Skip to content

Beam Us Up!

Re-configuring an old farm house to create modern living spaces isn’t particularly the easiest thing to do.  Old houses were built differently, and were not set up to provide the open concept living that most folks like to see these days.  Harrop House started life in the 1890’s as a sawmill bunkhouse, spent time as a general store, and as a post office.

The house was built using ‘Balloon Framing’  which means the outside vertical studs run continuously all the way from the foundation to the second floor roof line, about 16 feet tall.  The joists that support the second floor were (in the 1890’s) simply nailed onto the sides of the studs, which means that really there are a total of about 40 large nails holding up the entire 20’x24′ second floor. It’s a bit of a trampoline.  While I might be able to get behind the idea of the master bedroom being a big bouncy castle, in order to open up the living space below we would have to remove the interior walls, which would cause the castle to deflate, ruining all of the fun.

Ten men building a balloon frame house, Omaha Reservation, Nebraska, 1877. Note the wall studs go all the way up to the roof. The floor joists attach to a “sole plate” supported by the foundation piers. The attic floor joists are supported by a “ribbon” or ledger board attached to the inside surfaces of the side wall studs. The diagonals are temporary supports. A stack of siding or floorboards is in the foreground.
Ten men building a balloon frame house, Omaha Reservation, Nebraska, 1877. Note the wall studs go all the way up to the roof. The floor joists attach to a “sole plate” supported by the foundation piers. The attic floor joists are supported by a “ribbon” or ledger board attached to the inside surfaces of the side wall studs. The diagonals are temporary supports. A stack of siding or floorboards is in the foreground. I found this photo and description online, it closely resembles what the building of Harrop House would have looked like in the 1890’s. Except Harrop House does not have a “ribbon”, the upstairs joists are just nailed to the studs. Photo by William Henry Jackson; The National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

To remove the interior wall, and open the exterior wall and enclose the screened porch,  we needed to have 2 large beams spec’d to carry all of the upstairs load, and the load of the existing roof as well as the new one over the porch area that will become the kitchen.

Selkirk Truss did the engineering for us for free when we purchased the beams, and provided the appropriate paperwork to the inspectors, who confirmed the footing sizes required for the posts that will hold the beams.

Once again, Benjamin from the Last House Standing and his associate Wade helped out, assisting me to get the beams in place.  First to go up was the interior beam, which was relatively easy to organize, it arrived in three plys, and we were able to put them up one by one by simply lifting them into place.

©HarropHouse_com-AD0216_00378
Wade from the The Last House Standing muscles one of the LVL beam plys into place

The exterior beam on the other hand was a bit of a monster, it arrived in one gigantic 7″ x 18″ x 26′ piece that weighed over 1000 pounds. We had to put it 12 feet in the air.  We used ramps, levers, and pulleys, and just about every other thing you would learn in a high school physics class to get it up the wall.

Ben & Wade contemplate how to raise the monster beam
Ben & Wade contemplate how to raise the monster beam
  • first we used levers to roll it close to the house
  • we built some ramps, and used the same levers to slide it up to about waist height
  • we used 2 – 2 ton hand winches as a safety so it wouldn’t slide back and crush us
  • one of the winches was used to tilt it up onto the skinny side
  • a 4 ton bottle jack helped to lift the end as we maneuvered it onto two adjustable jack posts placed in the middle third of the beam
  • we added 2 safety cages made from lumber to prevent the beam from rolling off the jack posts
  • then, with a winch in the middle for safety, we alternately lifted each end a few inches at a time, and raised the corresponding post, rocking the beam gently until the it was high enough to slide onto the top of the posts.

We took everything nice and slow, making sure to stay safe, and avoid disasters. When the beam reached the top of the posts, it practically jumped right into place. Like it was finding it’s destiny. It wanted to be there. It was really rather satisfying to watch.  Thrilled with our success, we all went home at 10:00 at night!

Here’s about 3 hours of work in 90 seconds.

Some photos of the process.  Excellent photography by Kristie 🙂

2 Comments

  1. Chuck Thibeault Chuck Thibeault

    Love the time lapse. and the updates are great. Looks like it is coming along swimmingly.

  2. A & B Hendrickson A & B Hendrickson

    We are enjoying your journey. Having had the experience of working on a 1889 frame home, not that dissimilar in construction, and then later working with a 1896 Queen Anne Victorian frame house, your journal is bringing back those “joyful moments” for us once again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *