A Physician’s Guide to Sanitation – Part 2

An old house is apt to be damp and out of repair. The back yard should be kept neat and sightly, and should not be made a dumping-ground for rubbish and litter of all sorts. A good veranda is equivalent to another living-room. Every dwelling should have a cellar to contain the heating-apparatus, store fuel, and for comfort’s sake.

Click here if you missed Part 1.

Old and New Houses

An old house is apt to be damp and out of repair; yet if the frame is solid it may be enlarged to advantage. Alterations, however, are usually costly. In such buildings one should beware of disused cesspools, old wall-papers, and damp cellars, and thoroughly fumigate and whitewash as a precaution. New buildings shrink as the woodwork dries, and cracks are caused by settling. Tons of water may be used in making mortar, and this water must evaporate before the building is dry. The old proverb is wise: “The first year for your enemies, the second for your friends, the third for yourself.”

The Back Yard

The back yard should be kept neat and sightly, and should not be made a dumping-ground for rubbish and litter of all sorts. Low spots that collect rain should be filled up and sodded; and vines and at least a few flowers and shrubs should be planted to give a pleasant outlook. Garbage should be removed systematically, and should be kept in tightly covered cans until taken away. Tea leaves, potato peelings, bones and similar scraps can be burned in small quantities under the grate-bars of the kitchen stove without causing any odor, and give as good results as the patent carbonizers attached to smoke pipes.


Many people nowadays not only take their meals out of doors in fair weather, but even sleep there. A good veranda is therefore equivalent to another living-room. If enclosed with glass at one end it makes a sun-parlor or conservatory. Most plans for country houses fail for lack of a good kitchen porch where servants can prepare vegetables and sit between meals and on pleasant evenings.


Thoreau says in his Walden, or Life in the Woods: “The house is still but a sort of porch at the entrance of a burrow.” Primitive man dwelt in caves, and the first colonial dwellings were simply holes in the ground, roofed over like the sod houses in the West. In former days houses had no cellars, but were built directly upon the ground and banked all around with manure in winter for warmth. A hole was dug in the side-hill, and walled in to store roots and vegetables, while a spring house or the well served as a refrigerator. Every dwelling should have a cellar to contain the heating-apparatus, store fuel, and for comfort’s sake. The cellar should have windows on opposite sides which can be opened in all kinds of weather for ventilation. Coal-bins should not be so high as to obstruct free circulation of air. Cellar walls should be whitewashed every spring and fall, and the ceiling should be plastered and all openings for soil- and waste-pipes closed with cement to prevent cellar air from entering living-rooms. The floor should be covered with six inches of broken stone, over which should be laid three inches of Portland cement. This will prevent “sweating,” which would result if the cement were laid directly upon the cold ground. The cellar drain should not connect with the house drain unless there is an intercepting trap fed from some certain source of supply, such as a refrigerator waste-pipe, or tank overflow, or a back-pressure valve trap to prevent sewage from backing up and flooding the cellar. It is not desirable to locate plumbing fixtures in cellars, as they are apt to be neglected so that their traps dry out. Ashes and garbage should never be stored in cellars. Refrigerators should not connect direct with the house drain, but should empty into a metal pan or into a sink in the cellar.

To be continued….

  • From The Standard Family Physician: A Practical International Encyclopedia of Medicine and Hygiene Especially Prepared for the Household. Copyright 1907 by Funk & Wagnalls.

The Sandwich Approach

The best tool for cleaning gutters, advanced drainage solutions, our first plumbing problem, lock picking, and lead paint.

My poor little brain is still drowning in ideas (or lack thereof) of what to do with the Mulberry House. Should we keep it as a 1-bedroom or add a second bedroom? And then should we also add a second bathroom? And should this be done by way of an addition or just rearranging a few walls? And should we try to expose the old chimney? Should we get all new kitchen cabinets and counter tops or should we just paint the old ones? Will there be old hardwood floors under the fancy kitchen linoleum and if so will they be salvageable and if not, what kind of floors should we put in there?

But alas, I’m getting too far ahead of myself. Before thinking too much about the fun stuff, I need to make sure we have a sound structure to begin with. And I need to get that 1319 pound gun safe out of the kitchen. And the boat off the driveway – did I mention the boat? That was last registered in 2001?

The previous owners of both objects apparently want them and promise to retrieve them soon so …. we’ll see.

