Installing a New Structural Support Beam

Project: Bob's Shingle Style Home, Episode 3, Part 2

With demolition completed, other surprises are revealed. Structural engineer Rene Mugnier explains how to fix the kitchen ceiling and two floors above, which are found to be dangerously unsupported, with the addition of a new load-bearing structural beam. Work begins on the new plumbing system.

Part 1: Fixing the Unsupported Kitchen Ceiling
Part 2: Installing a New Structural Support Beam
It's time to start restoring the structure, marking an important moment in the house's history. Bob meets with carpenter Bob Ryley and the crew to begin installing the built-up structural beam made of Maxi-lams.
Part 3: Evaluating the HVAC and Plumbing System
This project centers around the remodel of Bob Vila's own gracious Shingle Style home in Cambridge, MA. It's a house with a lot of history and beautiful architectural details, many of which were obliterated in remodels of the 50s and the 70s. On the centennial of the house's construction, Bob gets together the best talents in the business to recreate and renew it to its former glory, making some important modifications along the way that will transform this into a dream house for today.

Also from Bob's Shingle Style Home

Hi I'm Bob Vila. Welcome home again to Bob's house in Cambridge.

We're far along with the demolition. This is our third visit here, and today we are going to be giving you a tour so that you can see what the bare bones of this house are really like.

We're also getting together with a structural engineer whose giving a good assessment of just how bad the bones are.

And Riley is here along with some fellows from Fort Hill construction, who are going to help us to put in a rather massive beam that will be carrying much of the third and second floors.

Stick around. It's good to have you home again.

OK. Well, demolition is completed around here, and at this point there's a lot of archaeology really that we can talk about.

This was the front hall closet from the 1970's remodel, and what we discovered was that the front porch went across the whole width of the house. And here are the original floor boards from that same porch I was just out on outside.

And what they did in the 70's remodel was they just put these sleepers over, and just plywood-ed right over the thing. No insulation; this is before the energy crisis. Look at this. This is a collection of micro lambs, beams that are going to be put together and in fact this obviously is not the kind of do-it-yourselfer job that anybody would want to contemplate on a weekend.

We have our engineer here, we have a crew of carpenters and we are going to be working with this and showing you how the whole house is being restructured and carried on to this.

But, first lets take a look in here, our living room, which is our kind of a working headquarters in the house. We've taken some precautions, for example, to protect the hardwood floors that are here.

We've simply taken up the carpeting, the wall to wall from the second floor, and laid it down, upside down, so that we don't harm the oak floors.

We've removed all of our doors, and we have them lined up here; labeled, numbered. We've removed a lot of the hinges that are all red brass original 1897. Many of these doors will be re-utilized in the house but they have to have the paint removed.

Same deal with the moldings. But, interestingly enough, it might not make sense to dip and strip the moldings. It might be cheap to just go out and replicate them in poplar at a local mill, just copy them. Although, that wouldn't be the case with something like this.

This is the front porch railing which we've taken down and that indeed is something that we would want to take and have professionally stripped, so that we can reuse it.

Another thing that we found last week in our kind of archeological study of the house is a pocket door and the architect's plans for the house called to close in this doorway.

So that we'd have a big blank wall on the living room side and on the den side, and it's hard to make decisions like this when you discover something.

We don't know exactly what we're going to do yet.

We did find out that one of the problems with the hardwood floor is being very squeaky. We found out the reason was that they had been nailed very inappropriately, both in this room and in several upstairs rooms.

And we found newspaper underneath the flooring from 1934 which indicates that, you know, this was not original 1897 and in fact, who ever put it down May have been a weekend warrior, but they didn't put enough nails on it.

This is original, and it's interesting. This is all cypress trim work in this room, in the library, as well as what was in the kitchen and it's interesting because we had found an 1897 newspaper article from Cambridge that explained to us that the house was all painted wood except for the library and the kitchen, which were done in cypress.

But let's get together with our structural engineer. Rene Munier is a licensed structural engineer.


Hi Rene, how are you?

Very good, thank you.

You know, when I first looked at this thing I said, "Oh! Really? This big?" How do you figure out just what size a carrying beam has to be?

Well, the most difficult part is to find out exactly all the load which is supposed to be carried by that beam.

Now, what are some of the loads that you had to deal with in this house?

In this case, we had to support a portion of the roof, which was actually properly supported, and was supported by some partition

We had to support the second floor framing, which was supporting on the wall. We

have to support the ceiling above the kitchen which is the second floor.

The clever thing here is that we have eight of these individual pieces. We've

assembled them, but now we will disassemble them and carry them into place one by

one. It's a lot of work and the question that comes to mind is why not just use one

piece of steel?

