Serious Charring

I learned about arson under the common law again last winter when I studied for the Arkansas bar exam. Arson required “the malicious and willful burning of the house of another.” (Lots of picky bar exam questions can come from that.) Burning meant an actual ignition of the structure. In other words, charring* was required, not mere scorching. I don’t yet know the source of the fire, but we have serious charring in our house.

Don took out the ceiling in the back room in Apartment 2 on Monday and Tuesday. POs had removed all the plaster from the lath in the ceiling and put in ceiling tiles in about 1997. (How can I date it so precisely? The ceiling tiles were date-stamped.) The fire we had heard about (sometime in the 1950s) reached back there so the addition pre-dates the fire. We can see ceiling joists sistered to the scorched ones. And not a lick of insulation. (The joists you can’t see clearly are the scorched ones. Look at the wall between the back room and the living room. Very scorched.)

Back room ceiling during demolition 1997 Ceiling Tiles Back room charring

He’s also removed the ceiling tiles in the living room, most of the subfloor tongue-and-groove planks** that were used as furring strips for the ceiling tiles, and a lot of the plaster and lath. (Demolition is complicated by having the salvaged flooring and tub in the living room.) The ceiling plaster looked pretty bad in the living room, too, but the fire doesn’t seem to have made its way into the living room. The wall between the back room and the living room is to the right in this picture.

Living room ceiling

He stripped a bit of trim around a window and baseboard in the living room, and stair railing, newel post, and stair treads in the foyer. Looks like pine everywhere, doesn’t it? Shucks. We were hoping for a little oak.

Stair tread Silent paint remover Newel postRailing

Our neighbor’s dumpster left early Monday morning and we are struggling with whether to get one before Christmas. If we do, it will be an invitation to the world to fill it up with Christmas debris. If we don’t, we will be handling our house debris at least twice — doubling our work. Wonder if we could fill one before Christmas, and order a second one in January after the Christmas rush?

Debris Back room debris

[Pause to call Don]

That’s what we will do. Dumpster comes Thursday. If we get close to Christmas Eve, and it still isn’t full, then we’ll think about hiring out some demolition help.

*The word char dates to 1679, and is a back formation of the word charcoal (1340), which (rougly) means turning to coal. Charring rhymes with barring, jarring, marring, scarring, sparring, starring, and tarring so …

  • The uncovered joists showed charring,
  • which was jarring
  • to me. Sistered joists marring
  • my honeymoon vision, scarring
  • forever with their charcoal tarring.

Not bad for 60 seconds. Can you use the other words: barring, sparring, and starring?

**The POs who converted the house into a five-flat owned a flooring company. I assume these were seconds. They are brittle and impossible to denail.

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2 Responses to “Serious Charring”

  1. Amalie says:

    I’m such a pine fanatic now– when I found out that the grade used for painting in these Arts & Crafts houses is better than the grade we use for staining now and that it’s largely irreplaceable, I completely fell in love. I especially love how straight the grain is in the good stuff and how much it reddens naturally. I guess because I’ve always lived in houses with oak floors and their swirly grain, the straightness was such a novelty.

    We really wanted to stain our trim, but it looks like it was originally painted. I don’t care how hard old pine is, it’s still porous and I have a feeling that the soaked in paint isn’t going anywhere. A project for next summer…

  2. [...] get closer. Yep, that’s charcoal all right. I recognize it from the fire that went up through the middle of the house sometime in the [...]

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