Looking up now at the neatly whitewashed ceiling we cannot help but be suspicious of the plaster beneath the surface, so going over to that part of the ceiling above the smoke-pipe leading from the furnace to the chimney we jab our cane against it, and, as we expected, a big slab breaks off and crashes to the floor, revealing partly charred wooden lath beneath, which have been baking in the heat rising from the smoke-pipe, and which would eventually catch fire. Examining the plaster very closely we observe that in addition to being a very thin coat it has no hair in it to act as a reinforcement for the plaster key which held it to the lath base.
But being rather inquisitive about the construction hidden behind the plaster, and having broken some of it down, the removal of the few lath is worth the look behind them. And there we see the girder which supports the floor-joists resting upon the chimney instead of on a special pier or column. This saved the contractor the cost of the pier or the column, but the owner would probably lose his house some day by fire creeping through the joints of the brickwork of the chimney to the ends of this wooden girder, for it was quite evident that the mortar used in the chimney was not much better than that used in the wall, and it is well known that lime mortar disintegrates under the action of hot gases from burning wood.
Turning our attention now to other parts of the cellar, we notice that in the floor of the laundry a place had been broken into, and upon inquiry we find that this hole was dug by the plumber in repairing a stoppage of the system of drainage-pipes under the floor. It seems that the contractor had omitted placing any clean outs in the pipes which he had laid under the cellar floor, and the owner's wife, by accident, in pouring a pail of wash water down the water-closet in the cellar had allowed a rag to go down with it, which clogged up the system, so that the waste from the kitchen sink began to back up into the laundry tubs. As there was no way to get at the pipes, the plumber, in cleaning out the system, was obliged to break through the floor and cut out a hole in the pipe to run a wire through to the clean out on the house trap. The contractor who built the house had saved about fifteen dollars in omitting this clean out, but the owner lost fifty dollars in plumbers' bills before he repaired this defect.
Another defect was also found by the owner in the system of water-supply. There had been installed only one shut-off cock for the entire building, so that whenever a new washer had to be placed upon a faucet on any fixture the entire system had to be turned off. As most of the faucets throughout the house were of very cheap design, this had to be done very often, until one day the owner had turned the main shut-off cock once too often for its strength, and the handle broke off. He was obliged to call in the plumber to turn the water on again, as well as install a new shut-off cock.
Questioning the owner further, we learn that a disagreeable odor of sewage enters the dining-room windows during the summer months when all the sash are open, but as he admits he knows little about plumbing, he isn't sure of its cause, but he thinks it comes from a pipe which opens directly beneath one of these windows. When we investigate we find that it is the fresh-air inlet of the plumbing system of the house. The contractor had saved money on piping by carrying this to the nearest outdoor point, which happened to be directly under the window of the dining-room, so that whenever any water-closet was flushed in the house a puff of foul air was blown out of this pipe in the most convenient place for it to enter the house if the windows were open. Instead of spending the extra money for piping to carry this fresh-air inlet well away from any windows, the contractor had put in the shortest length possible.
Fresh Air Inlet Under Window.
After looking at this pipe we glance at the porch near by and notice that it is beginning to sag. So, crawling under the porch, we find that instead of masonry piers under the porch columns, there are wooden posts driven into the ground, and that not only have these begun to settle under the weight but also have rotted away considerably near the ground, where they are subject to dampness. While we are under here we notice that the floor-joists are small, 2 by 4 inch timbers, and have sagged a great deal because of their extreme scantiness for the span over which they are placed.
In fact, as we walk up on the porch it vibrates under our weight, and when we enter the house we notice the same weakness, only to a slightly less degree. The owner says that in the beginning the floors were stiff enough, but that this weakness had been getting worse each year. It is evident that there is faulty bridging and too small timbers. Probably in the beginning the nails of the upper flooring helped to stiffen the beams, but as these became worn in their sockets the joists lost this additional strength. This lack of proper-size framing timbers saved the builder money but would cost the buyer a pretty penny some day.
But we are astonished at the excellent appearance of the floors, for by this time the things that are good are more surprising than the things that are bad. Then it occurs to us that of course the floor would be good, for this is part of the house which is visible and helps to catch the buyer's eye. But later, when we go up-stairs, we notice that the floors are not so fine, but are the common flat-grained boards which sliver off and catch in your shoe if you scuffle. The owner also points out the kitchen as one of the biggest fakes he has seen. It has an oak floor, and when he had bought the house he had been deeply impressed with the luxury of having an oak floor not only in the dining-room but also in the kitchen. But he is not so keen now, for with constant scrubbing the cheap varnish and filler had come off and the pores of the oak have been exposed, so that now the floor is the greatest catch-dirt ever invented, and to make matters still worse the oak had been poorly seasoned, the boards had shrunk, the cracks opened, and there is no un-derflooring below to prevent the dust and dirt from sifting through these cracks from the hollow space between the floor-joists. The owner says he is about to install a new floor. He also admits that the varnish which gave such a fine surface to the dining-room and living-room floors when he first saw the house was so poor, and scratched so badly, that he had to have the floors completely done over.