posts to the floor.  In the end, the house ended up about two feet higher than it began, as can be seen in the pictures.

The next problem was how to deal with the rotted studs in the first floor walls.  First we removed the cement shingle siding on the house.  Underneath, we found clapboards that were in very poor condition, most of them split and some of them rotted, none of it salvageable.  We decided that the best approach from a time, labor and cost standpoint was to reframe the exterior of the house.  We did this on a room by room, wall by wall basis by removing all the old plaster and lathing, then taking a chain saw and cutting out the exterior wall along the posts and beams and pushing it out of the house where it was cut up and hauled to the dump.  We then reframed the resulting space using conventional framing techniques, and re-sheathed it.  The strength of the post and beam construction allowed us to do it in this manner.  We repeated this process in each of the rooms of the house.  At the end of each day, the house was always enclosed as a new wall had replaced an old wall.

After this process was completed and the exterior was completely reframed, we began working on the interior.  The plaster had been in poor condition and given the problems with the studs, it was an easy decision to gut each of the rooms and remove the remaining old plaster and lathing.  Since the walls were now open, we got the plumber and the electrician in to do their thing.  The house never had running water as my grandparents had used an old well with a rope, pulley and pail to supply their water.  The outhouse was located out behind the garage.  Only two rooms had ever been wired, dating back to the 50's.

We had a 200 amp service installed and wired all the rooms.  For heat, we had a forced hot water boiler system fired by an oil burner installed.  We ran two heating zones, one for each floor and installed the copper piping for the baseboard radiators.  We created an upstairs full bath at the top of the stairs on the second floor in what had been a storage room that was the perfect size and location for a bathroom.  On the first floor, we converted a closet into a half bath.  After the plumbing and wiring was roughed in, we began the process of installing drywall.

The renovation process allowed us to combine two small rooms into a large living room/dining room that proved to be a great room for entertaining guests or to relax in.    We decided to use drywall for ease of installation and cost considerations so we began to cut board and screw it onto the new exterior wall studs and on the old interior wall studs and ceilings. 

Among the features of the house that we were able to retain were the flooring and doors on the second floor, the front hall stairway and closet, and the unique brick oven in the kitchen.  We also decided to leave the posts exposed in each of the rooms.  When we had the house jacked up, we had taken both chimneys down as they were unlined and in poor condition.  Now we had them rebuilt, one which would be left exposed in the new living room/dining area where we would install a cast iron wood stove.  In addition, we were able to retain the roof.  It had been reshingled only 10 years prior and the shingles had held up very well to that point. 

New windows and exterior doors were installed throughout the house in the same size and location as what existed previously.  The only exception was the installation of French doors in the dining room that opened out onto a deck that I later built in the rear of the house.  Outside, we began installing red cedar clapboards and the trim.  Later, after the clapboards had a year to dry out, we stained the house the light gray that you see in the photos.

Once the drywall was installed, we began the process of taping, pasting and sanding joint compound.  Had this been a one room renovation, we would have done this ourselves.  In fact, I did complete the kitchen.  But it took so long due to my lack of technique, that we decided to have a crew come in and complete the taping, pasting and sanding process for the rest of the house.  They also primed each of the rooms as part of the job.  So this along with the electrical, plumbing, masonry and concrete work, were the only tasks that we farmed out to contractors, completing everything else ourselves.

After the drywall contractors left, we began painting each of the rooms and completed the finish carpentry. Bathroom fixtures were installed and we began work on the kitchen.  We installed the cabinets that we picked out and built a tiled countertop.  The sink was installed and a ceramic tile floor was put down in the kitchen work area.

The upstairs master bedroom had the only floor original to the house, having the old wide floor boards that old houses were known for.  Some of the boards exceeded 24" in width.  We lightly sanded this floor, stained and put three coats of polyurethane on it.  The remaining upstairs floors had been remodeled sometime in the early 1900's and had narrower floor boards.  We also sanded and polyurethaned these floors to their natural blond color.  On the first floor, we installed pine shiplap boards in varying widths from 8" to 12" wide.  We used old style cut nails to fasten them to the subfloor, except in the kitchen.  There we drilled and countersunk screw holes, screwed the floor down and used wooden plugs to fill the hole.  We sanded all these floors and polyurethaned them.

To finish out the renovation, we installed our kitchen appliances and completed the installation of the electrical outlets and fixtures.  At this point we were able to move in our furniture and family.  We lived in the home for 10 years until we decided to sell it and move to Maine, where we have undertaken the renovation of our current house.  Thankfully, although there is much work to be done, the house is in much better shape than our former house.

Taking a break from some demolition work on our current home.



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Last modified: February 10, 2016