Madison, WI 1849 Home Remodel: Leveling and Repairing

1849 Home Remodel Week 2: Leveling The Floors

Last week was all about demolition. This week for our home remodel we got to work on leveling the floors. It feels good to get to started building after spending the last two weeks removing about fifty cubic yards of rubble from the home. We also got started removing the siding on the outside of the house to determine our course of action for the exterior remodel.

Most houses will sag and settle over time, and our 1849 house is no different. In some rooms we had floors that sloped over three inches in multiple directions. The main cause was a crumbling brick wall in the basement under a primary support beam. Additionally, the foundation itself gave way in a couple of places. The brick wall likely began to fail when a large hole was cut out of the wall to allow for a heating duct to pass through. After removing the subfloor upstairs, we discovered the joists running into that beam were notched and irregular, causing additional problems beyond the floor simply sagging where the beam sat. 

Leveling Floors With Irregular Joists

Often times when we level a floor we are able to put a single temporary beam under all the joists and jack them up together. Because these joists were irregular, we had to set each joist individually. We set up a temporary beam  and with part of the crew upstairs, and part in the basement, we got to work. Each joist was lifted and blocking was placed on top of our temporary beam to hold the joist in place. This was done for each joist on both sides of the beam.

With the weight of the joists sitting on our temporary beams, we repaired the crumbling brick wall. Once all the joists were in the correct position, we attached them to the original beam using joist hangers. Finally, we removed our temporary beams. With everything complete, we were able to get the entire first floor within 3/4 of an inch. Considering some rooms varied by as much as three inches when we started this home remodel, we will count that as a major success.

We began leveling the second floor once the first floor was complete. First, we put in two beams to support the outer walls. Next week we will be adding more beams to support the middle of the second floor. 

Exterior Remodel Work Begins

We began assessing the work that will need to be done on the exterior of the house. After removing the vinyl siding, we discovered gaps big enough that you can see inside the house through them. 

Because of gaps like this, we will remove all the siding, wrap the house in a weather resistant barrier and finally add spray-foam insulation. Spray-foam has the added benefit of providing some much-needed rigidity to the exterior walls. 

1849 Home Remodel Next Steps

We still have a long way to go on this big home remodel. After removing the siding and wrapping the house we will be replacing the windows. Additionally, we will frame the new layout upstairs and downstairs which will include two new staircases. The roof will be repaired, and the walls insulated. By that point I think we will be about halfway done. Lastly, no new updates on W.A.P. Morris, but by next week I will (hopefully) have some pictures of a few artifacts the home owner found.

Uncovering Bones: Madison, Wisconsin 1849 Home Remodel

Home Remodel Stage 1: Demolition

This week we have been doing demolition and uncovering the bones in our 1849 home remodel. We had to pull off drywall as well as the original plaster and lath to get to the studs. It is fun to dig through the layers and see what the house looked like during different eras. First, the dining room was painted bright green. Later someone put up some exquisite wallpaper. Finally, that was covered with drywall and painted white. The window trim had also been through a couple different green colors before ultimately becoming white as well.

Home Remodeling/DIY TV Show Reality Check

On home improvement TV shows they seem to approach demolition quite carelessly. Girl swings a big hammer into a wall, guy starts hacking away at something with a sawzall, cut to commercial, demolition complete.

In reality, demolition should be a thoughtful process. As we remove the parts that will be replaced, we must constantly be aware of what needs to be protected and kept . Our team takes time to seal off our work area from the rest of the house. Any floors that can be saved are covered in multiple sturdy layers of protective material. Our lead carpenter Tom is constantly evaluating the structural integrity of the home, and we build necessary support walls to keep it sound. Everyone also has to be aware of any potentially hazardous materials we may encounter, wear appropriate protective gear, and maximize ventilation. Dust that contained animal droppings, mold, and plaster dust was constantly swirling through the house.

During demolition we uncovered the bones of a few animals but didn’t find any treasure. We were usually successful avoiding rogue cob webs, and we hauled out a dumpster and a half of debris. One member of our crew discovered the aftermath of a chimney fire that occurred at some point.

Next Steps

After the dust settled from demolition, and we were able to evaluate the work that would be needed for the next stage in the home remodel: leveling and strengthening the homes structure. 

For now, I’ll leave you with some more historical information on the home.

The W.A.P. Morris House

I have been doing a little digging to see if there is any interesting history tied to this house. Here is what I have found so far.

The house is registered with the Wisconsin Historical Society as The W.A.P. Morris House.

W.A.P. Morris was a lawyer who moved to Madison in 1854.  He was known to be the last surviving son of any Revolutionary War veteran. Additionally, I discovered he hung out at a Frank Lloyd Wright designed cottage called “Rocky Roost” that used to stand on an smaller island near Governor’s Island.

I plan on taking a trip to the library next week to do some more digging into W.A.P. Morris and the history of the house itself. 


Challenge Accepted: Remodel A Madison, WI House Built In 1849

A Historically Challenging Remodel

Remodeling is never short on variety. The “cookie-cutter” projects are few and far between. Our newest remodeling project promises to take all that to the next level. It is a truly rare opportunity: Remodel a Madison, WI house that was built in 1849.  Will it be a challenging remodel? Yes. Will we find treasure? Possibly. Will we find dead animals? More than likely. Will our clients be blown away by the final result? Absolutely. 

To refresh your memory (its been a bit), here are five fun facts about 1849.

  1. There were half as many people living in Wisconsin in 1849 (305,391) as there are living in the Madison metro area today (641,385).
  2. Wisconsin had been a state for one year.
  3. The Civil War hadn’t started yet, and many Revolutionary War Veterans were still alive.
  4. It would have taken 4-5 weeks to travel from New York to Madison.
  5. Downtown Madison looked like this:

    Pickney Street in Madison, WI in 1859. Photo via Wisconsin Historical Society.

170 years ago, houses were built with completely different techniques and materials.

Materials were sourced from a local saw mill that used old-growth trees from a local forest. True 2×4’s were used to build the entire two-story outer shell of the house, including the roof rafters. Once that shell was completed, floors were added on the ground, and then second levels. This is known as “balloon framing.” Alternatively, we now use “platform framing,” where the floor is put down, and then walls are built, one level at a time.  There is no true basement. However, there is a dirt-floor crawl space with stone foundation walls. During heavy rains it will fill with water, but drain quickly into the dirt. 

The homeowners began a DIY remodel on the house ten years ago. They have made some progress, but find themselves in over their heads and ready for the update to be over. Every room, other than the kitchen and one bathroom needs extensive work.

That’s enough 1850’s history. On the next post, I’ll share our plan for how we are going to make this old house a warm, welcoming home. I’ll also provide more details on what will make this a challenging remodel, as well as an incredibly rewarding one.