Hardly a housewife: When your ceiling sags

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Hand-hewn beams from old barns in PA

My husband and I are suckers for old houses. In late February, we fell head-over-heels for an antique farmhouse that backs up to a nature preserve. For five years we had lived in a 400-square-foot condo and then rented a restored two-bedroom home from the 1860s.

Our late 1700s find was, to us, super charming. But we knew it needed a lot of work. For six months we’ve been un-doing a ‘70s-era wallpapering frenzy, ripping out carpet, sanding windows, and painting. Lots of painting. All-in-all these were easy, cosmetic tweaks.

There’s nothing like really looking under the hood to make you think “charming” is a realtor’s secret code for: run for the hills! I can deal with horse-hair insulation and bumpy plaster. But when we decided to peek up into the ceiling to check out the hand-hewn beams above, we were in for a real surprise.

Our living room is long  and divided by a fireplace in the center. Those more than 200-year-old beams had, over time, sagged at least six inches.

Instead of addressing the issue, a previous homeowner decided to lob those babies in half and cover them up with sheetrock. We soon saw that when you walked or jumped around upstairs, the beams buckled under the weight.

Acting tough while ripping down the ceiling

We couldn’t just cover it back up–we had to fix it. Ripping out the entire ceiling revealed decades of animal and human grit. Inches of dirt rained down on our heads along with squirrels nests and nuts they had stored for winter. Yum.

After many dusty nights and lots of research, we found a company that sells reclaimed, hand-hewn beams from barns in northern Pennsylvania.

By purchasing from a relatively local company, the product would not be transported far. We also wanted to reduce the use of new timber and limit the environmental impact of manufacturing.

After weeks of anticipation, the beams arrived Friday! Ripping out the old and putting in the “new” will no- doubt be tedious, but we’re on our way to a renewed living space.

The butchered beams will make great accent shelves around the house—nothing will go to waste!

About the author / 

Green Diva Cara
caratown@gmail.com'

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