On the Mends

After surviving the past few weeks and all of the scary things which were discovered in the rear wall of the main house, I am excited to report that we are on the mends. Repairs have been made to address all of the serious structural issues we found and it appears we are well over the hump of bad news. This post will also be added to the Our Philly Money Pit category because after going full force into the repairs, more issues were discovered and more money was needed.

To give you a brief rundown… After having serious concerns about the number of cracks discovered after we took possession of the house, I decided that I needed to find out more. One night at the house while chatting with my bestie on the West Coast and enjoying some wine, I grabbed a hammer and went to the second floor to share the experience of what was behind the drywall with my friend on the phone. Much to my horror, the discovery was worse than I imagined. My heart sank, the wine did it’s best to alleviate the sorrow I was suddenly faced with, and it became time to face reality.

After consulting with two structural engineers, we got started on repairing the structural issues in the rear wall of the main house where it connects to the rear wing. If you read my last post, this one will make a good amount of sense, if not, you may want to catch up first.

As a refresher, here is the diagram with numbers corresponding to the areas that the images are showing.

The nature of the structural issues are complicated so I created this diagram of the entire house (less basement) to show where the problem was. The red numbers correspond to the images which will follow.

Area 1 was the worst damaged area. This area is where a 12′ long triple wood beam carried about 8,000 lbs of brick across the top of a wood stud wall covered in lathe and plaster. The end where it met with the intersecting rear side wall was collapsing under the weight with crushed brick and rotten wood. This has been going on for decades and was not known by the previous owner we bought from and was covered in the 1990s by the owner she bought from. There were telltale signs, but I honestly believe the woman we bought from was oblivious to the seriousness of the small cracks which where visible and had no knowledge of what was hidden behind drywall in area number 1.

To fix this, the contractors supported the beam and brick above, removed the crumbled and broken bricks down a couple of feet, replaced the broken bricks with solid high strength concrete blocks and mortared everything back in. They also installed an 8 foot long piece of angle iron to span above the adjacent window to spread the load around.




Area 2 is just a few feet to the right of area 2, and this vertical crack carries up the the floor above (area 3). To fix this, the contractors removed the front layer of brick in three areas and replaced with high strength concrete blocks which were epoxied and mortared in. They also filled the vertical crack with a non shrinking mortar to reduce movement and then covered the entire section up with concrete parging. They will finish this area off with a skim coat to blend into the plaster.






Area 3 is much like area 2 in that they did the same thing as below and finished it the same way. In the after images, you can make out the shapes of the three concrete blocks as well as where the crack was filled in.



Area 4 was not yet repaired before I had to leave to return to our old home. But they will be filling it in with an epoxy to prevent movement and then patching with a non-shrinking mortar and parging like the other areas.

Area 5 is in the second floor bedroom/den (which is where we are currently sleeping) and this area was where more bad news was found. When they came in from the back side to address the beam, they discovered that the beam is actually a triple beam made up of three 3.5″x10″ pieces set into the party wall on one end and set atop the end of the intersecting side wall of the rear wing. Well, it turns out that two of the three beams were in really bad shape and needed to be cut out and filled in with new pressure treated lumber. To do so, they took four 2″x10″ boards, and filled in the cut out areas. Then they sistered the entire beam with a LVL beam, bolting through with carriage bolts and embedding the one end of the LVL into the party wall. We slept a few feet away from this, and I can tell you that sleeping with hydraulic jacks holding up 8,000 lbs of brick only a few feet away is a bit nerve-wracking.





Area 6 is the area adjacent to where the beam was attached to the end of the intersecting wall. This is where movement was very obvious. This area was included in the 8 foot angle iron mentioned in the area 1 details. They embedded the angle iron into the brick, filled the gaps with an epoxy, and then parged the wall. The final shot was taken before they had finished the parging.




Area 7 is mostly here for informational purposes. In order to support the weight of the brick wall at the third floor level, they needed to add additional support from the basement up through the first floor, and up to the second floor. They initially had thought they would need to tear into the wall all the way across, but it turned out that they only needed to tear into two sections which is great. They did have to go down into the basement and replace part of the sill that the wall was sitting on, but I won’t bore you with those photos.

So, that about covers it. They still need to clean up, fill in the areas with either plaster or drywall (depending on where it is) but for all intents and purposes, the rear wall of the main house is now structurally sound and should last for another 100+ years.

My next post will be about the parging of the walls in the basement. Woo Hoo, this is exciting?!? OK, not really, but I promise if you stick with me, it will get better.


Till next time. . .

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  • Cindi Mashburn says:

    This is white-fingernails being bitten to bloody nubs exciting. Terrifying is more like it. But now you are safe.

    • Devyn says:

      Thanks Cindi, I can offer assurance that all is well now. The work is finished, the walls are all closed up and contractor has been paid. We are no longer loosing sleep over the house issues. Now if only we could get our NY place ready to sell faster. 😛

  • Bernie says:

    Dang , this is more suspenseful than any action flick Matt Damon ever made! Glad to hear everything is mended; you are right about repairing everything now, makes the next phase much easier. I was hoping to have a play by play on the plasterwork as I am attempting to teach my self how to repair the “stress fractures ” in my walls. Coved ceilings anyone? Did your stucturasl engineers recommend any contractors to you?
    Waiting with bated breath for the next installment.

    • Devyn says:

      I too need to learn some plasterwork skills. I’d be willing to attempt wall repairs, but when it comes to ceilings, no way. We got lucky and the contractor was able to avoid cutting into our plaster crown in both the living room and the entry hall where we had the second floor jacked up (the details of which I haven’t gotten to yet). Due to time and money, I begrudgingly allowed the repairs to be done with drywall. I was ok with repairs being done with drywall in the upstairs bedrooms, but I really wanted to have the patching in the public areas done right using plaster. Alas, the finish work is good enough that I am in no rush to hire a professional plaster person to re-do the ceilings. Maybe one day when we are a lot further along in the house and there is some extra cash laying around.

      As for the contractor, our structural engineer brought his contractor with him on the first visit. It was a huge leap of faith on our part, but it worked out very well in the end. We could have probably had the work done for less, but I am very satisfied with the quality of the work and mentioned above, they left all of the areas opened up in pretty good shape. And being able to sleep at night because it was done correctly is priceless.

  • Eric says:

    Wow! Just Wow! Thank goodness for structural engineers and amazing contractors. If I found that in our house I might have just grabbed the wife, kid, dogs and wine, and never come back!

  • […] chimney in the attic, and more. At this point we were three months into ownership, the house was now in decent structural shape, and should stay that way for decades to come… At least we hope […]

  • Laura Adler says:

    I was waiting for you too say you found a body !

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