Sunday, 30 September 2012

The Yank's House - Woodworm

This week’s blog is a challenge. How can I write an entertaining blog about woodworm? Here goes. If I am to be totally honest this was probably the one problem we had that scared me most. Silly really because it is not like woodworm could harm me.

As a child I lived in an old house and I have memories of my mother treating old furniture with woodworm eradication chemicals every spring. She never seemed to get to the root of the problem and has had a dread of woodworm all her life. When many years later she moved into a new house she wouldn’t bring any of her old furniture with her in case it infested her lovely new home.
I think I inherited this dread from her. Nine months into the project and with the arrival of spring the issue of woodworm started to cloud my rose tinted glasses. There seemed to be flight holes everywhere. Months of reading and surfing had left me with little confident that I could solve this problem. 

We had gradually been working our way through the repair of the original sash windows and were so proud of each window we fixed, painted and reinstated. Then one day to my despair I discovered new flight holes in one of our lovely freshly painted windows. I was devastated. This window had been treated with a woodworm treatment purchased at our local paint store.

I was back surfing the net for a solution. All my good resolve to restore the house in a safe ecological way dissolved as I felt overwhelmed by the damage these little creatures could do. However it was soon evident that serious chemicals are now banned and more ecological environmental products are advised. I was convinced that anything that was good for the environment was probable also safe for woodworm to inhale. But never the less I started to calm down a bit.

I phoned around some companies and found a product called Boron. This product is Borax based. It is a powder you mix with water and spray onto all your timber. I explained my distress over new flight holes to the listener at the other end of the phone. The voice explained that this was normal and that it could take five years to eliminate woodworm from the house completely. 

Woodworm can have anything up to a five year life cycle from when the adult woodworm lays her eggs to when the egg matures and the new adult emerges through flight holes in the timber. One woodworm can lay up to 30 eggs. The larvae, bores into the timber and sprays and treatments don’t penetrate deeply enough to kill them.  I felt a sense of despair sweep over me. However the voice on the phone assured me that the Boran would deal with the problem and eventually eradicate the little blighters from our house. 

Surfing chat rooms revealed stories of others that had used the product. They claimed it was safe to use even in houses where children and pregnant woman lived. I felt assured that this was a safe product to use and not harmful to the environment. I supplied the area of the house that needed to be sprayed to the voice on the phone and the amount of Boran I would need was calculated, four 2.5kg bags. I decided to order six. After all, better to be safe than sorry. We might as well give the place a good dousing. 

Research into woodworm also said that they only survive in damp timber. Once the house dries out, the combination of heat and good ventilation should also contribute to the eradication of the woodworm. However I won’t be able to verify any of this for several years.

Meanwhile all the new timbers in our new roof had to be sprayed twice, allowing the timber to dry between applications. Any new timbers introduced into the house needed to be treated the same way, skirting boards, door jams, panelling, stud walls and kitchen presses. Existing timbers such as floor boards, doors, windows, shutters and door heads all needed a stronger mix as all these timbers had infestation. Also the old stairs in the house which we hope to save and repair needed to have all the paint stripped off and be treated. If any timbers were later sanded for decoration they needed to be sprayed again. It is a lot of work and a messy job but it had to be done if I was ever to sleep soundly in the Yank’s House. 

Now I have to add, once you decide on a product it is probable best to stop your research. I say this because there are so many conflicting views out there, each product claiming to be better than the next, solvents verses water based products, treatments that work by contact verses treatments that work through ingestion. After I made a decision on what to use, I would feel waves of panic come over me; maybe I had purchased the wrong product and wasted all that money and time. But Pat was very confident it would work and he kept me going through my doubts. 

We sprayed the house for the first time on St. Patrick’s Day 2007. What a way to spend our national holiday.  Firstly we had to give the house a good clean-out. We hadn’t done this for ages and build-up of stones, bricks, old wood and rubble on the floors had to be cleared out of the way. Starting at the top of the house we both cleared out the rooms together. Then Pat started spraying and I moved down to the next floor and started clearing the rooms.

