The Void Under The Staircase..

ks_toolgirlAugust 13, 2011

Sounds like a great title for a book, if R.L. Stine collaborated with the Nancy Drew author... But the situation is more like a Stephen King novel.

This is, by far, the most difficult, humbling, mortifying post I've done - & hopefully the only one this bad - ever. Bear with me, lol, I need advice - asap - but this feels like standing naked on Main Street in broad daylight in a pair of underwear 3 sizes too small... embarrassing.

Ok. Some of my questions I'm sure I've asked before - sorry if I'm redundant. The leak from bathtub wasn't resolved as I thought, there was a breach in caulking between tub & shower wall. Opposite that wall is.. The Void From He$#. Under the first rise of stairs & the landing. It's been accessed - to assess - by myself, through the back of the built-in under the 2nd rise of stairs. (Hated doing that!!!!).

Here's a pic of cupboard/portal, from outside...

The cupboard only goes back to where the landing above starts. (Does this make any sense? It's complicated). At about the top of 1st pic, the wall/ceiling angles toward you & up - the 2nd rise of stairs.

Inside the bottom of cupboard, looking through the back into the Void... (The trim was inside, as was wallpaper).

Squeeze through, & you see this. (Lots of pics, sorry).

Corner plaster, just ahead & to right -

Looking to left, toward bottom of stairs -

Looking up over your right shldr, at plaster & underside of landing - the lathe is part of the opening you're peeking through.

I don't have access to a PC right now, to alter the next image - it's obviously the floor plan - as sketched by the dodo that inspected the house @ time of purchase. So I'll try to explain the location.

1st floor - image on left... Northwest corner is bathroom & tub is in same location shown. "Den" is middle room, old cupboard is labeled in sketch & stairs shown between cupboard & bathtub.

So. You've seen the nastiness. There had been a leak from the other side, directly across from cupboard. Now, there's been more moisture from the tub-seal (same wall). During every shower, water ran down the fiberglass wall & dribbled down that common wall. The washing machine fiasco "must" have gotten under there as well.

My "Dirty little secret", go ahead & judge - I admit part of me knew the problem under there was worse than I initially thought, so I deserve it. But, help me anyway?

I've removed all rubble & most plaster dust, btw. (Last night was such fun, lol).

1. Assuming that's mold - not just efflorescence - should I remove all lathe & plaster from under there? I started scrubbing plaster w/bleach, but wondering - I can't clean what I can't see.

2. Why plaster under there, in the first place? Grey horsehair & white skimcoat? Had to be done before stairs were built, all 3 sides were done & stairs only surface not covered!

I'm only asking the 2 questions now, because this is SO long already. But any & all advice & questions are welcome & needed.

Thanks, for reading the whole darn thing - & in advance for any thoughts.

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Is it just my imagination, or do the stairs (from below) look newer, like they were replaced? The (stringers?) up the sides look older - & you can see pencil-lines, marking tread locations - not quite where they ended up? The steps are old, but perhaps not "as old"?

My concerns about this situation are more about my children living here - & future owners & their kids, than for myself.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2011 at 7:37PM
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Old plaster falling off is not to so unusual.

You don't need bleach to clean off superficial mould, if that's what you've encountered. If you're really concerned, you can get a lab analysis of scrapings. If it is mould and that's all you've seen, repair any conditions that may have led to moisture in that area.

Here is a link that might be useful: Mould: Get Rid of it.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2011 at 10:38PM
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ks, this may be dumb...but it sounds like the tub surround isn't installed correctly? Usually the wall sections are placed toward the inside of the tub, which has a raised edge which is supposed to run behind the surround to prevent just such accidents. If the tub is older and doesn't have such a 'lip', I'd take the surround down and start over, paying special attention to the joint area.
Hope this helps! I didn't see any sign of wedges keeping the stair parts in place...makes me think the stairs are replacements too.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2011 at 5:08AM
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Just from looking at your drawing on the graph paper. It looks to me like the second floor was a add on and hence the stairs were add ons too.
I think you are dealing with the aftermath of a do it yourselfer with just enough knowledge to be dangerous to the house. He might have had a background in building but it sounds like he failed plumbing 101. Got to agree with columbusguy1 it sounds like the tub is not installed properly, tho it also could be the drain wasn't put in right too. Both would cause slow leakage.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2011 at 2:36PM
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Thanks to all, for the replies. I suppose I got "Fellow old house owners" lumped in with "family members who are new house owners" in my mind. I swear - if my sister-in-law saw those pics, she'd be contacting social services & getting custody of my kids, to get them out of the yucky old house & into her lovely (huge) new one. It IS nice & pretty...
Worthy - thanks for the link... I went ahead and removed the loose "gonna fall off soon anyway" plaster last night. If it didn't come away easily, I left it for now. After I get that cleared out, I'll clean what's left & verify the moisture issue is definitely resolved.