Yes, it is a lot of work and it isn't. If you had a piece of steel, it would probably be

less expensive than all those members, but very difficult to maneuver. The

advantages of these pieces of wood is that they could be erected one at a time. Put in

place and then bolted together. This could be done easily by a couple of workmen,

while a piece of steel would be extremely difficult to deal with.

The workmen are in place. Before we figure out about installing it Rene, let's

talk a little bit about the actual conditions that you found here in the house. Well, when the ceiling was removed , we find more or less what you could see right now, except that were was no temporary shoring. This is somewhat of a frightening situation.


Which was actually hidden by the ceiling.

Yes. So we've put all the temporary shoring on either side of this floor structure, and we'll be putting that large beam spanning from the outside wall to a point over here, where Riley is working.

Let's look closely at this situation though, because it's hard to understand how this enormous member that carries all that load transfers down to the ground.

Well, we created that column which is built of four two by eight two by eight two by fours

Eight two by fours.

8 two by fours.

All spiked together, right?

That is true, and the load will come from the beam, to the column, then it will come down to a steel plate which will distribute the load on the [inaudible]


That you could see through that wall.

And that's an original brick pier that's in good condition.

This is an originally brick pier, which is in good condition.

And does the building code require that you design and manufacture a steel brace like this to hold this column in place?

Well, that steel brace was very much designed for that very specific situation.

So that there's no...

But it is important that everything be connected to each other, as in Boston.


There is a chance of earthquake and this should be tight.

And there's no chance for movement.


Then, at the other side, do you have do the same thing?

Well, at the other side we were fortunate to have a column which existed already. As you could see, I have a 4 by 8. The hardwood column which is approximately thirty foot in height.

Thirty feet in height.


So this was really a key member of the original frame here.

Exactly, exactly. We left to interrupt that column. You know not to set in the beam. and have it supported by this column.


Very slight re-enforcement will be needed to this column to prevent buckling of the column, as it is somewhat small for the large beam which is going to be supported on top.

All right. And then this, of course, transfers down to our existing stone foundation.


Have you examined that foundation?


Are you sure it's in good condition?

Well, we looked at it very specifically as we knew that such a large load was going to come on top of it. And we feel comfortable about that.

Good. I'll take that in writing.

Rene, thanks for coming by. I know you've got to get back to the office.

You're welcome.

And Riley, you and Donny from Fort Hill Construction -

This is Dan.

- here in Boston. Dan. You guys are ready to start chopping away at some of this?

Yeah, we just got a line snapped and this is a mess up here. So, what we're then, I mean, this was a carrying partition, this is gone and then everything is just hanging, so we're going to -

It's unbelievable, it was just hidden, you know.

It's too bad, because it's -

Behind the plaster ceiling.


So what we're gonna to do is just take a swath right down the middle here. Just take it all right out , and then slip this beam into place and that's going to carry. We'll hang everything off of the beam.

I hate to say it, but many instances of situations like this come from early twentieth century plumbing jobs.


Where a fine balloon framed from the 19th century was altered. And the plumbing pipes were being hidden, as is the case directly overhead.


And in various places of the frame. And anyway, what we look at almost 100 years later, is a mess.

A mess.

Alright, let's get started.

Not much to that one. Just pulling it off, but...

How's that?

OK. Well Riley, this is the really tedious part. I think we'll take a break for some messages. Don't go away. Alright we're back and this is kind of a very important moment in the history of this house. Because we're about to start restoring the structure.

My head is essentially on the second floor, and my feet are on staging, down here in the first floor in the kitchen area. And we've cut out all of the different pieces of lumber. Structural pieces, if you will, that had been compromised, cut up. And we're about to start building this beam that I showed you. I've got Denny, I've got Riley, I've got Anthony, and I've got me. Can we start to fit the first one?


Everybody, be very careful coming up with heads and stuff, because it's tight quarters. And.

There we go.

They sit on a specially made steel bed.

A half an inch to go there. And we will be literally putting eight of these together, side by side. Using through bolts at what, every two or three feet?

Every sixteen inches, staggered.


And at this point you've cut all these back perfectly, so that really, these will be tied into this new beam right?

Right, these will all get hung from the new beam.

OK. That one's in place. All right, we're ready to bring some more up.



All right.

Here comes number two.

And these, of course, are They're not just timber, they're laminated beams right?


Three, another five to go.

There you go.

That's good.

Back it up. Alright, and here comes the last one.

Do you got it, Dan?

OK Alright, which one do you want to do first of the bulbs?

That one right over your head.

You got your impact wrench?

Yep. Get it started.

That's nice. This one next?

All right. Boy that makes it easy.

Sure Does.

All right. That makes it easy, huh?

Sure does!

Well, we've got about another dozen of these to do. So we'll take a break. When we come back, we'll be getting together with our plumber, Frank Idarolla.

