The Devil is in the Prep Work

While the actual sheetrock installation has yet to begin at Norris House, we thought we'd share a bit of the fun related to the finishing touches of installing walls.  Like everything else in home improvement, the prep work will make or break the quality of the final product.  Usually this is something time consuming but not necessarily super expensive, like properly applying painters' tape before trying to cut in against trim.  At Norris House, things are rarely in the category of the usual.

Clearly, Norris House is old.  It was also built in many additions done in varying degrees of craftsmanship, and sat vacant and unconditioned in the American South for several years.  All of that warp/rot we've documented to the exterior and structural members of the house was duplicated on a smaller scale in the interior.  It was visible to the trained eye, but when we actually got down to the business of measuring, the undulations of the ceiling framing/floor joists across the span of a single room varied up to three inches. 

Three inches doesn't sound like much, especially when it's in bits and chunks across a whole ceiling, but it matters tremendously when you're trying to attach sheetrock.  Sheetrock arrives in big, wide sections - sheets! - that can deal with a little variation on the surface to which it's attached.  It cannot handle deflections as large as ours were and still present as a smooth, single surface.  The solution?  Our team had to go back through and add little pieces of wood - of all varying thicknesses - to bring the wall and ceiling surfaces reasonably flush so that the sheetrock can lie flat and eventually look like a single smooth surface.  Clearly a super quick, effortless and inexpensive process, right?!


So why on earth was Norris House like this?  Quick answer: plaster is much more forgiving on a substrate than modern sheetrock.  Norris House originally had plaster ceilings and walls, and they were able to smooth and level the wet plaster at installation with no worries about deflections of 3" over the same span.  Over time there was very likely warping here, but plaster is an entirely different material.  At original construction, there was no pressure for the framing to be installed with same precision, because the plasterers would make up the difference in their work.