Saturday, May 14, 2011

Let There Be Light!

I was distracted at work last Wednesday – distracted I tell you! It wasn’t because the Curator was drooling coffee out of the side of her mouth during morning coffee time (she blames the coffee drool on the lasting effects of Novocain from an early morning dental procedure but I have my doubts). And it wasn’t because of the numerous nameless, faceless painters constantly ringing the bell and marching (two by two, hurrah! hurrah!) through the house on their way to paint the windows and exterior storms. I was distracted by a strange light I noticed flooding into the South Kitchen just outside my office door. The strange, unexplainable light was everywhere. Was it some ghostly manifestation of Philip Van Rensselaer? Was I about to be touched by an angel? Was an alien trying to make contact with me? Or was it something much more fantastical and unbelievable. I got up to investigate and could not believe my eyes. The strange light was not celestial, supernatural or extraterrestrial in nature – it was plain old sunlight flooding into the room.  For many, many moons now this particular window in the South Kitchen has been blocked by sheets of cardboard and a window shade for added measure. No light dared to push its way through. Walking through the South Kitchen is impossible unless every over head light is switched on or one runs the risk of disappearing under heaps of packing material never to be heard from again. But there that window stood, bare as the day it was born, nothing to stop the bright spring sun from shining on in.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the...outside world.

I was drawn to it like an insect to a death by electrical zapping. I stood in the warm rays of the sun, soaking up my quota of Vitamin D for the year. I felt an absurd desire to stretch my back and curl up with my tail wrapped around me in the rectangle of sun cast on the wood floor, but I couldn’t do that, A) because we were open for public tours that day and people might stare and B) I’m not a cat. For the rest of the day, every time I stepped out of my office, I took a moment to enjoy the light and warmth. But as I was leaving at the end of the work day (with big plans to get a tan in the South Kitchen the next day), I found that the window was boarded over. Goodbye sunshine, hello rickets.

Hey!  Where'd my sunshine go?!

Why did this happen? I wanted answers. Luckily I was able to “take” #3 aside (I tied a loop in a nylon rope, whirled it over my head a couple of times and let it fly – lassoing #3 around his neck when he was getting out of his car and dragging him in through the door I had the foresight to remember to leave open), and ask for an explanation. Once I removed the rope from around his neck, #3 proved to be very cooperative in answering my questions.

Answering those questions involved an inspection of #3’s sill work outside…on the scaffolding, which is about 8 feet off the ground. Not high enough to kill or seriously maim one who falls off the scaffolding – but high enough to really hurt and humiliate a person. I played it cool, stepped from the relative security of the floating front staircase over a gap that could rival the Grand Canyon in width and onto the relative instability of the metal scaffolding. In stark contrast to my awkward movements, #3 scurried across the scaffolding, as lithe and mobile as a monkey in a tree. He was practically hanging upside down from his tail and working on the sill in the time it took me to put one foot on the scaffolding. Once I reached #3, (patiently eating a banana while he waited for me) I crouched down, trying to get my center of gravity as close to the ground as possible.

Sure, it doesn't look that high but wait till you're the one standing on top of it.
This is where I almost lost my life stepping from the floating staircase on the right to the scaffolding on the left.  I'm not exaggerating!
The sight that met my eyes made me want to lay flat down and cry. That dirty rotten sill! Literally! #3 launched into a discussion of the sill which eventually lead to a (sort of) explanation of the South Kitchen window light. #3 has been very busy. In addition to fitting exterior storms to the windows in preparation for the safety glass to be installed back at the shop, he has been working steadily on the sill. The first thing I saw was the middle section of the sill on the southern half of the house. I could see the epoxy that #3 used to fill in the parts of the sill where he had cleared away the rotted wood.

You can see the layer of epoxy on the sill.

This is the epoxy that #3 uses in the sill repair.

