(Above, July 10, 2020, I discover evidence of just the tip of the iceberg in recent damage to irreplaceable old-growth cedar flooring in the attic of my 113-year-old home.)
Back in January, the company that does a stellar job of maintaining my furnace told me about an extremely attractive opportunity to weatherize my house by taking advantage of a New York State program through NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority).
This is a program a number of friends and neighbors have taken advantage of and spoken very highly of, and I decided to apply.
I qualified for a fifteen-year loan to pay for the work, with an interest rate under four per cent. The cost of the work to me was $4,000 and change since the program made it possible for me to get $8,000 worth of work done for half that. All this was explained in detail by my HVAC company’s very careful, thorough sales rep. He was willing to redo the agreement I finally signed three times. I was very impressed.
Due to weather delays, the crew doing the work did not get to my house until February. Because the weather then was so very cold, and because the paperwork I read and signed (to enable NYSERDA to cut my HVAC company a check) contained essentially the same language as the agreement I initially signed, I did not take the extra step of walking through and just giving the finished project a quick review.
I did take advantage of the offer of a third-party inspection within a month of my house being “foamed” (and having blown-in attic insulation fluffed up and topped off). Due to weather conditions and the advent of Donald and Andrew’s Virus Adventures, the third-party inspection did not take place until June 18.
Again, because of weather (this time hot), I decided not to go into the attic to admire my newly snug and efficient attic (I had been enjoying improvements in the basement since February).
Finally, yesterday, I went up stairs to admire the results of what I thought was the most prudent householding decision I had ever made.
I was aghast at the damage to the floor that I discovered.
The reason for this is that my home is a 1907 American Foursquare that I have owned for the past sixteen years. It is by no means an architectural gem. It bears the marks of 113 years of use and abuse (including being divided into two apartments some time in the thirties or forties). But when I bought it, it had been zoned as a single-family dwelling, had been flipped to erase much of the abuse of being a rental property, and gave me a connection to the history of the city I live in and to my own personal history. I was excited by the history and the potential of a slightly ramshackle but modestly appealing old building.
On both sides of my largely Scotch-Irish family (with other equally clever, creative nationalities thrown in), I come from people who have been makers and builders, inventors and fixers, and appreciators and wise users of all the materials, tools, and techniques that make human dwelling places liveable and loveable. Historically, that has been a Scotch-Irish thing. For so many reasons, it just has.
So finally buying my own home after a whole lifetime of apartment dwelling, and buying an old house with a story, was exciting to me.
It wasn’t until I retired four years ago from a long and time-consuming career as a civil servant that I really began to focus on making my home more livable and loveable. And in the past four years, I have focused on learning more about the history of my home and trying to evoke the kind of comfort and beauty the builders of my home intended to create. I’ve pulled up cheap carpeting. I’ve re-arranged furniture in all the rooms. I’ve had work done (and done work) in my yard. I’ve gotten rid of all kinds of tchotchkes (books, clothes, utensils, furniture, appliances, you name it) that, you will excuse the woo-woo interior decorating approach, seemed to say, “we don’t really belong here.”
I am now at a place where I have a home that is simple in structure, simply furnished, and more full of light and air than ever before. It will never be what it originally was, but it is more and more a joy to me, and I hope it will be more and more a joy for those who visit.
The biggest thrill I have had over the past four years is discovering how carefully and artistically the house was put together. Aside from divine providence, the house has survived because, for one thing, the original framing, flooring, siding, and roofing were made of hand-hewn, hand-planed, hand-installed cedar. It’s what we now call old-growth cedar. Somebody went out somewhere and cut down cedar trees and ran them through a saw mill and, after a period of seasoning, used the end products to make houses. No hardware store provided them.
Cedar is a strong wood. I have a mahogany chest lined with cedar that my great-grandfather (or possibly his father) made; it is clearly not mass-produced and looks just a bit squat and ugly, but it has lasted since the late 1800s. That’s a while.
So . . . when I went up in the attic to view my newly weatherized space . . . and when I saw that huge holes (contrary to what had been described to me)had been bored in the cedar planks of the floor to permit insertion of blow-in insulation . . . and when I saw that in a number of places the irreplaceable planks had been substantially structurally damaged, I felt as if somebody in my family had been stabbed with a knife.
Not fatally. But harmed irreparably. Crippled in some subtle way. With no hope of healing and restoration.
Right now, I feel that I have, in some way, been stabbed with a knife and will never recover. It turns out that one moment of mental inertia, one decision to delay being responsible, one choice to take things easy and check on things later . . . has destroyed the work of hands who not only shaped my house but shaped the character of a city, a state, a country.
I have discovered that, no matter how I try, I cannot get away from being a selfish and self-absorbed modern American who shallowly thinks she’s in touch with her roots and her past because she has an emotional affinity with “old stuff.” Because of a few moments of “oh, what the hell, it can wait; I’m going to take a nap,” I have lost some beauty and memories of my past and my culture forever.
There are obviously practical and tedious activities that I now must focus on in order to lodge protests and make sure the idiots who damaged my property are never able to do it again. But as I do those things, it is going to be with the sense that I was entrusted with some sort of precious treasure that I did not deserve, and I lost it.