But back to the structure. Let me explain the sandwich approach to renovating old homes: you start with the roof and make sure it’s not leaking, then focus on the foundation to make sure it’s solid, then focus on everything in between.

The roof is great. It apparently got new shingles maybe 5 years ago… maybe a little longer, but they’re in great condition. The gutters needed a little cleaning as there was a garden growing in them so I spent some time doing that, but it’s not super fun to sit on a dark roof in 100 degree sun.

Cleaning gutters with a spatula

In related news, a spatula is a great tool for cleaning out your gutters. So I’ll keep working on that next week and hopefully get all the gutters and downspouts cleaned out. And then the next part is the drainage on the ground.

I’m kicking myself for not having a good picture of this so let me draw you a picture.

As you can see, the grey gutters catch the water from the roof. It is then funneled down the grey downspouts into the black corrugated drainpipes. The black pipes then carry the water along the front of the house, turn the corner, and then dump the water into the foundation on the sides of the house. I believe that the gap in black pipe in the middle is supposed to collect runoff from the front walk and redirect it to the sides of the foundation as well.

Creative drainage solutions

This is a closeup of the front walk flanked with black pipes. Of course the reality is that these pipes are most likely completely clogged, but even if they weren’t, water from the front yard is all going to drain straight into the foundation. And this advanced drainage solution, even in perfect condition, is just deflecting which part of the foundation the water enters through.

So another “sooner than later” project (once I get all the gutters and downspouts and drainage pipes cleaned out) will be to move the drainage pipe exit locations such that the water flows away from the house.

The home inspection noted that “the crawlspace area has been subjected to prolonged exposure to excessive moisture conditions” but didn’t note any wood rot or decay. My updated drainage solution will hopefully be a big first step to help manage the moisture in the crawlspace.

Step two in crawlspace moisture management will be the installation of a vapor barrier (basically a giant sheet of plastic that sits on the crawlspace floor and against the walls to keep water out). I met with four different crawlspace / waterproofing / air quality specialists to get recommendations and estimates. The recommendations and estimates I got ranged from $707 for a 6 mill vapor barrier to $8021 for a french drain, sump pump, dehumidifier, new electrical outlets, and completely sealing the crawlspace. The other two estimates came in at $2666 and $3478 for mold remediation and a 10 mill vapor barrier. So it’s quite the range. Andrew’s trying to convince me we should deal with any present mold ourselves and then just spend $700-1200 on the vapor barrier.

So there might be more of this crawlspace outfit in my future:

But before we even do that, there’s a third step in crawlspace moisture management, which we’re actually going to deal with first.

The picture further up, with the puddle in the crawlspace, is actually a result of this. It’s a pipe that just ends, wide open, and gushes water as soon as the main water is turned on. Thankfully the water has been shut off for four years or the house would have floated away by now.

We think this pipe used to lead to the washing machine but it’s unclear why it no longer does. So I’m having a plumber come out today to just cap it so we can have running water until we figure out what other plumbing issues we need resolved (there are several) and want to change.

Running water is nice on 100 degree days and also when you have a bladder as tiny as mine.

The electricity has been on for all these years and we were happy to learn that the air conditioner works, though we’ve only gotten the house down to 74F so I’m not sure how well it works. And Andrew reassembled the refrigerator which also appears to work, though we’re not sure how well as it didn’t make a ton of sense to leave it running with no one living there.

Andrew also unsuccessfully worked at picking the lock to the storage shed.

I trimmed a bunch of trees and bushes to keep them off the house and out of the way and managed to fill eight bags with branches and leaves. Exciting work, I know.

And to end things on a fun note, I tested the paint for lead.

Lead paint test

It’s super easy. Basically like a pregnancy test. You get this little stick, crush point A and B, shake it, squeeze lightly until yellow juice appears on the tip, rub and squeeze against the test surface. If it turns red, you’re pregnant.

Lead paint positive

And of course it’s lead. If it just stayed hidden under two other layers of paint, it would have been fine, but unfortunately the newer paint has been peeling off the walls, exposing the lead paint. And in order to get the wall smooth enough to repaint, I’m inevitably going to release particles of lead dust into the air if I’m not careful. It’s not a huge deal but I’ll have to be more careful about making sure that everything stays wet while I work, which will cause the lead dust to fall to the ground rather than floating in the air. And I’ll have to always work with a mask and other protective clothing.

Or we can just paint everything this color and hope no one notices how uneven the layers of paint are: