"I've been working on the island for eleven years," says lead carpenter Mark Pollard, "and I've worked inside through the winter ..." He stops to count on this fingers. "Once."

Heather Thompson, owner of Thompson Johnson Woodworking, Pollard's employer, explains: "These are summer homes, so people want to be in the house during the summer. Around the end of October, that's when we get the call — 'Okay, you guys can come start.' So that when we start excavating and doing foundation work — just as it gets cold."

Shorefront Foundation
It's early winter — the season for foundation work on Peaks Island, Maine.

Right now, Thompson Johnson has two major remodels going in the Maine offshore community of Peaks Island — one near the water's edge facing the city of Portland across the water, and one in a high and dry location on the island's interior. Both jobs start at the bottom: with additions and repairs to old foundations. Like many island homes, these dwellings were originally built as summer houses.

The house near the island is sited on deep clay (see slideshow). Thompson's crew is adding a new porch and a room addition, which requires a new footing and frostwall and some new foundation piers. But the crew also has to dig out and replace existing concrete piers under the house, which have been heaving during the winter. "The deepest pier went down about three feet," says crew leader Shane Fenton. "Most of them were more like one or two feet. Apparently whoever dug them stopped as soon as they hit clay."

A Winter Foundation Retrofit

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On vacation islands, remodeling season is wintertime — even for outside work.

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The team expected to hit ledge when they excavated for the new foundation — but "it was clay all the way down," says Heather Thompson. So they formed and poured a new frostwall at a five-foot depth (see slideshow).

Meanwhile, up on high ground, Mark Pollard is directing work on the company's other job, sheltered from the freezing wind blowing in off the Casco Bay. "We drew straws, and I won," says Pollard. Here, Thompson Johnson has formed and poured a new foundation for a room addition using insulated concrete forms. Again, the existing foundation is something of a head-scratcher: concrete block laid on top of dry-laid stone. "it looks like they made an attempt to grout the dry-laid part of it with cement at some point, from the inside," says Heather Thompson. Here, the crew found nothing but sand below grade. "The excavator was happy as could be that day," says Pollard, "driving away with truckloads of nice clean sand."

Cold Joint
Modern methods meet old ways at the corner of a Maine Island vacation house.

With the foundations in place, the crews are turning to framing, then siding and trim. When will they finally be working inside? "Probably around springtime," says Pollard.