Jacking Up the Ceiling

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Do-it-yourself members of Washington’s Congressional family are eying a job few others would dare tackle without expert advice: Raising a ceiling. Nervous neighbors are raising the roof.

“This isn’t a project for amateurs,” says Timmy Taxpayer, who lives near the dome-like white home in Washington DC where the construction may take place later this summer. “I don’t think anyone over there has ever held a hammer.”

Mr. Taxpayer has been putting up a stink because he’s worried the damage from lifting the ceiling could be catastrophic. Engineers agree his concern is real. They describe the present structure as standard post and beam design, in which upright posts hold up beams, which in turn hold up the roof. The posts must be sturdy enough to stand strong under the burden of the beams. The beams, in turn, have to bear the weight of the load resting on them.

The process of raising the ceiling can weaken the entire roof assembly if the work is not properly done, and make the whole thing unstable and potentially unable to withstand outside forces, such as the extra weight of snow and ice caused by inclement weather.

Experts say the fears of collapse are overblown, and that the Congressional family is an old hand at jacking up ceilings, having done the same job in every house they’ve owned over the years. Besides, they say, there’s really no other choice. The ceiling is simply too low for comfort.

The Congressional family itself appears to be split into two factions over raising the ceiling, though that impression may be mistaken. When contacted about the controversy, a member who called himself “Speaker” said cheerfully, “We know exactly what we’re going to do. We just have to figure out how to put the screws in.”

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