 He explained that after the initial layer of epoxy, he would sand down the surface and then go over the whole section again with a clear coat of epoxy, after which he will take long timbers to sandwich against the sill. Following this, more epoxy will be added and final white oak facings will be placed against the sill to ensure that the sill’s width is built back out to where it originally was once upon a time before dry rot set in. Also long bolts will be screwed into the wood layers for extra reinforcement. The long pieces of timber used for this part of the work are the infamous white oak featured in a post last fall. This white oak, as all of you avid readers may recall, has to have a low moisture content. The white oak to be used at HCH has a moisture content below 15%. #3 explained that one cannot epoxy wood with a moisture content above 18%.

The wood pieces shown here above the stone foundation (and in between the clampy thing) are the subsequent layers of wood added to epoxy layers over the repaired sill. 
This large piece of timber shown here will be another layer in the epoxy sandwich that will build out the sill to where it is supposed to be.

This is one of the bolts that will be used to stabilize the sill.

The section of sill located closest to the southeast corner of the house was mostly gone. #3 was clearing out the area located directly above the stone foundation as a mason was due to arrive the next day to create a level foundation surface upon which the sill could be built back up.

Just beyond #3's leg you can see the southeast corner where most of the original sill is gone.
A close up of the southeast corner.  #3 was to clean out the debris to prepare for the arrival of a mason who would level off the top of the stone foundation.

This left us with the section of sill located in between the two aforementioned sections. This section of sill was much worse than previously believed. On the surface, the sill appears to be in good shape. It seems viable and solid. It was only when #3 took some core samples of said viable, solid sill that the truth became known. When #3 drilled into the sill, he discovered that certain sections were completely rotten deep inside. The rot is much further in the wood than was expected. #3 will have to chisel out the rot in the wood, then dutchman repair it with epoxy, and add newer pieces of wood in the manner described above
Drill baby, drill!  #3 drills for core samples.
This is a piece of the sill that #3 picked up for a little demonstration.  Now you see it (kind of, I know, I know, it's blurry)...
...Now you don't!  Ta-daaaa!  No, #3 does not have Superhero powers. He just has the ability to crumble rotted wood with his fingers.   (Or does he have superhero powers?  He's like any old "Clark Kent Restoration Worker" with his hard hat and glasses on, but when he removes them he seems like a completely different person, doesn't that make him a superhero by default?) 

While this sill work is being carried out – the weight of the nogging and posts rest upon a stabilized wind brace which is attached to the c-beam anchored parallel along the front façade of the house. A tension rod is affixed to the wind brace and is holding up the weight of a ton of bricks while sill work is carried out.
This is the wind brace that is helping to keep the nogging, etc. from falling on #3's head.

All of these repairs to the sill are done with the expected outcome of stabilizing the sill and making it viable to bear the weight of the post and beam structure once more. Up to this point, as you may recall, the interior posts have been carrying the weight as the sill has withered away from rot. Viewing the sill from inside the South Parlor is particularly fascinating as #3 and #4 have removed the floor boards that abut the front wall of the house. You can see almost an inch of separation between the floor joists (which run perpendicular to the sill) and the sill. Because of the sills deterioration, it started to turn out and pull away from the joists. #3 explained that the effort to bring the sill flush against the floor joists again would involve a LOT of work, invasive work, and instead the gap will be left as is.

The gap between the joist and the sill is almost an inch in length!

But what does this all have to do with the window and the sunlight? In order for #3 to access the middle section of sill I just described, he had to remove the top frame of this particular basement window. With that wood removed, I got a very good look at the condition of the window. There was a whole lot of rotting going on. The same for the bottom frame under the window. That brief afternoon of sunshine was only while the window was removed and the space was boarded up to protect the interior of the house. It doesn’t seem fair that my moment in the sun was all too brief. But I guess if I was really feeling sun deprived I could always walk outside to get my solar fix or convince the Director to purchase me a sun lamp for my office.

You were my sunshine, my only sunshine, you made me happy, for about a day....

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