It took about five hours in all. Pat had a pain in his arm from holding the spray nozzle over his head. By the time he got to the basement his arm was so painful we had to operate as a team. Pat carried the spray can on his back and worked the pump action and I walked in front of him with the spray nozzle spraying the timbers. It was very tiring work. 

I would have to say the boron was easy to work with. There is no smell or nasty fumes from it and apart from the fact that the house was very wet when we were finished the operation went well without any hitches. Entry time after a spray is one hour. When we were finished we closed up the house and headed home. We had done enough work for one day. 

It has been five years since we sprayed the house. Over that time I have become accustom to little holes in our timbers. I don’t know if the woodworm is now gone or not but I have not noticed holes in any of the new timber and I have to admit I am much more relaxed now about it all. I don’t look for new evidence of infestation. I guess I just hope for the best. The treatment is on-going. I still treat new timber or any timber after it has been sanded. But this is an old house. It will never be perfect. It has its flaws but now I refer to these flaws as character and features. Over the last six years I have developed a few more wrinkles and several more grey hairs myself so who am I to judge?

Saturday, 22 September 2012

The Yank's House - Salvage

Whether to use salvage or new and the different trains of thought on using salvage when restoring an old property was a bit of a challenge for us. When it can to recycling materials already found on site there was no difficulty. Slates were saved off the roof and reused, windows repaired and reinstalled, doors stripped and repainted. Even old door knobs and window latches were cleaned up and reused. However when it came to looking for replacement materials for the house, fireplaces — ours were all missing, toilets, sinks, role top bath, salvage bricks and stone, we had to make a decision whether to use old or new. Some people worry that the desire to use salvage results in some old buildings being demolished just to meet demand. On the other hand we wanted to recycle where we could. Surely it was better to reuse rather than continue to manufacture new materials. We had no way of measuring how much salvage was genuine and how much came from unnecessary demolition or stripping of old buildings. 
Another consideration was whether new improvements should be obvious or should blend in seamlessly with the old. We decided on the latter. Pat wanted our house to appear as if it had stood in this condition for years without intervention. We made a conscious decision early on in the project not to build onto the house or to alter its external structure or shape in any way. To make room for a bathroom we split one bedroom rather than extend. We decided then to fit the bathroom out with an original old toilet, bath and sink which we hoped would make the space look authentic, as if it had been there for ever.

With this in mind access to good quality salvage materials became essential and we were lucky to discover the Royal Meath Architectural Antiques & Salvage Company in Bohermeen, Navan. It was close to where we lived in Meath, but we never knew it was there until I found it one night on the internet. The first time we called round to the yard we were dazzled. It was such an interesting place and full of beautiful things. There were all sorts of treasures. We knew straight away that we had made the right decision for us and that we would recycle and use salvage whenever we could. That first day we were looking for glass to replace broken panes in some of our windows. We came home with two beautiful restored sash windows, four fireplaces and the glass we were looking for. We were to visit this salvage yard many times, for stone windowsills and stone for our front steps. We got a beautiful front door with lovely old stained glass. We bought old bricks to repair our open fireplace in the kitchen, to brick up around basement windows and to build two lovely arches under the new steps we put in leading up to the front door. We also bought an old role-top bath and a toilet with a high cistern. All these beautiful old materials will add greatly to our restoration and give life and character to the old house.

Most times when we went to the yard we met Paddy and Maggie. Paddy and Maggie’s dad David owns the yard. The children used to come out to meet us when we would visit. Paddy liked to help. He was such a funny little fellow, always getting into mischief and full of chat and stories. He might pull his mouth organ from his pocket and entertain us with his own brand of music or demonstrate his skills on a small skate board. He was always followed closely by his faithful friend, a big friendly German Shepard.  His older sister Maggie came out to us one evening to show us something. She had a little Jack Russell pup in a small handbag on her shoulder. Six years later these children are now all grown up but we still need to drop by occasionally  looking for bits and bobs for the Yank’s House. 