Columbusguy, I'm sorry - my ignorance is showing, again... Wedges holding stair parts in place? Where would I see those, if they were there? How would they be put in from below, when there was no access after they were built? (entire void was sealed in with lathe & plaster - except stairs - until I busted through, lol). Guess I'd better look that up - this house is my only experience with old-house stairs - & old-house "innards" in general. Oh - regarding the closet hooks, they haven't turned up. The container I thought they were in, turned out to be the one with old window-lock hardware. (Not pulling a bait-&-switch about the hooks, I swear!Lol).

I'll look into the tub & surround installation.

Carol_from_ny, I'm puzzled - & intrigued - what is it about the floor plan that makes you think the 2nd floor was an add-on? We don't think it was, but that doesn't mean it wasn't possible. If it was, it was before this...

The house in far background, at the pencil-point, that's her. The groundbreaking for the church in photo was 1915, not sure what year that photo was taken... Perhaps someone can date the make/model of the groovy gangster-car?

This is a close-up of the (postcard) image. Pastors wife gave it to me when she saw our house in the background.

Here's a more current close-up. (I'm going to go down the street, in a few minutes, & try to get a pic from similar view as the old one - been meaning to get that done for ages!).

Sorry for all the pics! And off-topic, as well. (It's not hi-jacking, if it's your own post - right?).

    Bookmark   August 14, 2011 at 7:30PM
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Love the house! Curious, there is baseboard in there? Also suggests some sort of afterbuild at the stairs. Maybe there were originally stairs elsewhere or something?

Anyway - embarrassment not necessary! I could show plenty worse (and if you ask some people on this board, I already have :-))


    Bookmark   August 15, 2011 at 1:21AM
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The reason I think it was a add on is because it's so evenly balanced compared to the downstairs. The downstairs has all sorts of juts and jags, that upstairs looks like somebody laid it out the simplest way they could.Each room looks to be the same size, windows are in the same place opposite each other. It's like a different builder did it PLUS the wood on the stairs doesn't look right for a "old house" a bit too new there is a patina that comes with wood those stairs don't have it AND now after looking at the exterior pic it looks to me like the top and bottom don't match style wise.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2011 at 2:10AM
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ks, in old stair work, the stringers had the grooves for the risers and treads cut into them, then the parts were put together, and wedges were driven into the grooves to secure the treads and risers and prevent squeaking. It was a sign of good stair work, which was almost an art in itself. I think today, nails and glues are the usual methods, and this will probably result in many stairway repairs for future home owners. :)

Carol, an earlier thread discussed the layout, and I think there had been flippers who remodelled the downstairs?

    Bookmark   August 15, 2011 at 4:39AM
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this kind of stuff happens to the best of us. but it doesn't look like such a big deal. i'd pull down any ridiculously unstable plaster, clean up all the plaster on the floor, vacuum, scrub away the mold, and dry it thoroughly.

plaster is lot like cement. it isn't going to be some kind of toxic mold sponge. there is no reason to take it down.

my understanding is that space is blocked off and unused, is that correct? if i was going to use the space for a closet or something, i would sand the floor and restain, repair the wall

the water problem IS fixed now, right? that is the most important thing.

btw, your sister sounds like a treat. "a leak?!? better call social services!"

