Started a big rewire this week. At a rough guess, I'd say the house dates back to around the mid-to-late 1800s. It certainly started out as two or three separate terraced cottages, although it's all been knocked into one now and had an extension built on the back, although even that looks as though it must be about 100 years old.
There are plenty of those olde-worlde charms that some people look for: The old kitchen fireplace, a hand-operated water pump still standing outside, the walls faced with local stones set into mortar on the brick walls, and so on. It also has lots of other olde-worlde features, such as sagging floors, uneven walls, and not a single perpendicular or right-angle joint in the whole place!
It's the sort of building that some people just love for its Old English quaintness and character. "They don't build 'em like that anymore," they say.
Well, I see it a slightly different light. The bricks, and the mortar that supposedly holds them together are crumbling away. You only have to show that brick the tip of a drill and it disintegrates in a pile of red dust and rubble at your feet. Getting one fixture box securely fastened to a wall took well over an hour today.
After two solid days crawling through it, I'm now on intimate terms with the attic and roof. I'm sure you're all familiar with lath and plaster. Well on this house, they built the ceilings with straw and plaster! No kidding, it looks like they just fastened straw across the joists and then plastered over it. The owner was set on sinking about 4 downlighters into this ceiling in each room until I pointed out the fire hazard.
The roof itself is full of straw as well. Yes, they fixed straw across the rafters before the tiles went on. By now, of course, half of that straw has disintegrated. Any hammering of cable clips brought down copious quantities of dirt from what remains of the straw roof. Modern fiberglass insulation had been fitted, but by now it's just a filthy chewed up mess from all the muck floating around up there. (By the way, there are still some thatched houses in this part of England where the roof is nothing but straw!)
Pulling up the second-floor floorboards revealed that the first-floor ceiling is the same straw-and-plaster composition. As for the bearers, it looks like almost every one has had chunks hacked out, replaced, or doubled up over the years.
All of the wiring currently in use is PVC sheathed, but with no ground on the lighting circuit and white instead of yellow on 3-conductor cables, which dates it to the 1950s or early 1960s. Somebody had already replaced the plethora of switch-fuse units with a modern C/B panel, but the old panels left behind suggest a 1950s rewire. (I even found some older lead-sheathed cables cut and abandoned under the upper floorboards.)
"Quaint," it might be in some people's minds. But I see it as a nightmare to rewire and do a halfway decent job.
In any civilized country, this ruin would probably have been bulldozed about 50 years ago!
O.K., that's the end of my rant. I feel better now...
Our family lives in an 1913 appartment building that belongs to my father and my uncle (9 appartments, approx. 1000 sq. ft each) "Solid" plastered brick walls on the exterior (mud used as mortar and also as plaster, which means for example the walls separating 2 appartments are so weak that when you start to channel for wiring or let alone 1" gas line the bricks come out on the back side) interior walls 2" solid gypsum ( some predecessor of drywall) When our neighbour (an old lady of 80) died, we made one big appartment out of the entire 2nd floor. I did a complete rewire. The first wiring I could date dated from 1913 when the house was built.(cloth-and-rubber covered wires in conduit made of asphalted cardboard) Apart from this I found about every possible wiring method and violation.Romex with old color coding, with new color coding, zip cord, pvc sheathed wires in flex and rigid pvc conduit,... The ceilings were plaster and lath. The lathes were nailed onto the joists, then straw mats were nailed onto the lathes. Finally the plaster was applied. The wiring was just cloth covered single wires laying around loosely between the joists. All connections were twisted and taped, one started arcing and nearly burnt the whole thing down. Once I got bit when I was stripping the 4 layers of wallpaper because the wet walls were too conductive. At this point I decided to screw out the fuse before doing anything with water again. The floors were sagging nearly 2". I finally ended up doing a complete rewire starting at the meter feeder fuses in the staircase. New meter feeder, relocating meter, have electrician to hook up the meter (200 Euro for 4 hours of labour!) new panel with breakers and whole appartment gfi instead of cartridge fuses, dedicated 16 ampere circuits for washing mashine and dishwasher, everything wired pvc sheathed wire in pvc flex conduit. Now we're in progress of redoing the floors (reawakening lost techniques, no one would do these old oak wood fishbone pattern floors any more, 4 companies suggested using new wood, which looks not nearly as godd as the old) I'll try to post pics of some of the old work and the after pics.
#133197 - 06/27/0208:28 AMRe: "Quaint Old English Houses"
Texas, I've never been to Austria, but I would imagine that a lot of them were built in similar ways to those in Britain -- Quite different to American buildings in many respects.
