Saturday, March 24, 2012

Humidity and our House

In a way I'm glad we're so slow about renovating because it's given us a lot of time to think about the changes that we want to make.  Whether some of these changes are really necessary, if our first inclination was really the best choice and which issues take priority.  By taking our time we have allowed ourselves to get used to this house and its quirks and get a sense of how we use the space.

One of the quirks we discovered was how our house reacts to humidity.  I thought I knew something about humidity when we lived on the west coast but I really had no idea.  That first summer living on the east coast was a shocker.  The temperatures soared and the air closed in and all of the sudden I felt like I couldn't breath.  Not only was my body responding to the different weather, our house was reacting similarly.  All that dry woodwork just sucks up the moisture like a sponge and it expands.  If space isn't left for expansion when woodwork is installed it can be problematic.  We discovered this when our lovely new painted wainscot in the piano room started to buckle right off the wall.  The fresh paint cracked and the boards warped.

One of the first things people notice in this house is how much woodwork there is
Once the high point of summer passed so did the humidity but the cracks remained.  It was obvious that it wasn't worth fixing either.  Each summer the humidity would rise and the boards would move causing further damage.  The paint only emphasized how much damage was being done.  As much as I liked the wainscot I had to concede it really wasn't worth repairing.  It wasn't a priceless antique and the constant movement meant ongoing damage.  And thus we ripped it down.

The wainscot was actually sheets of wood glued to the wall. 
And now here we were once again, back at square one.  The room was unfinished and the white walls appeared quite stark on their own without the contrasting cream colour to offset them.  What would we do next?

Starting over from scratch

26 comments:

  1. Marguerite I can sympathize with you a lot .. here in Kingston the humidity in the summer is totally smothering .. I have to try to get what gardening I can get done in the morning because I have to hide in the house for the rest of the day in AC comfort or I swear I would melt ..our carpet starts to "wave" or "ripple" when there is humidity in the house so we take that cue to turn on the dehumidifier etc .. constant battle .. sorry about all of that work and starting from scratch again .. huge pain in the A** !!
    Joy

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    1. That's okay Joy, at first it was a bit frustrating but it's all been a learning experience along the way.

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  2. I am loving the step by step discovery process as you rehab this old princess of a house, and as you take your readers through it!

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    1. Thanks Laurrie, there's a bit more to come as you can tell and the changes got more dramatic as we went along.

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  3. Your house is beautiful.

    Know about the humidity..we have a few cracks in the bathroom that come and go..and the doors..well they have a mind of their own.

    Am anxiously awaiting your next step...

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    1. Thanks Brenda. The humidity affects a number of things in this house, we have some doors that I would love to be rid of because of the humidity damage as well. Other aspects we've learned to live with.

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  4. Humidity can really cause a lot of damage. We have doors that won't shut properly in the Summer months along with other little annoying quirks all caused by humidity. I find the dehumidifier does really help but again it can be costly to run.
    Can't wait to see the next chapters of your house reno's.
    It has been really exciting to read all your experiences with your house and how different it must be to live on the East coast compared to the West coast.

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    1. When we first moved we really didn't realize what the differences would be. I assumed that living on the coast would be the same no matter if it was east or west. We did end up buying a demudifier but it's only good enough for a single room. Usually it ends up in our bedroom because otherwise it can be impossible to sleep and the sheets start smelling like mildew to me. It's shocking how much water you can pull out of that thing in a single day.

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  5. I've spent many years dealing with humidity in both VA and the deeper south and it's a pain in the butt. I think getting a dehumidifier is a great idea. I'd also talk to and visit, if possible, some of the older/historic homes in your area to find out how they handle the problem. You may want to consider working with materials that aren't as reactive to moisture as wood. What about a plaster based wainscoting? BTW - your house is beautiful!!!

