It’s been a long time coming (like most things in this project) but we’ve passed our rough plumbing inspection for the basement! We passed our electrical inspection a month and a half ago, but we’ve grown used to the plumbing going slowly. This phase of the project was frustrating because we couldn’t do much ourselves to speed the process along, and we kept running into issues. Fortunately, all of them have been resolved.

Bathroom rough-in

Bathroom rough-in

Our new water service is a 1½” copper line, whereas our old service was only ¾”. Because of that, when we installed our whole-house water filter a few years back, we ran ¾” pipe. The plumbers took out a lot of that line when they brought in the new service and started adding branches for the bathroom, including the connections for the water heater ( temporarily on the first floor) running mostly in 1″ before and after the filter. On top of that, when I went to hook the filter back up, I realized that the new curb in the basement was preventing the filter from sitting close enough to the wall to connect to the existing pipes, meaning I was going to have to reconfigure it anyway. I bought new, bigger, 1″ filter housings and asked the plumbers to re-plumb the remaining section so that everything would be 1″ (and to add back the water heater hookup while they were at it).

Filter re-installed

Filter re-installed

The plumbers seemed vexed by the filter setup and I had to have them come back and change it multiple times until it was correct. This added weeks to the process all by itself, on top of the generally slow work they’d been doing. Then they asked for their money, so I asked when it was going to get inspected. That took another couple of weeks to get the inspector out, but they finally wrapped up Thursday of last week.

The electrical work went quickly because a lot of it was already done last year, but there were a couple of additions and modifications. We had to redo the grounding strap because the water service moved to the front of the house, add outlets for the sump pump and ejector pit, and add the switches, lights, and outlets for the bathroom and other new interior walls. We still need Lester, our radiant contractor, to come back and connect the PEX lines in the slab and disconnect our radiators on the second floor, but that shouldn’t impact the rest of the work we’re doing.

We were gone all weekend, but now I’m finally back to work, with a new goal of getting us moved into the basement by August 20th, the fifth anniversary of us moving into the second floor. I think if we’re still living in the second floor more than five years into our “five-year project”, I’ll have to start considering arson. There’s a lot to do, starting with the venting for the bath fan, leveling the bathroom ceiling, and a few other minor tasks. That will be followed by drywall and tiling, the temporary walls, and the bathroom fixtures.

In my post about the sump pump, I discussed our concerns about water in the basement. Those concerns have proved well founded, because after some heavy Spring rains, it happened. Our interior weeping system directs water under the concrete slab to the sump pit and the sump pump pumps it away, and this system is working great. However, water doesn’t always come from below. Because of the thick, clay soil, water following the path of least resistance can come right through the brick basement walls. That water is coming in above the footer curb in the basement and then drains onto the top of the basement floor, bypassing the weeping system completely.

There are ways we could have avoided this. The preferred method is to excavate around the outside of the house and install a water barrier on the outside of the basement walls, but our house is less than four feet from the neighboring houses to either side, risking structural collapse of both our basement and theirs. Another method is installing a dimpled plastic membrane on the inside of the basement walls that provides a path for water to drain down below the slab and into the interior weeping system. We didn’t do that for a couple reasons. First is the potential for damaging the bricks, both from persistent water and from freezing. Second is that the membrane would have to wrap over the footer curb, and we’d have to frame walls in front of it, further reducing our floor space (by about 50 square feet). While we do plan to insulate inside the brick walls, we’re going to do so without a vapor barrier, so that the bricks can dry if they get wet. The interior-facing side of the footer curb will remain exposed, or at most covered by trim.

Old downspout accordion

Old downspout accordion

While we’re exploring ways to divert water that comes through the walls, the bigger focus is on keeping water away from the basement walls in the first place. Recently it poured, and I discovered that the downspout I’d put in after we removed the back porch was clogged, causing a fountain at the back corner of the house right where we were getting most of the water. Once I fixed that, the downspout was splashing about fifteen feet into the back yard… and then running across the patio to the other corner of the house. Worse still, our neighbors’ downspout was clogged and all the water from half their house was cascading into the gangway. The downspout we had on that side was running across the gangway and wasn’t sloped away from the house, so water was draining to the same corner. I got the water from both our gutters to divert to the stone-filled catch basin, but something more permanent was needed.

