What happens to the small house after it has been built? This is a question which should interest both the architect and builder, because from the answer can be had some very important lessons in construction.
To know where the weather, mechanical wear and tear, fire and water, begin the decay of the house is to know where to specify materials which will give the greatest durability to the whole.
This decay is called the natural depreciation of the house, but it is the architect's duty to make this as insignificant as possible. It is essential to study the local conditions under which the house will have to stand. At the edge of the seashore, where the damp and salty winds are prevalent, one would be foolish to specify metal for screens, gutters, valleys, and leaders, which tended to go to pieces by corrosion. But in a dry locality the specifying of, say, galvanized iron for these parts would save money on the initial cost, and might not cause too great depreciation.
Likewise, the choice of the general materials of which the house is built should be influenced by the experience of the neighborhood. A wooden house in a seashore resort requires painting very often, and perhaps a brick house would in the end be more economical. A wood-shingle roof on a house, tucked away under the dense trees of a lake shore, would have a very short life, and the use of some more permanent material would justify the additional expense.
Indeed, on all hands, in every locality, we have lessons to learn concerning what happens to a house after it has been built, and how it might have been avoided. To stimulate the reader to observe more in this direction we will call attention to some of the most obvious ways in which a house depreciates. Examine most houses which have stood for ten to twenty years, and it will be found that the foundations in nearly every case have settled unevenly, to a greater or less extent. This may be due to unforeseen causes, such as the action of underground water, frost, and disintegration of mortar, but generally it is the result of foundations built by the rule of the thumb. A wooden house seems so light that the average builder never bothers to consider the footings nor the loadings on them. Many walls are built without any footings at all, even though part of them rest on stone and other parts on earth. Now, of course, nothing serious as a rule comes of this slightly uneven settlement, but, add it to other things, and the depreciation of the property goes on rapidly.
As an example of this, one house might be mentioned which was greatly marred by the settling of the footings under the porch columns. These columns supported the second floor, which projected over the porch. The amount of settlement was only about two inches, but this caused the windows to lose their rectangular shape, making the operation of the sash impossible, destroyed the drainage direction of the gutters, necessitating the relocation of the leaders and the repitching of the gutters, opened up the crack between the floor and the baseboard, and made a large crack in the plaster wall and ceiling.
The cause of it all was the building of the porch column footings upon filled-in earth, while the foundations of the rest of the house were upon rock. Uneven settlement. was sure to take place under such conditions.
This same damaging effect of settlement is often noticeable in wooden frame houses, which have not been properly constructed to avoid uneven distribution of cross-section wood in the walls and partitions. Wherever there is a difference of cross-section of wood in two walls which support the same beams, there is sure to be uneven settling. The wall which has the greatest number of linear inches vertically of horizontally laid timbers will settle the most. This will cause sagging floors, sprung door frames, and open joints. forced at this point with metal lath. Likewise, it is bad to support any part of the wooden floor upon a girder which bears upon the chimney, not only on account of the excessive sinking of the chimney, but the subsequent danger of fire which it creates.
Many cracked stucco walls on the exterior have been caused by too much cross-section wood in their framing. A balloon-framed wall makes the best backing for an outside wall of stucco, because the studs extend from sill to plate without any horizontal timbers intervening.
But it can always be predicted that the masonry walls and parts of the house will settle before the wooden walls and partitions. The chimney will settle more rapidly than the surrounding partitions of wood, and should, for this reason alone, be built entirely independent of any other part of the structure. Where the wooden-framed wall butts into a chimney and the plaster is continuous over the brick of the chimney and the studs of the wall, there is sure to develop a crack at the joint because of the unequal settlement, unless the plaster is rein-
A very bad method of constructing a chimney was imported from Europe, years ago, which develops serious fire dangers from its manner of settling. Instead of flashing and counterflashing the joint of the chimney with the roof, this method employed the use of a projecting course of brick begun at the level of the roof. Thus the part of the chimney above the shingle roof was made larger than that underneath, and the outward step was used as a weather lap over the roofing material, and no flashing was needed to make the joint tight. Now, when the chimney settled faster than the roof, as it would, the upper part could not drop, but was caught upon the roof, and lifted from the lower part. This made a crack through which the hot gases could escape to the attic timbers and start a fire.
