There are a few drawbacks to living in a house while you remodel it. It takes longer, it’s more complicated, and you often have to spend time on temporary solutions to keep things operational. In this case, the water heater and laundry in the basement needed to be moved up to the first floor so the basement dig out can continue.

Basement water heater and laundry

Basement water heater and laundry

We installed the water heater back in August of 2013. At the time we were getting everything disconnected from the chimney so we could redo the subfloor on the first floor. When we decided to do things the right way and do the basement first, we had to reshuffle things. We considered disconnecting everything and moving out for a few months, but instead we just moved the water heater to the first floor temporarily and rerouted the plumbing. I even managed to hook up the laundry, so we don’t have to go to the laundromat for the next several months.

Relocated to first floor

Relocated to first floor

Getting gas, electric, water, and venting run was a task, but I simplified it by using PEX tubing and quick connect fittings for the plumbing. PEX isn’t code in Chicago, but this isn’t permanent so I’m not too worried about it. Once the new basement floor is done we can move it all back into the basement. I took off a few days from work this week and got everything set up on the first floor for about $150 in materials. The whole house water filter had to get disconnected, but because of how we plumbed it we were able to just bypass it with a few valve turns.

The next step was to fix the drainage. The long-gone basement bathroom had been badly spliced in where the cast iron stack connected to the vitrified clay sewer line. I repaired that connection with a section of PVC and a rubber gasket. I had to cut out the cast iron and the broken clay. I did both with a diamond grit reciprocating saw bit. Don’t waste your time on the carbide bit. That thing is crap, just spend the extra few dollars. Once that connection was made, I redirected the drain from the kitchen (and laundry) into the main sewer instead of the collapsed line that goes to the catch basin and backs up all the time. When we replace the underground sewer line this will get changed again, but for the time being we don’t have water all over the floor and noxious sewer gas leaking in the basement, which is nice.

Everything removed

Everything relocated

Finally, with everything moved and rerouted, I took up the last section of concrete floor.

Concrete removed

Concrete removed

Now we can finish the dig out! We have nine days left with the mini-excavator before our month is up and we have to return it, so we’ve got to press on and get this thing done! It’s looking like one more dumpster after this one should finish things up, or roughly 2 concrete dumpsters and 4 dirt dumpsters total (plus the 2 debris dumpsters from the garage and back porch demo). It’s been a busy Spring.

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Ramp to basement

Ramp to basement

I’ve got this great new workout you should try; it’s called “pushing wheelbarrows full of clay up a steep ramp”. In the last two weeks we’ve filled two 10-yard heavy debris dumpsters, emphasis on the heavy. Tomorrow they swap the full dumpster for an empty one and it starts again, so this is basically our day off. We’re getting one per week and I expect that to continue for the next couple weeks.

Second dumpster filled

Second dumpster filled

Our original wheel barrow was old when we got it and was not up to the rigors of this project.  The bucket tore loose from the frame and we set it aside. Sarah’s dad lent us his wheelbarrow, but it’s looking a little crooked these days. Sarah bought two new wheelbarrows, and between the three we’ve been putting them to use. I hauled 30 loads in two hours Saturday evening. I’d guess each dumpster is about 150 loads, since we can only fill the wheelbarrows about half-full and still push them up the basement ramp. The ramps are working well, though the one up from the basement is the tough one, especially when it gets slick from the rain and mud. The ramp I built to get up to the top of the dumpsters is great, though. That was time well spent.

Digger and wheelbarrows

Digger and wheelbarrows

The digger (mini excavator) has proven its worth too. Every time we grab a shovel to manually dig around the footings we’re given a taste of what the task would have been like without it, and it’s just awful. Digging with the backhoe on the other hand is a breeze. Hauling up bucketfuls of heavy clay, the hardest part is dropping clods into the wheelbarrows without knocking them over (especially the crooked one) and not digging too deep. I used my laser level to confirm the footings are pretty consistent in height, so we just need to dig even with the bottom of them, about 14 inches total.

Excavation

Excavation

Looking forward, we’ve gotten about a third of the dirt removed. With the dumpster we get tomorrow we can get most of the next third removed. That means it will be time to move the water heater and the laundry upstairs so we can pull up the last section of concrete floor. I’m taking off some time from work next week to get that done as well as level what we’ve dug so far. Our goal is to finish with the digger by the weekend after Memorial Day, which includes digging out the new back steps. May’s looking pretty busy!

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Loading dumpster

Loading dumpster

It’s time to start digging out the basement! We got the first heavy debris dumpster in and last week I took out the concrete back steps leading out of the basement with a sledge and the rotary hammer so we can make a ramp. I used the concrete saw to cut out a section of patio at the top of the stairs to make the ramp more gradual, then put in a section of shingled plywood from the garage roof so we could start bringing wheel barrows up.

We got the leftover concrete that didn’t fit in the previous dumpster loaded, along with the pile of bricks and dirt that I’d pulled up by hand. Just that was enough to fill the dumpster to the point that we had to close the door. Then we started using the ramp and platform I built to dump full wheelbarrows into the dumpster.

