Part 2 – Demolition

Actual demolition began in April 2015. Because we had decided to completely remove the interior of the house, replace windows and replace all the internal services (plumbing, electrical, heating, and so), we weren’t too concerned about any additional damage we might do inside. Excluding the brickwork of course, which had it’s own problems that needed to be resolved. More on this later.

These are smoke swirls left over from the fire 60+ years ago.

The house was built in 1902, and subsequently renovated in the mid-50s after a very serious fire. The fire was serious enough that the original wrap-around porch completely burnt off the house. Smoke damage was evident almost everywhere in the house, from charred and burnt floor joists to smoke swirls impregnated in the plaster on the upper floors. We tracked down an older gent who lived a few houses down as a youngster, and he remembers that a piano on the second floor burned through both floors and ended up in the basement.

During the renovation to repair the fire damage all of the old knob and tube electrical system was de-energized and bypassed (not removed), repairs were made to some of the structural parts of the house, stairs were replaced and new floors and drywall were put up. We found severe burned areas in the floor boards that had charred through the old pine floors.

Unfortunately, not all the work had been done well. In fact, most was done in the cheapest, least expensive way possible, which although has stood the test of time, has not done the interior of the house any favours. The dividing walls (some of which were bearing) between the rooms had no headers over the doorways, the main bearing walls at times had studs hanging in thin air, and if joists and studs were in the way for plumbing or radiator lines, they were simple chopped through. Below…


Huge chunks of wood were missing from the main beams in the basement, where plumbing and electrical wires passed. The 5 jack posts in the basement made it clear that most of the 1st floor was failing.
When we decided to simply gut the place, it became clear that there was going to be a lot of debris that needed to be dealt with. We contacted Leyser Bin Service for a 40 yard bin rental. We budgeted 4 bins. How naive we were!! So far we are at number 8, and probably not done….sigh.

While cruising through the internet one day looking for debris chutes, I came across a chap in Ohio who had the ingenious idea of using Rubbermaid garbage bins to move debris from upstairs to a bin. The plastic garbage cans have the bottoms cut out of them, and they are inserted into each other and chained together. They simply hang out a window and end up in the dumpster. From the upper floors you simply tip a load of debris into the chute, and whoosh, into the dumpster it goes. Total cost about $400 for the whole thing. Compare this to $200 per 4 ft section and this is a great bargain!

We started in, stripping walls back to bare studs, removing thousands of pounds of steel radiator pipe, plumbing, electrical, plaster/lathe, uncovering scores of layers of wallpaper (pink plaid!! What were they thinking!), rotten old oak flooring, old drywall and some of the most vile, putrid smelling carpet and underlay on the planet.  I should mention at this point that when we viewed the house prior to purchasing it, we noticed an odd odour. It was incense and potpourris, mixed in with something else, an unpleasant “Je ne sais quoi“. My antennae went straight up!! What were they trying to hide? I had a feeling I knew. It smelled vaguely of eau de chat (for you anglos out there, essence of cat). Well, let me assure you, that on a hot humid Ontario day, when I started ripping out the carpet, there was no longer any doubt, but rather, the absolute certainty that “kitty” didn’t know much about using a litter box and neither did any of her friends! I won’t say anymore about this, but when the last piece of carpet and underlay headed out the window and into the bin, I think even the house let out a sigh of relief.

Around the middle part of May, I moved upstairs to remove the plaster/lathe and ceiling from the upper floor. We discovered that at some point in the past, they had blown in mineral wool insulation into the ceiling above the second floor. So imagine if you will, working over your head, pulling down plaster/lathe and discovering that along with it, there is 6 inches of blown-in mineral wool insulation. And I couldn’t say for sure, but I think there may even have been some mouse turds mixed in with the insulation. All coming down on top of you. And then, sadly realizing that there is 1200 sq ft of this stuff!! It was at this point I called my brother-in-law Graeme. Over the years he has put me in enough crappy places (under his cottage, in his too small attic), so I figured this was his moment to shine. To be fair, he volunteered, but I don’t really  think he quite understood what he was getting into. Anyway, he bravely came out and we got a whole day in before he twisted his knee, and sadly had to hobble back to Guelph for recovery.


Downstairs, the removal of old, rotten house parts continued throughout the summer. We recovered over 800 sq ft of fairly recent (70s) oak flooring which we will try to re-use. Sara spent weeks pulling nails from these old boards before I planed them. They look great and somewhere will make a great floor.


And just for the record, if any of you hawk-eyed readers noticed that some of the walls were looking pretty black, that is not mold or anything sinister, but rather good old fashioned smoke and fire damage.

And so we continued until the middle of August….and then we decided to tackle the basement!


4 thoughts on “Part 2 – Demolition

  1. Hi Alec. Thanks for sharing your story: kind of an odyssey through building history! It is important that the knowledge of how to do this kind of work gets wider distribution because there is so much housing stock that needs to be brought into the carbon constrained future. Keep up the good work.


  2. We met briefly at your father’s house. Your comments brought back memories. I worked on our house in Bayfield for a few years. When they put the door fan in they could not get a vacuum at all. The second door fan showed that the air exchanged every 30 minutes. The house had 3X6 studs and no insulation. It took a lot of “deep decorating” but no one had ever altered anything since it was built on a Canada Company lot in 1873, I look forward t hearing more of your journey.


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