Fixing the Unsupported Kitchen Ceiling

Structural engineer Rene Mugnier explains how to fix the kitchen ceiling and two floors above.

Clip Summary

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. Carpenter Bob Ryley and crew get to work.
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.

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.

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

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.

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?

Well Riley, this is the really tedious part. I think we'll take a break for some messages. Don't go away.