Moving company destroyed the staircase...

bob_mcbobJuly 25, 2007

I'm looking for some advice on repairing broken stairs. My mother recently bought a new (old) house, and was informed at the last moment that there was "some damage to the stairwell". When we got there, we found out that the previous owners' moving company had dropped a large treadmill all the way down the 140-year-old original staircase, cracking five steps and denting two. It also took out one of the spokes and left several holes in the wall. Adding to this, they called in some sort of repair company, who screwed pine boards to all the cracked steps so the rest of the stuff could be moved out. The good news is that the moving company is insured, and they are going to pay for repairs. However, I think they are going about it completely the wrong way, and I'd like some other opinions.

The people who screwed the boards onto the stairs are going to be handling the repair. I'm not entirely sure what they actually do, but they seem to be some sort of general repair place. They have apparently hired a "restoration expert" to do some work on the stairs. He came by yesterday, and I found out that he's actually only a carptenter, and doesn't even do stuff like staining -- I really don't understand the "restoration expert" title. Anyhow, the plan is to remove all the cracked and dented steps, replace them with new wood, and try to match the original stain. My problem with this is that the original stairs have a very strong wear pattern I don't think they are going to be able to match. I believe they mentioned using "old wood," which is presumably reclaimed wood, but even then it would be completely different and very obvious.

I don't really understand why a "restoration expert" who apparently deals with old houses regularly doesn't do finish restoration. I also don't understand why they couldn't glue the cracked steps together with hide glue and conceal the damage. I have some experience with people who restore pianos and antique furniture, and this is exactly what they would do. I understand there is a safety issue with stairs, but there is also the historical character and look to consider.

Overall I've found the situation quite frustrating. I don't know why they had to screw boards to all the broken stairs without asking my mother. We would certainly have put up with not being able to go upstairs for a week or two, and the moving company could have removed the rest of the stuff over the balcony (we had to move in a mattress and bed in this way, and it was not difficult). I'm also concerned that the damage will affect the value of the house, since the stairs are a very central original feature, especially if it is obvious that half of them have been replaced.

I'd really appreciate some advice on this issue. I have before and after photos I should be able to post tomorrow.

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Don't use hide glue where it wasn't used originally. You should used a structural epoxy, even five-minute epoxy. Hot hide glue is for joints that need to be taken apart periodically (mainly to replace the hide glue). It's not up to the task of gap-filling and staying strong for decades under the stresses and abuse that stair treads see. Also, don't use gorilla glue or other foaming polyurethanes.
I agree it would be best to try to reattach everything that's there, but did they save all the slivers? They can attach clamping blocks to the treads with hot glue from a "glue gun" (and they will come off afterward) to facilitate a good clamping experience. The epoxy could be tinted to the wood color with dyes, but even if large gaps exist, the finish can be colored in to disguise them.
The ballusters can also be glued with epoxy, but it would be preferable to take them out and drill them for dowels. Depending on how they are fractured, of course.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2007 at 7:55AM
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I'd argue with the moving company and the previous owner on who was going to do the job. This guy isn't a pro. I'd demand they get one especially with the stairwell being a major part of the house.
Look in your phonebook for some one who specializes in old houses. They should be able to tell you if it can be repaired or if it truly needs to be replaced. It shouldn't cost anything to have the guy come out to look. IF he tells you differently than the guy the moving company wants you to use then you can use that info to fight them and get what you want. They screwed up they need to fix it to YOUR satsifaction. Don't let them try and bulldoze you. Same with the wall they need to fix that to YOUR satisfaction.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2007 at 11:59AM
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I'm going to have someone else come in and take a look. I don't think it was a good idea for us to let other people decide who did the work in the first place. What should I look for in the phone book?

    Bookmark   July 26, 2007 at 3:20PM
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Restoration specialist for old houses

    Bookmark   July 26, 2007 at 4:01PM
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You might also call your local historic preservation organization and/or historical society and see if they know of people in the area who do historic restoration.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2007 at 11:34PM
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