    Bookmark   August 15, 2011 at 8:03AM
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I don't know when your house was built, but if the underside of the stairs has been covered with lath & plaster, it wouldn't necessarily look 'aged'. Mine was built in 1858, has no wedges (& doesn't squeak), & the little bit I've seen isn't particularily dark. Even the basement stairs that were subjected to decades of humidity & rotted understair door, trim, etc looked 'clean' when we removed the rotted wood. Also, baseboards were sometimes installed as plaster stops & that might account for those in the void.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2011 at 11:13AM
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KarinL, thank you! :-).
The 2nd pic that shows trim is actually inside the cupboard, under the opening I broke through to get to the void area. The plaster in void stopped about where trim would go, but no sign of any trim in there at all. The finish on the floor in that room doesn't extend into the cabinet - both it & void are raw wood, never had any finish. The flooring outside the cupboard is what I've been working on & asked about in different post.

Omg, Carol_from_ny - now you've got me staring at the pics, trying to figure out how my top doesn't match my bottom, lol! I don't get it, maybe I'm just used to it so I don't see the problem that I should?

Columbusguy - yep, you're right... The 1st floor was flipped to the point that we don't even know where the walls were before. Ironically, the stairs (& plaster-encased void below them) seem to be the only untouched walls on 1st floor - they didn't touch the 2nd floor, except to spray ceiling texture on the ceiling & walls (intentionally, to hide plaster cracks, etc) & put cheap carpet down.

Civ_4_fan - I plan to do just as you've suggested - I'd love to use it for storage, but access is the issue... I'm already covered with bruises from squeezing through both tiny openings to get in/out to clean.

When I broke through, there was no sign that lathe had been on the stairs themselves, only on all 3 walls. (They would've been sealed in, & I'd have found a skeleton with the rubble, lol!).

    Bookmark   August 15, 2011 at 5:09PM
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i wish i could find the links, but i've seen some pretty amazing under-stair storage systems that amounted basically to very large, sturdy drawers.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2011 at 8:24AM
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Ok... I've got to know, Carol_from_ny? Was it your intent to be hostile, starting with your first response? Because it seemed like it - but I tried to ignore it & be amiable.
"I think you're dealing with the aftermath of a do it yourselfer with just enough knowledge to do damage to the house. He might have had a background in building but he failed plumbing 101.". Really? That doesn't seem like an insult, without you knowing if, maybe, WE installed it? Ya know what? We did. 10 years ago.
I welcome advice, & gentle critisism - like Columbusguy suggesting it wasn't properly installed, he said it in a way that didn't offend at all - but if you meant to imply that we are dangerous jackasses, then that reinforced my reluctance to post the question in the first place.
I've looked up (on this site!) issues of tub/shower caulk failing, & no one else reacted by insulting the poster.
Did no one else pick up on it at all? Am I too sensitive?
I could go into detail about how it was done, etc... But I'm just confused about the point of the forum, to seek advice & understanding - or to make someone feel small & stupid when they're already down?
Perhaps - like myself - the abrupt & snarky tone was completely unintentional... I know I do that. It's possible.

Btw, I'm still going batty trying to figure out how my top doesn't match my bottom, style-wise. If Carol won't tell me (&, Carol, I really hope you will), does anyone else know what she meant?

    Bookmark   August 16, 2011 at 10:20PM
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Ks, there ARE some people on here who belittle others, as I've seen in other threads--I'm not sure Carol meant to be, but I too thought it insensitively put. I thought her comment on the two floors not matching was hilarious, but that was because I knew the other thread had mentioned it had been flipped, and you were ticked off about it. :)

I try to be very nice in my posts, and if I'm not sure of a poster's intent or phrasing, I will ask them for more facts; but there are a few who are just generally 'mean' and think they are Master Builders or something, and everyone else is beneath their notice.

No worries on the coat hooks, I'm still interested whenever you turn them up!

    Bookmark   August 17, 2011 at 1:15PM
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(You're right, Columbusguy, she was probably busy & in a hurry or something.). Instead of whining about it, I should have said... Thank you for taking time to respond & answering my questions in the first place. :-)
This is "old house" forum, not the "coddle me, I'm insecure" forum! ;-)