Probably the strangest construction I've seen was a house in the Charente area of France. The walls were built entirely from roofing tiles laid flat and overlapping, held together with mortar. The place was built just after WWII, so I can only assume that there was a shortage of materials but somebody had a few thousand tiles to spare. Most peculiar.
Peter, You're welcome to come and help out! Too late to enjoy the "fun" of the attic though, as all the second floor lighting wiring is finished now. (Yes, I wanted to get the worst part over first! )
Today's work has uncovered some disconnected lengths of rubber-sheathed cable, which I would guess were abandoned in the 1950s rewire. Also, I uncovered a length of abandoned m.i.c.c. (mineral-insulated copper-clad) cable. This is the first time I've ever found m.i.c.c. in residential wiring. It was under the floor of a bedroom above an old boiler room, so I'm guessing that it was part of the wiring to some old furnace. Very strange though: The sheer cost of this stuff and the labor-intensive nature of its installation means that it's usually strictly commercial/industrial.
Virgil, Please do 'splain! I have no idea what you're talking about!
[This message has been edited by pauluk (edited 06-27-2002).]
#133199 - 06/27/0209:50 PMRe: "Quaint Old English Houses"
The individually styled facades may appear quirky to the outsider, but their meaning is revealed through an understanding of the local history. Many of the homes were originally constructed by coal and sawmill companies for their workers. They were often constructed at one time to one homogeneous design. The box or vertical-plank house (cheap, fast to build, and temporary) was one of the most common types put up by area industrialists. Throughout the gorge, whole towns were built with row after row of identical box houses. While the plans varied, the basic construction technique did not. It consisted of vertical boards attached to the sills and plates to form both the interior and exterior walls, as well as the buildings' weight-bearing supports (all posts, studs, and braces were eliminated). Narrow vertical strips called battens were often placed over the spaces left between the boards. Today, West Virginians commonly call box houses "Jinn Linns" (sometimes pronounced "Jenny Lind," "Jinny Lynn," or "Gentle End"). Though box houses are located throughout the Appalachian region, it appears that West Virginia is the only state where the term, in its various forms, is commonly employed. The origin of the term to describe this house type is unclear. However, during the survey, one local resident related a story concerning its etymology. She explained that Jenny Lynn was a coal camp resident. Because all the box houses in her camp looked exactly the same, she decided to individualize her home by nailing narrow strips over the spaces between the vertical boards, thus creating the board and batten siding characteristic of Jinn Linn houses. Soon many others followed her example, our informant explained, and eventually named the house type after her.
-Virgil Residential/Commercial Inspector 5 Star Inspections Member IAEI
#133200 - 06/28/0205:35 AMRe: "Quaint Old English Houses"
Definitely interesting to build a house of roofing tiles! I forgot to mention that this appartment was the first time I saw aluminum wiring in Austria. Single, pvc sheathed 1 sq. mm wires directly buried in plaster, found in the bathroom, above the sink! I guess the wiring dates from the 1950ies, because there was no PVC sheathing prior to this. It can't have been installed after 1962 because then the bathroom was completely remodeled and rewired (About the most solid part of the installation, even with red ground wires everywhere (not the old ladie's fault that the water supply line it was connected to was later replaced with plastic), though it involved the bad connection I mentioned earlier.
#133201 - 06/28/0203:51 PMRe: "Quaint Old English Houses"
Virgil, Interesting stuff! I've seen one house in this area which has vertical planks on cross bearers fixed onto our normal brick walls, but only on the inside. Very unusual.
As originally constructed, the Lustron was a one-story, gable-roof ranch with an exterior and interior skin of enameled steel panels bolted to a structural-steel frame and a concrete slab foundation.
Wow, I bet that made one terrific Faraday Cage!
Tex, We've experienced similar problems in this country with earthing as plastic water pipes have become more common. Our IEE started rallying against the use of a water line as the sole method of grounding at least as far back as the 1960s.
I believe that most of Europe (including Austria?) now specifies 1.5 sq. mm as the smallest conductor to be used. In the U.K. our code still allows 1 sq. mm as the smallest.
The 1 sq. mm size is almost equivalent to our old pre-metric 1/.044 lighting cable, except that these days the current rating is much higher, something I dislike.
[This message has been edited by pauluk (edited 06-28-2002).]
#133202 - 06/29/0207:21 PMRe: "Quaint Old English Houses"