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    1. Luckily my partner in crime is very knowledgable when it comes to wood so we know how to handle this in future. Woodworkers normally plan for the inevitable movement wood has. One of the curses and benefits of it as a working material. There is other wainscot in our house that is original and shows no movement at all as it was installed with enough gaps to allow for expansion. This particular one was not though and it would have been considerable work to fix it.

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  6. We too have winter doors and summer doors. Have to be adjusted between seasons.

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    1. Doors are a whole other set of problems for us! Our front door is wood and has been gaps in it during the winter.

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  7. I'd missed a lot of your posts Marguerite and just caught up, I'm glad spring is just barely starting to show and I'm sorry your car got stuck in the mud, hope it's out and all is fine now,

    your house story is interesting, I wouldn't have realised the east coast has more humidity than the west as I always think of the west as wetter though I know July and August can be very dry, sorry all your hard work has had to be undone and re-done, I have learn't living here that as you live in a house you grow to understand it and what you want from it, also what you want can change over the years, lucky yours is not too authentic, I lived in a flat in Bath where the row of properties were grade 2 listed very strict rules and you had to keep the properties to a certain standard,
    you've given me a reason to feel happier with our lower tempretures I had forgotten the humidity of the south of England, Frances

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    1. Frances, it's so nice to know that some historic properties are being kept to the same original standard but I'm glad I don't live in one of them. It can make maintenance a real headache. I do miss the cooler west coast summers sometimes, I had no idea what we were losing when we moved.

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  8. Sorry to see the wainscoting come down. Liked the contrast of cream and white, subtle. Oh well -- life is a journey.

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    1. It was a bit of a tough pill to swallow at the time but looking at the room now I like it so much more so I've managed to get over it.

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  9. I'm loving reading about your redecorating adventures. When we built our loghouse in 2006 we had to make allowance for the inevitable shrinkage of the logs. All the windows had spaces above them so the logs on top would not crush them as they shrank. The staircase was propped up on extra wood that we've removed as the walls shrank. There is a screw jack beneath the central post that we adjust annually. We were told to expect log shrinkage for 4 years. but it has gone on much longer, although the amount the house is shrinking gets smaller every year.

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    1. Melanie, you would know better than anyone about wood movement. It's not too hard if you plan for it in the beginning but if you don't it can make a real mess of things.

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  10. Here in New England, we've always had to allow for a totally different house-onality in the summer than in the winter. Especially the sounds the house makes once the boards dry out in the cooler weather...creak-creak!

    Just found your site and I see I have a lot to catch up on. I admire your adventurous life, oh to be young again! Enjoy every blessed minute of it!

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    1. Welcome Bex! oooh boy the sounds these old houses make. That was something to get used when we moved in. Winter is definitely much creakier.

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  11. Humidity is quite the experience! I remember my first trip to NYC from Scotland was quite shocking. I agree taking your time allows for you to refine your ideas, it's been so true for us.

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    1. It was hard when we first moved, you're so full of ideas at that point and want to do everything at once, but I'm glad we couldn't do it all right away. How we use this house has really become evident in the 2 years since and makes quite a difference in any changes we might make.

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  12. Oh no, not the wainscoting!! Darn it! Although I saw the finished product I am enjoying the journey and the various stops along the way :)

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    1. Jane I wish it was finished! I still have plans for this room that aren't complete yet. but I can't give away the details too soon...

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  13. Hi Marguerite, You make me feel better about what we are doing with our own house. We have made many false steps and have had to start over from scratch. It can be so discouraging to start again.
    Your wood staircase railing, door and mouldings are beautiful. We have the same dark woodwork. Most interior designers would advise to paint the dark wood white. I know it makes good design sense, but I am struggling with the idea of painting it out. It seems almost a bit disrespectful of 100 years of history. What are your plans for the dark wood?

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    1. Jennifer, I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one who has taken a few false steps in home renovation. Our inexperience has been a contributing factor but I wonder if everyone has such difficulty making a decision and sticking to it. I really struggled with painting the wainscot. I like that classic dark wood but I also disliked how dark the room appeared so that helped a bit.

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