Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Now, where's that RSJ?


35 years ago, I completely gutted and renovated this little Georgian house for some friends of mine who had just bought it as their first house. I see it has just been sold - again.

The first thing I did was to rebuild the ground floor front wall to make that lower window - during the Victorian period, it had been knocked out to form a wide shop window.

The bulk of the rest of the work was to remove most of the 6 inch internal dividing wall which ran from the basement to the attic. Many grand Georgian houses were built with wide openings in their internal walls, which had hinged, folding panels to enclose the spaces during the winter, but the smaller ones kept single rooms both front and back. The new owners wanted a more airy and light feel to the house.

Removing that much of an internal, load-bearing masonry wall is a nerve-wracking business, as one little mistake can bring tons of stone blocks down on your head, and effectively destroy the house. I insured myself for about £3 million before starting.

This is how you do it:

Having exposed the jointing of the block-work on all 3 floors by removing the plaster, you cut small, strategically-placed holes through which you push short lengths of 'U' section heavy steel channel, which will take the weight of all the masonry above. These are usually about 2 feet apart, and cover a span of about 10 feet, in this case.

Then you place the RSJ steel 'I' beams up against the wall on one side. Remember I said that.

You then go from the top to the bottom of the house, setting up 'Acro' expanding props both sides of the wall, exactly corresponding to each other top and bottom, so that the weight of the entire, 30 foot-high, 6 inch wall is taken by them, with the main weight being borne by the basement floor, which is hopefully sound and compact.

You then saw through the wall, creating 8 foot wide openings, removing all the blocks as you go from the house. You lift the 10 foot steel beam into place (easier said than done), set it on it's bearings and pack the top of it firmly against the masonry above, using pieces of slate which you hammer into the joint until the whole thing rings like a bell. This is done on all three floors.

When the mortar has gone off, you take the pressure off the Acro props with your heart in your mouth, all the while listening for sounds of movement. Usually, one or two little cracks disconcertingly appear, but this is to be expected as the tons of masonry settle into their new - very slightly different - position. Then you can breathe out again.

A friend of mine was carrying out just this type of procedure some years ago, and all was going well up until the last minute. He had placed the props both sides of the wall and tightened them with a hammer, then he had cut the holes out of the main wall and removed the stonework.

It was at this point that he realised that he had forgotten to put the steel beams INSIDE the cage of props, and they were now trapped in the room behind him, with no way of threading them through the 2 foot gaps between the Acros...

There was only one thing for it. He went to the house next door and told them of his predicament. All he could do now was to cut a hole in the neighbour's living-room wall, carry the steel beam into their house and up the stairs to push it through the hole created, in between the props of the house next door.

They eventually agreed to allow him to do this on one or two conditions.

Having paid for the entire family to go on holiday in a luxury hotel for a week, during which time he put their furniture into and out of storage and completely re-decorated the house from top to bottom with professional cleaning to the carpets, he did not make much money on the job.

It's sometimes good to make lists at the beginning of the day.


21 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Nice looking house. Looks like you did a good job too.

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    2. If you expand the lower photo, you will see a bunch of flowers tied to the railings. This is where the hapless Irishman fell to his death, under my supervision.

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  2. That is an adorable little house. I cannot begin to imagine the suspense you must feel when take the pressure off the Acro props!

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    1. Those were the days when I could have easily ran off and joined the Foreign Legion.

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    2. They would have refused you

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    3. Refuse? Moi? Merci, mon Dieu!

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  3. I find the whole thing very scary Tom - one occasion when it is better to be a woman (don't have to worry about that kind of thing.)

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  4. When I bought my first house in Wales, after leaving college, I took out a nasty old built-in 1950's range. There was no lintel above it, and as the bricks began to drop, the only thing I could do was to get Lady Magnon's back underneath it. She still scolds me to this day. On reflection, it's lucky she wasn't buried under tons of brick and stone!

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  5. Love Georgian houses. We live in a late Victorian house and our house before this one was 17th century but we have never lived in a Georgian house..... perhaps we will move to Bath one day !!
    I cannot imagine how scary it must be to go through all of that palava ..... it must have been very stressful. Have you done it again or was it just the once. Our house is surrounded by scaffolding at the moment as we have to have the roof done. We were meant to have it done when we moved in 27 years ago so it's been very good ...... they don't make 'em like the used to !!!!

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    1. I put up my own scaffold to that house too, but that's another story.

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  6. I used to remove chimney breasts using a similar principle. Shoring up the front edge first, before working away quietly at removing the bricks.

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    1. Certainly my good man for that was in the 80's.
      By the way I would have thought that you'd be busy working in G'bury for Kath - perhaps scrumpy doesn't agree with your palate?

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    2. I hate scrumpy, and I don't know Kath, as far as I can remember. Any enlightenment?

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    3. Tom checkout railwaycottage.blogspot.com

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    4. Yesterday's comment sounded a bit rude, so I have changed it to this: I still don't know who Kath is, even though I went to that site.

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  7. It takes a lot of courage to alter an old house - (besides the know-how). Though I can imagine how some altering can change the feeling of a room, the light, and I see the possibilities - but truth is, that I can also imagine what can happen - and so I always declined offers to break away a "no load-bearing wall".
    Though I saw the instant improvement in a tiny house a friend of us bought.

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    1. A load-bearing Schloss might be more courage, Mon Amour.

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