Regarding the tub & bath panels, it's an acrylic tub (jacuzzi redmont) w/fiberglass shower panels. The caulk held up fine for years - should have recaulked after 5 years I'm finding out, time got away... The problem is that this house moves. A lot! Doors suddenly won't latch - or even close all the way... Wait a month or so & they're back to normal. (it's like a living animal, I swear, inhale/exhale). Caulking material between a tub & wall doesnt stand a chance, for very long. (I feel like a lucky girl, every time I can lock a bathroom door again!).
I attempted to do a temporary fix, by cleaning it really well & adding more bath caulk - that was dumb. I'm going to redo it, & get it right - all old stuff off completely, clean with denatured alcohol, fill tub, etc. (I'll also inspect drywall & such behind tub for damage).
It's "bath only" for now - no showers allowed, & I'm monitoring the void for signs of moisture - dry as a bone.
I'm thinking the moisture problem was (mostly) from the week-long washer malfunction back in may. (It started "filling" itself, and the front loading door wasn't shut.. All week while we were out of state). While we worked like crazy to get all wet materials out & replaced - still at the replacing part - no ventilation was getting to that area, it didn't dry quickly.

Meanwhile... I keep looking at exterior pics of my house - looking for WHY top doesn't match bottom in style! Carol? Someone? What's wrong with my house?? What's the top style, what's the bottom style, bottom-heavy, or top-heavy? What?

    Bookmark   August 18, 2011 at 12:31AM
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I've seen similar houses in my pattern books, and I think the two floors are fine...I'd kill for a better look at the side view from that postcard though--is there a door at the foot of the stairs on that side?

The car looks like it's from the mid 20s by the wheels and body style, at a rough guess. The trees by the church don't look too old, so if groundbreaking was in '15, I'd say mid 20s is about right!

    Bookmark   August 18, 2011 at 4:54AM
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It looks to me to be as-built. The stairs may have been replaced because the original treads were too shallow especially if that was just an attic originally. As far as their construction sawtooth type stringers can be found in houses of any age and were quite common in some areas and if you notice still very common as they are seen quite frequently here on the GW forums.

I think the idea that the first and second floor exterior walls do not follow the same plan is the reason one may believe it to ba an addition.


    Bookmark   August 18, 2011 at 11:39AM
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Columbusguy, I can't tell by the fuzzy pic - but that is the exterior side of the house where we found the frame for a bygone door. Yep - at the foot of the stairs. Are you seeing it in the photo, or remembering my mentioning it before?

Ian, thanks. (As-built.. Surveying & drafting memories!). I had started to think that, maybe, if it had been changed - it might explain why she looks so... Portly? From exterior, she just looks fat - I thought that may be what Carol was noticing.

I wish I could see the bottom of the top half of the stairs.. (5 steps up, 6th is landing, turn right, 8 steps to the top). It's covered up, though.. all I can look at is the landing & steps below.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2011 at 4:17PM
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I thought I remembered something about a door, but just couldn't quite tell from the card--since there was, I'd wager it was the secondary entrance, and the stairs were placed between a parlor on the front, and a kitchen on the back...maybe with a hallway running to the front entrance area. It seems weird to us, but in some small house plans, you had to go down a hall to get to the stairs which were nearer the kitchen, I guess to make laundry easier?

I don't remember, do you have a basement?

    Bookmark   August 18, 2011 at 9:13PM
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Columbusguy, I've wondered about the original use for the downstairs bathroom - I think we've discussed it before? I only got as far back as - I think - 1912, at the library historical records room. A doctor lived here, I'd wondered if that entrance was for him to see patients in the (now) bathroom. His niece was listed as "tenant", as a student at the university (affialiated with the church in pic, & here long before that "new" church erected) a block away.
We both live in university neighborhoods, eh? Mine is a private/Methodist school - not large, so the partying on our street - not them.
Btw - my father-in-law suggested that, being so close to it, we should rent MY house out to college students & live elsewhere. Can you IMAGINE that? College kids trashing your house? GASP, thanks anyway!

Under my house.... Oi! "Basement" is something fancy people get to have. :-) What I have, is a creepy dirt situation - (with a REALLY creepy thing I found - another day for that topic, hope it's not a grave!). It's a dirt cellar, partly, & dirt crawlspace for most part. I'm kind of afraid of it, but I'm NOT a cissy!
Why, I have to wonder, do you ask? Don't say "mortuary", bad thunderstorm, home alone w/4-year old tonight! A movie in the making...
Btw - I love the cats that own you! Beautiful doesn't begin to describe a Siamese with an attitude... Are they as arrogant & condescending as they look? ;-)

    Bookmark   August 19, 2011 at 11:39PM
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Too funny ks! I remember the doctor bit...and I wondered about the basement because it seemed a bit small otherwise. :) I have a full basement, with about 6' 2" clearance--I'm 6'1, and have to duck a bit to miss furnace pipes. Need new concrete for the floor, but got to save for that.

