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Cleaning Up After the Storm

- Continued One interesting architectural feature of this house is that the gable ends of the roof have very wide overhangs and are supported by cantilevered beams secured well within the framing of the house. Since the ends of a couple of these beams had been snapped off by the tree, we had to remove enough roof to take out the old, damaged beams and install new ones (Figure 3). This was one of the tasks that didn't fit into the insurance company's statistics of averages for repairs, but once we explained the nature of the task and how time consuming it was, the adjuster was willing to add an amount for doing it.

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Figure 3. Replacing the cantilevered beams that supported the gable-end overhang was a time-consuming task that called for some discussion with the homeowner's insurance adjuster.

Finishing the Job

The pieces of the puzzle slowly came back together. We used western red cedar for vertical siding instead of the original cypress. Cypress was considerably more expensive and harder to get now than it had been when the house was built almost 30 years earlier. Roofing was the only part of the job that was delayed. Because of the extensive damage in the region, roofers were scheduling six months in advance. To keep things dry until the roofers arrived, we covered the repaired areas of the roof with 30-pound felt — double the usual thickness — and tacked lattice strips around the edges. We started the job on October 1, 1996, and completed it, except for the roof shingles, on November 26. The carpentry took 440 hours, which includes my time working "hands on." Add to that the subcontracts, which included roofing, sheetrock, painting, and floor refinishing. The total cost of the completed job was $25,060 (Figure 4)

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Figure 4. Eight weeks, 440 carpentry hours, and $25,000 later, the house — shown here the following summer — was at least as good as new.

The Job Nobody Wanted

Meanwhile, I had talked with a woman about a two-car garage with a second-floor apartment that had been completely knocked off its foundation by a falling tree (Figure 5). Because it was uninhabited, the appealing structure was a low priority for repair. A few contractors looked at it and suggested that it be torn down and rebuilt.

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Figure 5. Same storm, different tree. Although the second-story apartment suffered relatively minor damage, the poorly braced walls of the two-car garage beneath collapsed on impact, bringing the structure to rest about two feet to the left of its original location.

Though picturesque and inviting, this garage had not been solidly built. Had the walls been sheathed in plywood, I doubt the tree could have pushed it over. But since bracing was minimal and the siding was nailed directly to the studs, the building leaned easily about four feet off its foundation and came to rest against a tree on the opposite side. Had it not been for that small tree, the second floor would surely have ended up on the ground. Surprisingly enough, the main structure was still square and sound despite some damage at the corner where the tree hit. Nevertheless, this structure had some serious problems. The first floor was beyond repair. The second floor would have to be lifted by house movers and placed back over the foundation, so that a new first floor could be rebuilt under it. Even so, I was convinced that building a new two-story garage would cost more than salvaging the existing one. Since I was the only contractor who showed any interest, I got the job.

The two hand-built doors on the garage had sentimental value for the woman who lived there. They had been part of a previous garage, an important part of her family memory. Respectful of old architectural pieces myself, I assured her that the doors could be repaired and preserved.

Lifting the Second Story

On a cool bright February day, the house movers arrived with their truck full of oak support timbers, oak shims, and steel I-beams. Moving more quickly than my comfort level suggested, they stacked their crisscrossed oak blocks in four neat columns, placed two I-beams under the second floor parallel to the floor joists and began to lift. As I had feared, the belly of the second floor began to sag in the middle. The movers settled the building back down on the wrecked first-floor studs while my crew and I nailed a reinforcing 2x10 along each side of the floor system (Figure 6).

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Figure 6. An initial attempt to jack up the second-story apartment was cut short when the midsection began to sag. To stiffen the floor structure before lifting resumed, reinforcing 2x10s were nailed to the rim joists.

After lunch, they tried lifting it again, and the center section held its shape, easing my concern about structural damage. Satisfied in their first step of lifting the weight of the second floor off the tilted first-floor walls, the movers braced the second floor at the raised position and called it a day. The second floor was still two feet off-center of the foundation, but it was lifted and secure. My crew and I spent the afternoon removing the first-floor walls.

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Figure 7. Once elevated on cribbing (top), the structure was carefully repositioned with a backhoe, aided by small steel rollers placed beneath the supporting steel I-beams (bottom).