On the other hand, wooden framed walls will settle badly, too, when dry rot sets into the sills. This is a very common defect in old houses, and generally ,when any remodelling must be done, the sills have to be cut out and new ones set into place. Dry rot in the sills is caused by excessive dampness with no circulation of air. Very often a builder may take great pains to fire-stop his walls around the sill, but forget to leave ventilation space, and the sill is soon attacked by the fungus of rot. Unless timbers which come in contact with masonry are treated with creosote, or painted, they will be subject to dry rot in the average damp, warm climate.
Many porch columns rot at their base and permit the settling of the roof. Solid columns are the least durable in this respect, for in a short time their core will go bad and the lower part will crumble. Wood base blocks for columns should be perforated with holes to permit the seepage of water under them. Cast-iron bases are preferred to the wooden one, when the column is to set upon a masonry porch floor.
Settling causes many other defects besides those mentioned. The house-drain may be broken and the cellar flooded with sewage, if the wall around the pipe has been cemented up and it settles. The pitch of drainpipes may be altered so much that back-up action of waste water may occur; steps may be caused to sag so that they become unsafe; lintels may be broken.
The movement of the footings by frost is another evil that is noticeable in many old houses. Sidewalks are cracked, porch stairs loosened, drains in areas closed. In most cases like this the footings are not extended far enough below the frost-line, or insufficient cinder foundations are laid.
But the action of freezing water leaves its marks on other parts of the house. Unless some corrugations in leaders are made, the ice in the winter may burst them. The mortar on copings is loosened by this action, and on chimney tops, where heat and gases also help, the brickwork soon breaks down. Many failures of stucco work are directly caused by frost, and sometimes water leaks into the cells of hollow terra-cotta blocks, freezes, and bursts out the shell-like sides. The putty around the window is loosened by the drying action of the wind, and the prying action of the frost. Water-supply pipes in wall near the outside are broken when the cold winds freeze them, and the exposed gas-pipes in the chilly parts of the cellar are often entirely clogged in a severe winter. Leaks around windows in masonry walls are started by frost, and it is common to see tile on the porch floor, or brick borders and bases loosened by the same powerful agent that breaks boulders from the mountainsides.
The heat of the sun is another destroyer of the house. It is death on paint, for it is forever baking it in the steam of the dew of the previous night, and when the body of linseed-oil is gone, the paint is no good. And it dries out the wood too much some days and spoils the jointing. It warps boards up and opens the mitred joints. It causes the wood shingles to crack and shrivel, so that when the next heavy rain comes the ceilings are stained by leaks. Tar for the roof and soft cements are caused to run out of place.
Then, too, there is the deteriorating influence of the artificial heat inside of the house. The fireplace tiles are baked loose from their mortar beds, cast-iron dampers are cracked, chimneys are clogged with soot and catch fire, and thimbles which receive the smoke-pipe of the furnace are broken. But the heat from the radiator does much damage. It blackens the ceiling above it by hurling little particles of dust up against it; it warps and twists the wall-paper; it misshapes the doors and windows, and breaks loose the strips of veneer, and it often spills water over the floor to ruin the ceilings below.
Added to all of the above depreciation is the natural wear and tear caused by the tenants. Floors are worn to splinters where they were of flat-grain wood; thresholds are thinned down, stair tread scooped out. Plaster is broken by moving furniture, and decorations stained by accidents of all varieties. Locks, hinges, and bolts are broken.
Particularly is the mechanical equipment of the house subject to such deteriorating influences. Plumbing fixtures are broken, pipes are clogged, and joints made to leak through the corroding action of strong acids poured down the pipes. Radiator valves are turned out of adjustment, boilers are burned out, and hundreds of other things happen to this part of the house because of careless hands.
Thus we may say that the important factors of depreciation which an architect should keep in mind are unequal settlement, action of frost, washing-out effects of rain water, corrosion, the heat of the sun, the artificial heat of the furnace, and the foolishness of tenants.
Unequal settlement can be prevented by carefully examining the construction, and the action of frost, heat, and sun can be minimized by the use of proper materials, and the foolishness of tenants can be partly offset by selecting those mechanical devices which are as near fool-proof as human hands can make them.