I rented rooms for a while when I first moved in back in '87, always nice people who were co-workers or friends going to I only have one 'roomie' since I needed someone to transport me around. The attic was supposed to be my library, but somehow, someone always wanted to live in it!

The cats--ah, there's a story! I have maintained two cats--since I was a little kid; when I bought the house, had a black and white I bought six months after the house--within a year, had found a lilac siamese on the street (lost the lilac in '01 at age 21, the black and white in '02 at age 16). The siamese with attitude on the chair came in March 01 as a kitten to replace my lilac...and his sister came two months later when the last kitten got run over at my sister's farm--someone had tossed their mother out there, and she gave birth to three kittens. Fast forward to '05, and the 'attitude' boy got I got the girl on the sofa to replace him (also from my sister). So now, I just have the two girls, Bortai and little Chula, ages 10 and 6 respectively.

Genghis was the attitude boy, his sister Bortai is the tortie point above, and Chula is the one on the couch in a pic when she was about six months old. Genghis was a traditional seal point (they are larger than modern siamese), Bortai is a traditional tortie-seal, and Chula is a classic seal--they are an inbetween style (not as large as traditional, but not skeletons like today's models--they were around mainly in the 50s-60s and the kind I grew up with.)

And now, back to the thread...:) I really need to post house interior pics, showing the woodwork, stairs and lights--btw, my stairs have the original dust things in the corners. :)

    Bookmark   August 20, 2011 at 1:40AM
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Black & white. Like my guy?

Name - "Saturday", I call him "Man-Cat". (His sister is... "Sunday")

    Bookmark   August 20, 2011 at 2:34AM
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ks, this was my black and white I bought just after the house:

Her name was Elspeth, and she loved to ride around on my shoulders and lay on my chest when I napped. For a few months after moving into Columbus, I did have another black and white named 'Fifty-Eight', who died after buying the house at age 15. She just couldn't adjust to the move from the country. She looked closer to yours, but with a bit more black--have to get scans of her pics done.

People can access a few more pics of me, the cats and the house on my Facebook page--under my name: Marlin Schorr...the only person on with that name. :)

    Bookmark   August 21, 2011 at 12:32AM
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Columbusguy - I tried to send you a message, but I don't think it went. Anyway, I did try to look at your pics but didn't see any. No house, no cats. (I'm a Facebook idiot.. It confuses me - just ask one of my 16-or so "friends", lol!). I rarely use it - it's easier that way, lol.

Btw - my stairs have dust-things in the corners, also! ;-) (I'd better go take care of that - where did I leave the broom this time?). Lol. I've seen pics of the (trim pieces?) you're talking about, I think. Sounds like something I should probably have...

Regarding the stairs & bath situation - I've been a busy girl, there. Probably TOO busy, I'm sure. Now I have more questions, but I should probably start a new post - since they're related more to the "bathtub/shower" side of the wall.

    Bookmark   August 27, 2011 at 6:09PM
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ks, facebook sucks...they've changed a lot of stuff making things harder to find.
Try the link below.
Freaking city has torn up my corner sidewalk to put in a stupid access ramp, even though the difference between sidewalk and street levels was about an inch due to the asphalt paving. Lost about four sections of original kerbstone to be replaced by lousy concrete.

Here is a link that might be useful: Albums

    Bookmark   August 28, 2011 at 2:19AM
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Mold cannot grow in plaster. Plaster is great stuff.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2011 at 10:28PM
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Sundahlia, I agree - plaster is great stuff. However - it would be a mistake, I'm certain, for anyone to assume that since they have plaster walls - they can't have mold. Mold can grow on surfaces, even if it's plaster. "In" plaster, I know nothing about that. (Is horse-hair a mold repellent? Could be, I've never seen a horse with mold growing on it, lol).

Thanks, though. Dealing with despised drywall, now (that term seems ridiculous to me, given my latest domino).

    Bookmark   September 3, 2011 at 11:41PM
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