New York Townhouse Renovation

Surprises while Renovating a Townhouse

(Last Updated On: November 23, 2018)

When doing any kind of renovation you can always encounter surprises some good some bad. In a landmarked townhouse we worked on we encountered both. This project is an interior renovation of a 100 year old Landmarked Townhouse on the Upper West Side Of Manhattan located half a block from Central Park.


Townhouse Renovation

A little background on the building, it is approximately 100 years old, it is landmarked, it had gone through several significant renovations previously and unknown to us there had been a fire in the building in the late 70s early 80s according to the neighbor’s account (we will get back to the fire). So we redesigned the interiors, we got landmarks approval, we got DOB approval and started work.


Townhouse Renovation Surprises

A Good surprise while Renovating a Townhouse

The general contractor was removing all of the interior plaster from the walls down to the brick. When he removed the plaster on the wall facing the street we found an interesting surprise. An original stained glass window with original wood frame in almost perfect condition. See photo above. This was a 100 year old window. What we had discovered was that the original brick facade had been cover with stucco at some point covering the window from the outside They then covered it with lath and plaster on the inside. We assume this work was done when the front stoop had been removed many years ago, although we can only speculate why the window was covered on both sides. This was a great find and the homeowner was certainly exited about it.

A Bad surprise while Renovating a Townhouse

Unfortunately we had a bad surprise during the Townhouse Renovation. We found some structural problems. The contractor removed all the plaster from the ceilings and we discovered there had been a fire at some point in the building. The new owner was very upset about this as he was not informed when he purchased the property. He asked around and found one of the neighbors who had been living next door for many years. The neighbor said she remembered there being a small fire at one point around the late 70s early 80s. See the picture of burnt structural joists.

Townhouse Renovation fire damage

Townhouse Renovation Fire Damage Joists

Fire damage repair is serious business and needs to be handled properly. These bunt joists are a problem and would either need to be removed and replaced or sistered. Sistering joists is when you put a new joist next to an old joist as additional support and bolt them together. This is the solution we used here. Also there were a few joists we believe were replaced after the fire because they are not the same size as the rest of the joists causing the floor above to be severally unlevel. Additionally we found one joist that had a large structural crack and needed to be sistered as well.

Townhouse split joists

Townhouse Renovation split joists

Townhouse Renovation Structural Repair

Since we were going to do the structural work we took the opportunity to correct a dip in the floor at the burnt joist location. This is done by jacking the existing joists up before connecting it to the new joist. Now you want to be careful when you do this. As Newton’s third law states “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” The joists above need to be jacked but the floor below was a wood joist floor. If we put the jacks on the floor an push upward we are also pushing equally downward. This could cause new structural damage and possible a very hazardous condition. So how do you jack a floor without deflecting the floor below? You install a new temporary beam. See the picture labeled temporary joist for jack.

Townhouse Structural Repair

Temporary beam for jack


Once the Temporary beam was installed we could use that as a base for the jack. We didn’t care how much we bent that beam because it isn’t going to stay. We made new beam pockets in the wall for the temporary supports. The beam pocket was later refilled with bricks. We kept all the bricks that where removed. We also made new beam pockets for the new permanent joists. When the new joists were installed we bolted them to the existing joists. See the final product below.

Townhouse Joist repair

New sistered joists in the townhouse renovation

Always Plan Ahead for Contingencies when Renovating a Townhouse or any renovation.

Sometimes you find interesting fun things during a renovation like a 100 year old stained glass window and sometimes you can find structural damage. Either way there are always surprises when renovating especially on a 100 year old NY Townhouse Renovation. These can bring unforeseen expense to any budget. It is always a good idea to have anywhere up to an additional 15% to 20% of the job’s budget set aside for extras.


Thank You for reading our blog post on Townhouse Renovations.

I hope this was helpful. If you want to discuss a specific project with an architect please feel free to Contact Fontan Architecture. We will be happy to help. You may want to learn more about Townhouse Architectural services or learn more about our New York Architecture Firm.


New York Architects, Jorge Fontan

Author Jorge Fontan AIA

This post was written by Jorge Fontan, a Registered Architect and owner of Fontan Architecture.

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