What I love about the Royal Meath Architectural Antiques & Salvage Company is you are always welcome and never pressured into making a purchase. We have even had the tea a few times, served from a silver antique teapot around a lovely patio table comprising of a slab of old stone with old garden planters for legs. It is the best yard I have ever been in and I have visited a few on this journey. 

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The Yank's House - The big dig out

Back at the house the next major job that needed to be tackled was digging the clay away from the outside of the basement walls. The clay was built up to the level of the basement windowsills. This was causing sever damp in the walls. We hoped by digging the clay away from the house and laying drains we could solve the problem. Getting a man with a Hi-Mac free to do the job was another matter. Brendan the gardener gave me a name and number—but this man was too busy to come. Then one day when we were working at the house I heard the noise of a machine starting up. I went out to see what was making the noise and there in the garden of the new house, across the lane, was a big yellow Hi-Mac. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Not wanting to miss an opportunity I walked over and got talking to the Hi-Mac man. He agreed to do the job while he was in the area. It was a great relief.

When the clay was taken away from the walls water rushed out from under the house. 

 No wonder it was damp inside. Water had been trapped under the floors for years. The stone walls went well below floor level which was lucky. It meant we were able to place the drains under the level of the floors. There was an old drain running down the side of the garden to a stream. We had this opened up again and made a cutting from the new drains around the house into it. Thankfully the water seeped away.

We cleared the site while we had the Hi-Mac in, dug up old tree stumps and bushes and leveled the ground around the house. We also had a trench dug across the yard from the house to the newly erected ESB pole. We had to lay piping in this trench to hold the electric cable that would eventually supply the house with power. All this digging was done over the winter months. I had never experienced such muck. Black boggy clay stuck to my boots making them heavy to carry on my feet. Sometimes my boots would get stuck in the mud and I would feel my feet slipping out of them when I’d try to walk. I was glad when the time came to load the Hi-Mac onto its transportation trailer and watch it disappear out the lane.

In our innocence we believed the Hi-Mac man owned the Hi-Mac he was driving. We negotiated hours and price with him. When the first lot of digging was complete he gave us his hours and we paid him the agreed hourly rate. He then settled on a price with us to remove the surplus clay from the site. Again happy with the quote and the work, Pat met and paid him in full. However, totally out of the blue the Hi-Mac man phoned me one day looking for extra money. I told him I would have to talk to Pat.  Alarm bells should have rung but we just thought he was chancing his arm. Also we wanted him to finish up a few small jobs before he left, and as we were the blow-ins in the area—we didn’t want to fall out with a local man. Pat phoned him back and negotiated a price—much less than the original demand. He finished the work and was paid. This should have been the end of the story, however a week later we had a phone call from a complete stranger claiming to own the Hi-Mac. He wanted to know if we had paid the Hi-Mac man and how much we had paid. It transpired that he had done a runner with our money and had not turned up for work for over a week. We felt a bit stung—lesson learned we would be more careful in future.

It was late spring before we resumed work on the drains. The spring proved incredibly dry with record temperatures for April. All this helped dry up the ground around the basement and make it easier to work out our levels. We decided to lay a drainage pipe and also to stone the drain below and above the pipe. We used 20 millimeter stone. We laid the drainage pipe well below the floor level of the house with a fall to the drain we had cleaned out along the garden. 

We hope this is going to improve drainage around the house and the damp issues in the basement. Time will tell.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

The Yank's House - History

The Yank (James) Kenny and his wife Mary

 From the start I was enchanted by the house and I wanted to know everything about it. Questions were spinning round and round in my head. Who built it? When? Had it been a happy house? Had children lived here? Why had it been left to get into such bad repair?

Early on when we were cleaning out the house I had found an old bag on top of a wardrobe. Inside the bag was a brown envelope, containing documents headed ‘Land Registry of Ireland, Register of Freeholders’. These documents showed Mary Kenny as the owner of the property and burdens due to the Irish Land Commission, dated 18th March 1920. They also showed the ownership of the lands changing to the Doyle family, namely Charles and Elizabeth Doyle in 1945.

