On Saturday came the last anticipated removal of a plaster ceiling at our house. We have long decided not to extensively gut the house. For one thing, the plaster is remarkably intact and has escaped the major water infiltration that typically dooms it to to the wrecking bar. For another thing, the amount of waste created by gutting gives us pause. Without a clear need for gutting save perfection, the whole deal seems wasteful. Hence, we have only removed three historic plaster ceilings. Season rehabbers can probably guess where these three ceilings are located: under each staircase.
With staircases, gutting is necessity. The bowing of masonry walls leads to the movement of stair stringers tied into those walls. Inevitably, the shims keeping treads and risers tight in their pockets fall and the stairs begin to creak, moan and slip. The only option decades later is to remove the ceilings below and undertake extensive staircase repairs involving shimming the stringers to tighten up the pockets, and then fitting the treads and risers with new shims to keep them snug.
With the first staircase, we had to remove every tread and every riser to rebuild. With the other two, we anticipate easier jobs without as much work. Later, I will post details of the work. For now, rest assured that part of me is ecstatic to have done the final gutting of a plaster ceiling here. Gone are the inevitable scrapes of skin quickly filled with stinging lime; gone are the particles that get past even the best respirator. Gone too is the quick swig of beer to force dust into the digestive system and out of the respiratory.
At least, such moments are gone at this building. With every pry of a lath comes the maddening delusion that the work isn’t so bad and that one can do it again and agian until the whole city is rehabbed.