Old house remodeling is often half challenge, half opportunity–and always a whole lotta work. And when opportunity knocks in an old house renovation, knock often first refers to knocking something down.
Unlike modern homes which are built with conventional framing and interior drywall all neatly organized into a 4 foot matrix (FYI, framing with studs, plates, headers on 16 centers is called “platform framing”), older homes are more…what’s the technical term? Hodge-podge.
The home may have studs. Or not. They might be placed at 16 inch centers. Or not. It might be a hybrid block and wood structure (0r not; or both.) It could (and probably does) have substandard—or just plain “what could they have been thinking” framing and you realize many old homes are standing there by habit alone.
Whatever the case, you never really know what you’re dealing with until you take it all apart and can see how the structure was assembled in the first place. This may seem like reverse progress, but hear me out.
And, adding insult to injury on the inside, you don’t have individual sheets of easy-to-cut drywall. but instead have plaster applied to interlocking lath covering the entire interior surface more like a hyper-brittle membrane stretched over the entire wall. It defiantly resists a clean cut no matter what you cut it with. This contributes to what I call the “halo effect.” In other words, when you’re doing project A, there will be a halo of random damage around the project for which you need to figure into your project estimates, adding project B and maybe C to your list.
And while all this is a lot to think about, listen carefully. This is when Opportunity knocks.
When we decided to replace our 100+ year old front door with a new, energy efficient door, we knew there would be all kinds of damage to the front wall of the home. We also knew that the home is uninsulated so this gateway-ed a total energy upfit for the room—a big project driven by a smaller one.
So while the door on its own would have been a huge benefit to the room, we decided that it’d be best to take out not just some–but all–of the plaster. We stripped the room back to the block walls, dropped the ceiling (think Mike Holmes style reno.)
We studded it out, added insulation and upgraded the wiring. We even installed a 3 inch drain line in a stud bay for a future bathroom project–one that would not be possible had we not gone to these extremes now. (Note: jobsite saying–Wire and pipe pipe are cheap when the walls are open).
So with the framing came detailing the two most important studs in the room: the king studs for the new rough opening where our new door would go.
We took extra, extra care to frame the hinge-side king stud plumb in all four directions and get the opening square and in plane. This enabled us to tip our new door into place and fasten with no mystery headaches as would almost surely be the case with the century old, multi-layered, lead-paint caked opening. Yes, this is more work—a lot more—than simply keeping the old jambs. More money too.
But not really.
Not when you consider the immediate payback this project delivers—everything from energy savings to making a future project possible. So instead of wrestling with (and paying for) picayune details like out of square jambs, paint, reveal issues and sill repairs, the work we did here was all forward progress—and the pay off is orders of magnitude greater than if we replaced the door alone.
The first payback is when we close our new door. It swings almost effortlessly—I love that!—and closes snugly into an insulated, plumb, level and square opening. The door locks sublimely and leaves us in a quieter, more beautiful room that will return on investment every day in heat or AC we don’t send out through the door and walls.
Opportunity knocked. Is that the door? We heard it. We answered.