The Cross House
“Oh! That house needs to be gutted to the studs!”
I hear this all the time. I read this all the time.
And I cringe every time.
Buying an old house and tearing out all the plaster walls and ceilings is just, well, stupid. Houses with plaster:
- Sound better.
- Retain heat as plaster absorbs heat. You’ll be glad for this every winter.
- And plaster also retains the history of a house (see below).
In my old house, the old plaster walls have revealed much about the house. I discovered, for example, the exact location of the annunciator panel in the kitchen. In the parlor, the original wallpaper was found behind the radiators. In the stairhall, fragments of the original wallpapers were discovered for the walls, frieze, and ceiling. In all the rooms, the ghost outlines of picture rails were discovered. And so on. So, gutting a house destroys, forever, all these historical clues. Forever.
There is a myth that a house has to be gutted to install new wiring and plumbing. This is just that: a myth. I have rewired and re-plumbed many old houses and managed to retain the old plaster as well.
There is a myth that a house has to be gutted to install insulation. This, too, is just that: a myth. I am installing zero insulation in the walls of the Cross House. But I am relentlessly sealing the house and this has made a huge difference. In addition, the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties recommends against insulating old houses as this can actually cause damage such as rot and mold.
To rewire an old house one does though have to make some holes. And Jakob asked what I did.
One method is to use a grinder with a masonry cut off wheel (your local hardware store will know what all that means). This creates clean, precise lines but also creates a ton of dust. A ton. And I loathe such dust. So, I do something much more basic:
The plan is to do a little every day. You know, via my patented Baby Step™ method. In a few weeks I expect that all the holes in the round bedroom will be…ready for paint!!!!!!!!
The ceiling? I am torn between repairing it or covering it with sheetrock. Bo told me that the former never really works, and that all the cracks will re-appear. I certainly do not want that to happen. But, I would vastly prefer repairing the highly damaged ceiling rather than covering it up. So, the debate rages in my soul.