Resources for Historic Homeowners

John Leeke's Historic HomeWorks™ Question & Answer Column

#22 Sound Control

"We're in the process of restoring and renovating a 100+ year old house into a B&B. We need to sound-proof the rooms (for obvious reasons...), and we have heard of a product like drywall, but was a sound proofing type of material. Are you familiar with this?" -- Mark & Wanda Johnson, Westcliffe, Colorado

Of the traditional materials, sand plaster has very good sound reduction qualities because it has a higher density and more mass compared to modern materials such as gypsum wallboard. If you are taking out plaster in your renovation, you could put sand plaster back in. You might add a layer of traditional sand plaster using a method called "back plastering." A layer of lath and plaster is added between the studs of the wall, within the stud-space.

Modern remodeling systems for sound control include adding high-density insulation to the inner wall space, such as dense-pack blown-in cellulose which can be done with little damage to existing plaster and finishes. Another high-density alternative would be adding cement-board, commonly used in bathrooms around the shower. There are systems of special hardware to hold the edges of the panels in a channel that dampens some of the sound vibrations of the panels.

House Moving

"I recently purchased an old wood frame house (40-60 years old) to be moved to my ranch property in Texas. The house is in good condition for a house that has been abandoned and vacant for more than 20 years. My question is what advise would you give me to help with the restoration of this house?"

I commend you for planning to save this old house. Here are a few important issues and tips:

1. Consider carefully where you will situate the house in its new location. Houses were built in certain places for specific practical reasons: perhaps in a hollow or behind a bluff to avoid the wind, or on a rise of higher land to avoid underground water, or next to a gulch where there was water for the stock. Talk with neighboring ranchers about why their houses are situated as they are. Take a look around. Are other houses of this age and type right up next to the road, or way back in the middle of the section. As you decide where to place your house consider the practical reasons, like avoiding water and historic reasons like next to the gulch even if the gulch is now dry.

2. Texas is notorious for its shifting soil which destroys foundations and damages buildings. Build a strong foundation that takes your particular soil type into consideration. Hire a joy-technical engineer who knows the local soils to design and supervise the construction of your foundation. Measure twice, build once. In the last month I have heard of three house moving projects where the foundation was built several inches too big or small, or exactly square when the house was not anywhere near square.

3. Hire an experienced house mover. By experienced I mean one that has moved at least a hundred houses. Nothing will spoil your plans quicker that your house ending up as a heap of sticks and splinters along a roadside ditch. A good mover can move the house, brick chimneys, and all with out even cracking the plaster. Visit the last 10 projects of your selected mover and talk with the owners, foundation builders and carpenters who placed the house.

4. Take time to get to know your house. Study the history of your house. Get to know the people who built it and who lived in it through the years. Once you get the house situated on it's new foundation and the utilities connected, take a break. If you must, do just enough to make a room or two livable, then live in the house for a year or two before renovating the whole place. You may find that you have to do less than you first thought. You will discover features and details that are worth saving, but which would have been ripped out and thrown away during a big initial renovation.

Column Bases

"We were wondering if we should replace the base of our column because of rotting wood or rebuild the section with epoxy?"

Porch column bases made of wood are often attacked by fungal decay because moisture builds up deep within the wood. Chisel out the soft decayed wood back to sound wood to determine the extent of the damage. If the rotten section of wood is small, say less that six cubic inches, near the surface and there is sound wood beneath the decay, then an epoxy/wood repair can make sense. First the wood must dry out, which can take a few to several weeks. Epoxy consolidants are thick syrupy liquids that cure to form a flexible plastic. Soak the repair area with liquid epoxy consolidant to stabilize and prime the wood surfaces. Then fill the void with epoxy paste filler, which is the consistency of mashed potatoes. It cures to form a solid mass that can be shaped to match the surrounding wood with ordinary woodworking tools.

If the decay runs deep into the column base, or if it is larger that six cubic inches you have a more serious situation. Repair or replacement of column base parts should be done by a contractor with plenty of old house structural experience. Be sure to locate and eliminate the source of moisture that caused the decay, or your column bases will just continue to decay. If you cannot control the moisture consider replacing the wood bases with ones made of aluminum.


John Leeke is a preservation consultant who helps homeowners, contractors and architects understand and maintain their historic buildings. You can contact him at 26 Higgins St., Portland, Maine, 04103; or by E-mail:; or log onto his website at:

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