Replacing our hardwood floor seemed like a simple idea. We would tear up the old floor, put down a new subfloor, install the new floor, and stain the thing. It would take 2-3 weekends. Tops.
Four months later, we’re still trying to complete all of the sub projects that have come up. It’s like an endless game of renovation whack-a-mole.
There’s a wall in the middle of the dining room that I don’t like. It all started with how to fix the nasty 3-window opening. Maybe changing the trim would have been enough. But now I’m down a rabbit hole that involves checking if it’s structural and figuring out how to re-route the duct that currently travels up the right side of the wall.
We need to figure this out now because I’m really uninterested in fixing the hardwood in a year when we decide to take the wall down.
I work with a lot of structural engineers, so I started asking around. Everyone I spoke to was “pretty sure” the wall wasn’t structural. First of all, our house isn’t that wide, so it’s unlikely that we require an interior wall. Second, the wall doesn’t continue in the basement, so where is the load going? But there are a few weird things about the house too. The joists above the first floor are a different height than in the basement and parts of this wall have been removed, so we don’t know for sure if any other walls were removed.
To be really sure, we had to cut a hole in our ceiling. I wasn’t overly thrilled about this since it’s a perfectly good ceiling and I’m tired of damaging things.
We made a hole just large enough to stick our heads in and look around:
Nothing was glaringly wrong, but we’re not structural engineers.
Luckily I have a friend who would come over and take a look.
He spent quite a bit of time looking around and came to the same conclusion: it’s unlikely structural because there’s nothing underneath the wall in the basement to support the load. Also, apparently it’s uncommon to run your duct work up a structural wall. Plus, there’s nothing in the kitchen holding up the very heavy bathtub above, so another good sign. Great.
Then he checked with his engineer colleagues.
Here is where our heads hang and our shoulders slouch in defeat.
Our house is pretty wide for a downtown semi (17 whole feet). With 2″ x 8″ joists, the span should only be around 14′ to match today’s code and standards. Why there aren’t other walls holding up the joists is unknown, but it’s likely because it’s technically fine (illustrated by the fact that the thing hasn’t fallen down in 100 years), but it’s really iffy. So, the wall wasn’t build as load-bearing, but it’s been supporting the beams for so long that removing it would likely piss off the joists and the house would sag. Those are technical engineering terms, by the way.
One option is to sister the joists. Basically, double them up to make them stronger so they can handle the 17′ span. This is particularly cumbersome because we currently have 2 ceilings: a drywall ceiling and the original plaster ceiling above. Why there’s a dropped ceiling is still unknown, but I’m guessing opening the whole thing up might tell us why.
We don’t know what to do about the wall. We need some time to consider our options.
But we have a second problem: the duct. Re-routing the duct is an almost impossible task. There are simply no other walls that it can run up. We had an HVAC guy come to give us a quote on the work, and he’s able to run the duct if we can cut through our wooden joists. But that’s a big and scary if. For 10″ joists (like in the basement), you can make a 3″ hole in the centre of the joist and not compromise its structural integrity. Our first floor joists are less than 8″… so I doubt we can even find ducting small enough to run. Plus, at some point an inch of duct doesn’t really do anything for airflow anyways.
As we were cutting through the ceiling, we had a stroke of genius. For some reason, the previous renovators put in a slightly dropped ceiling (about 3″ lower than the original plaster ceiling). So why not cut a trench in the current ceiling, remove the plaster, and fit a duct in between the joists and the current ceiling?! This way we don’t have to cut the joists and we keep the ceiling and just repair the trench. I’m a pro at mudding/sanding at this point anyways.
But given that the wall is load-bearing-ish, we need to figure out what to do with it before we look into our duct options.