Don't go away. Alright. Frank Andirola is is not only going to be our plumbing contractor on this job, but also HVAC, right?


And what do you think about this heating system that we have?

Well. Well, we've got a forty year old dinosaur here, Bob, that was installed originally with an oil burner. And recently it's been converted to a conversion gas burner.

Probably in the last ten years.

Probably in the last ten years. And this system replaced the original 1895 gravity warm air system that was hand-fired with coal or wood.


So my advice is just to throw this thing out and start from scratch.

It's woefully inefficient -


- in a house that isn't insulated.


So that's another story. But, I want to talk about the plumbing.


Because we've got a number of new baths and such. And I'm really trying to fully develop this basement. And one of the things that I want to do in this area over here here is to create a family workshop.


Not just a woodworking shop, but a Repair shop, you know, a hobby place.


And one of the problems is banging your head into the waste pipes.

Right well we've alleviated that problem by tearing out all of the waste pipes and all of the duct work and digging in these trenches. All of the main waste stacks will meet at the individual bathrooms. One here, one here, and one there, will all intersect at one point in this underground.

And this is well below grade. Don't you have to worry, don't you have to end up pumping the waste out of the house?

No, because the invert is well below this and we have the usual quarter inch per foot to the exit of the soil pipe that's in front.

So the sewer line is sufficiently deep outside the house.

Right, right.

OK. Alright, so then you're picking everything up here and branching off in this direction, and here's where we have the original cast iron wastes coming from everything that was upright.

This feeds the half bath. A powder room, if you will, in the first floor.

Which we've kept in place for few weeks, so that, workmen would have a place to, you know, to use.

Exactly. So what we're What we're going to do is remove this end clean out here and then tie all of the soil pipe that we just discussed right back into this fitting right here.

Yeah you can barely see it, but what we've got here is the top of a hub.


And the cast iron waste going off in that direction towards the street.

Right. It's about a foot below the grade.

Now the important thing while you are demolishing cast iron waste pipe is to start at the top, right?


Let's go upstairs.

Thank you.

Let's take a stop on the second floor a minute, Frank, and I'm gonna put you on the spot. Why do plumbers do this? Look at the condition of the framing here.

Well, we can blame integrity, I guess. Because they removed the integrity from the building with lack of integrity of their own.

I don't know.

But here's the, here's the four inch cast-iron stove pipe that comes up from the basement, that we talked about in the underground. And you can see where they cut this joist out right here.


We did similar things all the way around. This was probably the original stack that was put in the turn of the century Three, and then it went to PVC pipe which was right there that was probably put in in the early 70's.

Yeah. And so every time somebody came in here, and when the advent of good reciprocating saws - man, what a mess we've got?

Didn 't leave you much.
Not. Well, let's go up to the top and see what we're taking apart there. Sure.

All right, now up here, we do have some of the early plumbing, right? Some of the stuff that we're looking at here.

Yes. We have brass threaded pipe which is probably original with the house at this point. And then at a later time, back in here, we have copper tubing, which dates from the 40's to today's modern plumbing, water piping.

Yeah. Now we've got to remove everything because of the new layout, right?

Exactly. This stack is going because this wall is going to be moved forward about a foot, and the vent that we put in is gonna be only 2 inch.

And none of this material can be re-used?

No, it's all junk.


Tell us about this tool that he's using up there.

That's a ratchet soil pipe cutter. What it does is, it's a series of cutting wheels that

are compressed with.

He just snapped it.

So we have a cut that was made previously up above. We have another one here,

now we probably won't be able to remove the pipe until he makes at least one cut

here and another one on the horizontal line.


Then we'll be able to pull it out because, we've got a lot of weight here.

Why are you concerned about saving the pipes where it goes through the roof? Just

so we don't have to reflash it?

We've got some nice copper flashing high hats up there, that probably were made at

the time the house was built.


These never wear out. We want to keep those, so that it blends with the


All right well, thanks a lot. We will be seeing you again. We've got a break for some

messages and when we come back, I wanna check in with Riley down in the kitchen.

Stick around. Okay. We're back.

And now we're doing the easy part of this job. The beam's in place, and we are simply attaching joist hangers -- two inch joist hangers -- to the existing timbers. The existing joists in here are all full dimensional, two inch.

And then we just ... What size nails do you use with these?

I'm just using inch and a half joist hanger nails. Galvanized.

Galvanized, even though it's inside .

Boy, don't you love that dust?

Well, we're running out of time, Friends. Hope you can join me again. Next week, we're gonna be doing some of the shingle repairs to the exterior sidewall of the house. And we'll be taking you on a tour of a shingle mill out west.

'Till then, I'm Bob Vila. It's good to have you home again.



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