I ran to Home Depot and got some supplies, then got up on a ladder and reconfigured our downspouts. The gutter on the gangway side now drains across the back of the house between the first and second story, where it joins with the other downspout. It then drains about twenty feet from the house, but I plan to extend that to thirty. I also unclogged the neighbors gutter and ended the waterfall in the gangway. Since making this change we haven’t seen additional water, but I’m not yet convinced we’ve solved the problem. I have some other steps I can take if we see any more water.

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Caulked back door

Caulked back door

I installed the basement back door in March. Once the floor was set up and the walls were framed Percy, our electrician, came out to finish the basement electrical. One of the items on the list was the back door light. In order to get the electrical run properly we decided to finish the trim on the back door. I started by caulking all of the seams around the framing to ensure a good air seal.

Back door trim

Back door trim in progress

I bought PVC trim, because I don’t want to have to do extra maintenance once the house is done. I debated scribing the edge against the brick, but ultimately I discovered I could use the angle grinder with the masonry disk to remove both excess brick and excess PVC. The door is recessed in the wall because the floor slab doesn’t come up to the front edge of the wall. Because of this, our rim joist (which is 6″ x 8″) was exposed, so I needed to trim that as well. The initial electrical was just a piece of conduit, but we wound up with a standard mud ring on a 4″ box. I used the sunken PVC screws with caps, but the color didn’t quite match. We’ll be painting over this anyway to prevent UV fading.

Trim installed

Trim installed

The biggest challenge was the light fixture. The first one we bought didn’t fit because the back box didn’t fit inside the recessed area of the trim. The second light I ordered wasn’t the same size as the specifications, so it hung down too far (the door swings out). We’ll save that one for the first floor. Finally, after a lot of searching for something that didn’t stick up, didn’t stick down, and had a small enough base plate, the third light I ordered fit (if just barely). It’s a barn style light that I put an outdoor-rated LED bulb into.

Light installed

Light installed

We’re pretty happy with the end result. Having an actual outdoor light that works on a light switch is a bit of a novelty for us. The last outdoor light we had was a flood on the back porch (on the second floor) that we didn’t use much. The three different shades of white are a bit irritating, but we’ll get to that eventually.

It works!

It works!

You can see a sneak peak of some of the plumbing and electrical work that’s been going on. In this photo I’d caulked the left side but not the right (it started raining). I’ve since finished it up, but we still haven’t painted. That will probably wait until I’ve trimmed the rest of the basement windows, and possibly until we’re siding the rest of the house.

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I installed the interior weeping system back in late October after the plumbers said it needed to be finished for them to continue (Ha!). That’s also when I put in the sump pit (aka crock, aka basin) and I researched and ordered the actual sump pump, but it didn’t get hooked up until yesterday when the plumbers connected the drain line. I used a ton of zip ties to get all the cables neat and tidy.

One of our big concerns has been water in the basement. The biggest reason is we’re planning to move into the basement for the next year or two and water would be a pretty big problem, but even if that weren’t the case the basement will be part of our finished space and flooding could be a huge expense. We know multiple people with similar houses that have experienced basement flooding for several reasons, so we’re taking the steps we can to prevent that from happening to us.

Unfortunately, the biggest factor in basement flooding is something we haven’t tackled yet, namely gutters that direct rain water away from the house. Because our second floor has a bump out that we’re planning to remove, we haven’t redone our roof and gutters yet. Because we’re a long way from landscaping, we haven’t taken up the sidewalk along the side of the house and put in a drainage system and a rain garden. Because we haven’t put in new windows on the second floor, we haven’t re-sided the house to prevent water from getting into the brick foundation walls. So, there’s a lot to do. In the mean time we’ll be relying on the sump pump to keep the water out of the basement. The good news is that despite a fairly rainy Spring and the sump pump not being connected until yesterday, the floor has been dry. The bad news is we’ve had a dehumidifier running non-stop for weeks and the basement still has 90% relative humidity.

StormPro System

I read a lot about sump pumps and I weighed a lot of pros and cons, reviews, opinions, brands, and specs, and I settled on an Ion Genesis StormPro sump pump system, all pre-plumbed so it just dropped in. This system uses a smart controller, two separate ⅓ HP pumps, and two separate digital water level sensors to keep everything working smoothly. The controller alternates between the pumps to prevent one from sitting idle for too long, or uses both if one can’t keep up.  The water levels sensors are extremely accurate and reliable, with no moving parts and complete redundancy. There’s a high level alarm and we can connect the controller to our alarm system to notify us remotely if there’s a problem. The only important feature it doesn’t have is battery backup. The reason for that omission is we’re planning to install solar panels on the roof along with a Tesla Powerwall battery backup for the whole house. The sump pump will (eventually) rely on this as well. Our power has been pretty reliable, so we’re not worried about not having the backup in the short term. Of course, since I ordered, the “Genesis” controller has been upgraded to the “Endeavor” controller (pictured above) for the same price, which adds some additional functionality.

