When we arrived, the farmhouse was classified as derelict. The consensus amongst the neighbours was that a bulldozer should be brought in and a new house constructed. The foundation was solid enough, but there were leaks and water damage. A combination wood/oil burning furnace in the dirt cellar was functional. The electricity was, shall we say, given to special effects when it worked at all. Some of the plumbing was recent and worked, however only a single sink was usable. A large vine was growing in the living room.
It gets better. A squatter known as "the cat-lady" had used the house for several years along with about three to four dozen cats. No one ever really knew how many. These cats were somewhat unusual in that they apparently were not house trained. In order to keep herself warm, the cat-lady used the wood burning capability of the furnace. After examining the contents of the ashes and finding hinges and doorknobs, the fate of all the inside doors became obvious. She also burned all the spindles from the staircase. Large heaps of clothes and other less identifiable detritus were in every room. It was, in a word, scary.
The first order of business was to clear the space, and the air. Much of the debris was sufficiently rotten that it could simply be shoveled out. The scientist and the marine wanted to make inquiries about the use of flamethrowers. Many of the upstairs rooms had been subdivided with cheap (as if there is any other kind) beaverboard. Shoddy add-ons were prevalent throughout the house. A dumpster was rented. We got the largest size available. Out came the beaverboard. Out came the walls that weren't original. Out came the add-ons, the quick-fixes, the goo and the refuse. Three dumpsters later, the house began to make creaking noises as it shifted in response to the dramatically reduced load on the structure. If that sounds unlikely, consider that many of the walls were filled with a concrete-like plaster. I didn't say they had plaster surfaces. There was four real inches of space between the lathe, and it was completely filled with this stuff. The lathe itself was made of 1 inch square strips of wood.
Yep. 1 inch square.
This was a project for the weekends. We still lived in the city at this point. We could hardly have lived in the farmhouse. Toilet facilities were about 2-3 miles away by car and there was no provision for bathing. We had confirmed that the well was functional and that the water was potable. Water tests from the local lab indicated that it was safe enough, but the people in the lab didn't have to look at the sink and tap.
So, our situation was that we had a gutted structure with heat. After a fashion, we had electricity and some water. Windows were fixed, boarded up, or covered with plastic to prevent any more water damage. At this point we began to lock the doors. This greatly amused our neighbours. However, we were concerned about children and teenagers using the place as a hang out.
Now we had to start rebuilding. As mentioned above, the walls were of somewhat unusual construction. Digging into the walls to run the various services wasn't really an option. For one thing, the foundations were made of boulders mortared together. Also, the walls were solid, air-tight and sound-proof, but they conducted heat far too well. A layer of insulation was required in order to prevent a spike in the price of Brent Sweet Crude oil. Considering all of this, it became apparent that the best solution was to build a new framework within the house. All of the outside walls were covered with new walls. A house within a house, if you will. It was of standard design. That is, it was two by fours, ductwork, wires, plumbing, insulation, vapour barriers and drywall.
The result of the Great Wall of Northumberland was window sills that are about a foot deep in most places. Sound proofing is better than excellent. Actually, it's a problem. Dump trucks can come and go without our noticing them, unless they cause a lot of vibration.
With an old toilet and bathtub installed by the plumber and the addition of insulation, it became possible to comfortably (and affordably) inhabit the house from time to time. There were still problems. The only working electrical outlet on the ground floor was in a recently added dividing wall that we had removed. Consequently, our power came from a metal outlet box that dangled from the ceiling on its own wire. We were fearful of trying to run too much power through this outlet, so we didn't attach a power bar. This meant that we only had two plugs. One was for a tall lamp that lit the room at night. So, it was either television or heating dinner, but not both at the same time. And so on.
Once the studs for the new walls were in place, we could pull new wires for electricity. After passing inspection and having the electrician connect the lines to a new power box, we had all the necessary infrastructure. All of this infrastructure work took about a year to do everything by ourselves on the weekends.
Twelve Years Later
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