I asked Brendan, the gardener from Ardagh if he knew who had built the house or if he had ever heard of Mary Kenny. A few weeks later he phoned me, very excited, he had news. An old lady, once married to an uncle of Brendan’s, remembered people talking about James Kenny. She said he was a yank. He had built the house after he returned from America. This was the first mention of the Yank.  

At a guess I was pretty sure the house had been built in the eighteen hundreds, possibly after the famine. I wanted to narrow the date down better than this. My first port of call was the Ordinance Survey Office. I wanted to check any available old maps to see if the house was on them but when I called it was almost lunchtime and I was told the system goes down over lunch. However I did get a web address where I could pay online to view the first edition Ordinance Survey maps. On these maps I could pick out the site of the house. The old buildings in the yard were shown but not the new house.

My next port of call was the map library at Trinity College Dublin. Here there were maps dated later in the eighteen hundreds. But yet again there was no sign of the new house on these maps. However they suggested I check the records at the Valuation Office in the Irish Life Mall.

I called on a friend, Jim, who is interested in this kind of research to help. We spent a few lunch hours in the Valuation Office. Once we knew the town land we were able to locate the area on the maps and in the records books. This was very exciting. The Records showed the rates were paid by Patrick Kenny up to 1867 when James took over. Mary Kenny (widow) took over payments from 1891 at which time James must have died. There was also a later entry showing Mary’s name scratched out and replaced by James, probably a son, in 1938. But the most exciting entry of all was for 1884 when the records showed the rates on the house had gone up from £1.15.0 to £4.10.0—and in the column was an entry ‘New House’. Staff in the valuation office explained that this entry did not mean the house had been built in that year, only that it had been built prior to 1884. Often notification of a new house would be delayed to avoid paying the extra rates. Still I had narrowed the date down to between 1867 and 1884.

One evening I phoned Brendan, the gardener from Ardagh. I hoped he could recommend someone with a High Mac who might do some work around the site for us. Brendan was delighted to hear from me. He had lost my number. He told me he had found someone who loved the house as much as I did. After discovering a link between the Yank and a family living in the village, he had called to visit them ─ they told him the Yank had a Grandson. He gave me a phone number and said I was expected to call.       

That first phone call was very exciting. The Yank’s Grandson was called Gerard. He sounded lovely. He lived in Glasnevin, in Dublin. He remembered so much about the house and the family who lived there. He had spent many happy summer holidays there with his mother and brother. He told me his grandfather, James married local girl Mary Ward after he returned from America. Mary was only seventeen when she married the Yank. They had eight children, two girls Mary (Molly) and Gertrude and six boys, James, John, Tommy, Frank, Patrick and Bill. The Yank died around 1891 leaving Mary with a young family to rear on her own. She lived until 1934. James and John continued to work the farm for another ten years. But when John died leaving James alone on the farm he decided to sell. In 1945 James sold the farm to Charley and Lizzie Doyle and he moved to Cabra to live with Mary (Molly) and her family. Molly was Gerald’s mother. The family lost track of Gertrude over the years and the other boys all ended up in America. Gerard and his brother Seamus were the only grandchildren. None of the rest of the Yank’s family had any children.

Meeting Gerard was a real bonus. I had never expected to come face to face with the Yank’s grandson. One evening after work, Theresa my daughter and I called out to visit him. He was delighted to meet us. He had photos for us to look at and to my utter delight he had a small brown photo of his grandfather and grandmother, James and Mary. Here in my hand was a photo of the Yank. It brought his whole story to life for me. Gerard had never met his grandfather. He had died well before Gerard was born. But he remembered his grandmother and told us at age seven he had attended her funeral. He had very fond memories of his uncle James and the farm and house. Every summer he visits his friends in Ardagh and he always goes out to see the old house. He had been there in August and had seen the new roof. He promised to visit again next summer.