19 July, 2008

Old Termite Damage in Load Bearing Supports in the Basement

On Thursday, after my cousins left from a day of helping tear down drywall in the basement, Ted and I cleaned up the area of all debris and took a closer look at what we had uncovered. We'd removed most of the drywall from the ceiling and along the center load-bearing wall. Some stretches of the center wall had drywall on one or both sides of the studs. Along other stretches, the walls are made of tongue and groove boards; those we left in place, because they look kind of neat and we'll try to incorporate them when we finish the rooms.

This is the tongue-and-groove wall after the drywall boards were removed.

This is the reverse of the same tongue and groove wall, which is part of Ted's office. I'll clean it up and paint it a better color, but it's actually pretty neat-looking and rustic, so we're leaving it. The reverse side will get drywalled again.

Here's what we have for the studs themselves. There are several large, load-bearing supports and several two-by-fours (actual 2x4's, and not the 1 1/2 × 3 1/2 modern boards) running the entire length. While the load-bearing studs are probably original, the other studs may not be. These have what looks like marks from an old lathe wall, but the marks are facing every which way, not outward, as you would expect. I suspect they were salvaged from somewhere else--another building, another room, who knows? Or is it possible that when the house was built in 1925 (or '26 or '28) they used reclaimed lumber?

This was part of a non-load-bearing wall built between the mechanical rooms. Because it's a two flat, each unit has its own boiler and hot water heater. We plan to remove these studs and create one room for the mechanicals. But note the old lathe marks; there was no lathe or plaster here, just oddball pieces of drywall nailed up, and the marks fall on all sides of the wood, indicating it was probably salvaged from elsewhere.
The wall itself was built over a drain, and sort of floats there, hanging from the ceiling. It was kind of like a curtain between the rooms.


Now, when we refinished the floors on the first floor unit, we found and replaced several boards with what looked like very old termite damage. There didn't appear to be any damage to the subfloor, just the floorboards themselves. We did a cursory check below, removing a few drywall ceiling boards in the basement, but didn't find anything. Still, we suspected we might find some evidence of an old infestation when we tore out the wallboards and the rest of the ceiling.

Oh boy, did we ever, and it covered a wider area than we anticipated. There are shallow tunnels on the surface of the studs and a few of the cross beams and joists. As far as we can tell, it's pretty much on the outside surfaces only. Peeling the chewed up layer away reveals solid hardwood directly below in all areas tested. But it does look scary. I spent an hour googling and looking at photos of such damage, and in most cases it seems people just put on a wood hardener or filled the studs with epoxy if the damage was only on the surface, or added a few support beams.

All of the termite damage is to one side of the beams, the south side, and is very shallow. Scraping off the surface reveals undamaged hardwood.

Some previous owner in the past was aware of the problem, because one beam already has some support pieces nailed to the side, and these are undamaged.

Now, the drywall that was on this section was not in clean, full-sized sheets as you would imagine. Rather, it was a patchwork of small pieces--some only 2x2 foot square--nailed down with a billion nails and--get this--taped with masking tape rather than standard tape and mud and then painted over. Cah-razy. A few of these pieces had the old US Gypsum Corporation label on them, with a copyright date of 1924. (Our house was built somewhere between 1925 and 1928). Because of the patchwork craziness of the drywall pieces, my guess is that they may have been salvaged from elsewhere, too. So we really can't use the copyright date as any indication for when this wall might have gone up, although there was a ton of black coal dust and crap behind it, so my guess is that it was a long time ago, probably even before the last set of owners, who had been here for forty years. My theory of the day is that a long-dead previous owner discovered the infestation, tore down whatever wall covering might have been there, dealt with the problem, and either used the old drywall pieces he pulled down in a new quilt-like configuration, or put up random pieces he found elsewhere.

So, gentle readers, what are your overall thoughts? Our plan is to put down drywall, and leave the studs as they are. There doesn't appear to be dry rot in any of the supports, and the termite damage, like I said, only looks cosmetic and pretty ancient and only on the surface (and only on the south side of any of the pieces).

Anyway, our inspector has an open door policy, and I'll probably bounce the question off of him and see if he thinks we should get a termite inspector in, even if it's old damage. I was just wondering if anyone else out there in House Blogger Land has had a similar scenario.

But seriously, the house has stood for 80+ years, I'm not terribly worried. But better safe than sorry, they say.

1 comment:

Jenni said...

We had some of that. We left what we could and replaced what was totally rotten.