Mini excavator

Mini excavator

Saturday I picked up the tool that will help make the dig out just a bit easier: a mini excavator. After a quick review of a Youtube video for a similar model, we got the excavator into the basement (I wound up having to take the door jam off) and started digging. The bottleneck is definitely the wheelbarrows. The excavator can fill a wheelbarrow in two buckets, so it took some practice before we worked out a solid system for working efficiently. About the time we’d worked it out, the first dumpster was full and we had to stop.

While we wait for the next dumpster I’ll start clearing out the footings along the wall and get our depth figured out. Up to this point we’ve been winging it, and we don’t want to go too deep! Using the excavator is fun, but I’m still sore from pushing all the wheel barrows of dirt up the ramp. We’re expecting to have three or four dumpsters all told, so this process will probably eat up the better part of a month.

Starting to fill

Starting to fill

Following our back porch and garage demo, Sarah cleared a path in the back yard and last Friday the dumpster was delivered for all the debris. Unfortunately, even with careful loading and help from Dean we couldn’t fit everything in. Tuesday they swapped the full 30 yard dumpster for an empty 15 yard so we could get the rest of the debris cleared out.

Filled to the top

Filled to the top and getting picked up

Before loading the second dumpster, I harvested some of the materials to build a ramp. Our previous experience with heavy debris dumpsters has made it clear that we need a better way to dump full wheelbarrows of concrete and dirt. For the first half of loading, the door of the dumpster is open and it’s pretty straightforward, but after the dumpster starts to fill and the door is closed, it’s not so simple. Previously we wound up using buckets or in the case of concrete, unloading by hand. But building a ramp makes the whole process much easier, and since we’re going to have at least three full dumpsters of heavy clay, it’s worth doing.

Ramp design

Ramp design

After a bit of brainstorming the simplest way to make a ramp that would stand up to load after load of heavy wheelbarrows, I settled on a design and drew it in Sketchup, using the measurements of all the pieces from my drawing to make a part list. I picked out 2x6s of the appropriate size from the garage pile and cut them per plan and then assembled the thing. It actually worked out really well and I got the whole thing done in a couple hours.

Completed Ramp (also Derek)

Completed Ramp (also Derek)

The second half of the ramp is a level platform to make it easier to turn the wheel barrow and dump it in. I didn’t bother with Sketchup because it was all right angles. I just cut a stack of boards and then screwed it together. The tops of the ramp and platform are sections of roof from the garage. The idea is that the shingles will make it easier to get traction with the wheel barrow, especially since it will probably get pretty muddy. We also kept a couple of roof sections for the dirt ramp we’ll have into the basement once I remove the back steps.

Ramp and platform

Ramp and platform

We got the second dumpster filled and even had enough room left for Dean and Siobhan to bring over a couple of carloads of junk that’s been accumulating in their garage. I didn’t get a picture of it full, but imagine a full dumpster and there you go.

First dirt dumpster

The new dirt dumpster was just dropped off and we’ve got some work ahead of us. You can see how the ramp will help with the loading once the door is closed. Things are about to get busy!

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The garage

The garage (doors removed)

Our whirlwind of demo continues with the destruction of our terrible, terrible garage. The garage is a tragic story, really. A perfectly good, new, professionally built garage was put up a few years before we bought the house. Apparently it wasn’t big enough, though, so the previous owners poured a two foot concrete pad extension on one side, cut one wall off, and moved it over. Then they just added boards to bridge the gap and shingled over it. The main door was replaced with a larger one and at the back (yard side) they put a smaller door, which may or may not have been the original front garage door. In any case, the structure was badly compromised, and by the time we bought it, water, rats, roaches, and plants were getting inside. We’ve used it as-is for the last few years, with big plans for a flat-roofed masonry garage and a yard-side fireplace waiting in the wings.

Roof removal

Roof removal

With our basement dig out pending and a giant pile of debris from the porch in the back yard, we needed to tear down the garage to make way for dumpsters. Sarah’s parents came down to lend a hand on Saturday. There was some doubt as to how long the process was going to take, but we had the whole thing down by mid afternoon.

We wanted to get the yard closed off before calling it a day. We started work on the gate, but we only got one side up before it started getting late. By then dinner had arrived, so we propped up the other fence panels and called it a day. Sunday I broke down the garage pieces, we got the pad swept up, and I put together the rest of the fence and gate across the back.

Fence installation

Fence installation (also Derek)

The gate doesn’t work all that well at the moment. Because the new fence on the right doesn’t have very good footings and because I put in the posts with spikes instead of footings, the gate needs some center support to stay rigid. That in turn make it difficult to open and close. I may put a wheel on at least the left panel to make it easier to get the car in and out. When you open the right side gate, the fence leans enough that the neighbors side gate opens by itself. In any case, the garage is down and the first dumpster is on order for Friday, so now we need to get a path cleared in the yard!

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