Sump Pump Installed

Sump pump controller installed on boiler panel

For the time being, the sump is draining into the sewer and out to the City. Chicago allows this (for some reason) so we’re taking advantage of it, since we don’t have the aforementioned rain garden and drainage system outside. We intend to divert the sump pump to that once it’s in place, both because it’s the right thing to do (it doesn’t make sense to mix storm water with sewage), and because we’ve heard of backups in the sewer system (because of all the storm water) that mean there’s no where for the water to go.

Control Panel

Control Panel

When I turned on the sump pump, the pit was pretty full. The alarm sounded and the display told me there was high water. After testing both pumps, it quickly drained the basin and it’s been running only occasionally since then. The display shows the amperage draw of the pump (helpful if there’s blockage or other motor problem) as well as the water level in the basin down to a fraction of an inch. The controller lets you set the water fill level in half inch increments. We have a large 30″ basin, so I set it for 8″. The plumber informed me that the city inspectors have been requiring the sump pit to be proud of the floor by a couple of inches, something I didn’t know when I installed it level with the top of the slab. Hopefully they don’t have a problem with it. Given where the holes in the sides of the basin were and the slope that I had to put on the drain pipes, I couldn’t have put it any higher than I did anyway.

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Since we’re not framing the exterior walls of the basement yet, we went straight to the interior walls, specifically the permanent walls for the bathroom and mechanical room. After Mario put in the mesh for the concrete, I went around and carefully measured locations for the walls and placed J-bolts to secure the sill plates, so that once the slab was poured we wouldn’t have to drill into it. The main reason for this was the radiant tubing in the slab: if you drill into the concrete and hit a tube, that loop is basically useless, and our floor only has three loops. Unfortunately, Mario informed me the day of the pour that because of the way they were screeding and finishing the floor, the J-bolts sticking up all over would get knocked over and interfere, so he pulled almost all of them out.

First wall section

First wall section

I framed the wall in sections, pressure-treated sill plate and standard 2x4s, sill gasket under the pressure treated sill to prevent moisture wicking, coated screws for anything touching the pressure-treated lumber and regular screws and 8D nails for the rest. The uneven floor joists above required some shimming and I had to add blocking to a couple of sections where the wall was parallel to joists. I watched all my inside corners for drywall nailing edges and followed the tub instructions for framing around it. For the curb at the outside walls I built L-shaped pieces and attached them after the fact rather than try to build it with the section. I came back and installed an additional exterior half-wall for the utility sink and washing machine hookup, though in retrospect I might as well have just framed a full wall. I may reconfigure that, but I need to pick up some additional lumber since my original estimates proved low.

Bathroom framing

Bathroom framing

While the wall framing was pretty straightforward, we did run into some snags. For starters, the plumbers had put the toilet too close to the tub, something I could have had them fix if I’d noticed it before the floor was poured, say, back in October when they installed it. Because the toilet can’t move, I shifted the tub a few inches away, so the tub will have to use an offset drain and one of the few remaining J-bolts no longer aligned with the wall. They also managed to place a vent completely outside of the wall it was supposed to go through, but at least it’s inside the mechanical room where it won’t cause too much of an issue. I had to frame the wet wall of the bathroom with 2x6s because the plumbing alignment with the steel column wasn’t quite right, and I had to make some provisions for the steel beam that runs through the bathroom. In general, framing around all of the pipes sticking out of the floor was challenging.

Bathroom framing done

Bathroom framing done

With all the walls up and framed and a few J-bolts secured, I spent a lot of time poring over the photos I took of the floor after Lester installed the PEX tubing, determining where exactly I could drill the floor and secure the walls with Tapcon screws without hitting anything. After several nerve-wracking drills, including one gush of concrete dust that I was certain was air escaping from the pressurized tube, I had all the walls secure and the pressure gauge on the PEX lines holding near 70psi assured me I hadn’t hit any. Whew.

Now the plumbers and electrician are working on their respective pieces. Once they’re done and we’ve passed inspection we’ll get to insulation, drywall and putting up the temporary walls. I’ve got a list of smaller items as well, like hooking back up the water filter, moving the water heater, running venting for the bathroom exhaust fan, and ordering the other fixtures: vanity, toilet, faucets, and utility sink.

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