Sometimes it’s quite hard to relax when you live in an old house, because the lazily wandering eye will all too often spot something not quite right: a beam that suddenly seems to have too little support, or a pile of dust that might betray active wood pests. Nine times out of ten the risks spotted in that casual glance prove, on reflection, to be exaggerated, perhaps a function of the pessimistic frame of mind that develops when repairing an old house: the deeper you examine the building, the more problems you have to solve. Here are pictures of three things we did after staring rather a lot at potential problems. Probably only one of them was really necessary, but doing the other two made us feel better.
The first picture is of a wrought iron bracket we had made to reinforce the end of the biggest beam in the house, which does not quite meet the wall (a result of the repair of the chimney and fireplace which were leaning into the room but are now straight, which moved the bearing surface in the wall away from the timber). The beam end since then has rested not on a post but on a one inch thick steel slab inserted in the wall whose other end bears the weight of a beam and studs above. Solid and permanent, we were assured, but sitting in an armchair underneath, somehow it didn’t look right. The bracket bought piece of mind, and looks nice, too.
Next, the only repair of the three that was definitely necessary, and so we commissioned it early on. A large section of the massive chestnut beam in the kitchen had been weakened by old rot. The beam deflected worryingly when walking across the room above. A deep slot was cut in the beam from above and a T-section steel “flitch” beam was cut to drop into it, bedded in resin. The flat top of the beam rests on top of the wood. You can just see the steel in the photograph through one of the cavities left by the rot, which long ago disappeared, leaving crumbly wood around the holes.
The third picture is of an oak knee, a precautionary reinforcement of the end of another main beam, which does rest partially on a post, but after staring at it over several years, mainly from an armchair, it was decided that there wasn’t a big enough contact surface between the two. The knee is a naturally grown shape, bolted onto the other timbers. You can see from the photo that we were probably worrying too much, but then we definitely feel more relaxed when we look at it, especially as that wall had a significant risk of movement when the extension was being built behind it. Starting on the extension was what prompted us to do something, just in case.