We want to dig out the basement, and the only door is at the back. To be able to get a dumpster into the back yard and haul loads of dirt straight out, we need to tear down the back porch and the garage. We’re planning to replace both anyway, so doing it now makes sense. The back porch is a fully enclosed, two-story, vinyl-siding-clad beast. We took out the stairs from the first floor to the second a while back so we could put in the back sliding door, so it just has steps down to the back door and to the basement.

The first step was to move all of our accumulated stuff off the porch, including the old radiators. Fortunately I found a used radiator company to come and take them and even pay me a bit for the trouble. I disconnected and removed all the old electrical and moved the phone line box from the outside of the porch to the outside of the house.

Windows and doors removed

Windows and doors removed

Saturday morning I started work removing the doors and windows and was soon joined most of by Sarah’s family. We discovered that because the porch was enclosed after it was built, the walls weren’t integral to the structure. The walls consisted of some horizontal 2x4s attached to vertical beadboard, some of which was twenty feet long, and vinyl siding on top of that. While not very strong it held together remarkably well. The big challenge was the right side, where there was no landing or stairs to work from, just a big open space.

Walls coming down

Walls coming down (with Mike and Matt L)

We managed to rip down the right side of the wall in one giant piece. You can see from this photo how the floor only extends to the door in the middle of the house. With that piece down, the rest of the back wall was pretty straightforward.  The right side wall was a bit interesting. We wound up pulling the pieces of beadboard off individually and then the vinyl siding, which at that point was just hanging from itself.

Walls removed

Walls removed (with David and Matt L)

By that point is was evening and we wrapped up for the day. The next day we had a bunch of friends over to start working on the structure. The roof was an open question, since there wasn’t a great way to reach most of it. In hindsight, it may have been better to tear the porch down back when we took out the stairs, since having the landing would have made this process easier, plus we wouldn’t have had to worry about breaking the new sliding door with a piece of falling debris.

Roof removal

Roof removal

We used the ladders and a piece of fencing we bought to fill in the gap to shield the sliding door from the chunks of falling roof. We used a rope on the right column to pull it down after cutting it near the base with a chain saw. At first we tried the pictured system of pulleys to pull it down, but the angle was wrong so we wound up not using them. Unfortunately the porch beams were pocketed into the sheathing, so I have to go back and patch the holes in the outside wall before birds start nesting in the walls. I ordered an extension ladder as well, something that probably would have come in handy for this project, since the folding Werner ladders aren’t quite long enough.

Roof removed

Removing the last section of roof (with Dean, Matt B, and Drew)

We had a bit of a scare pulling down the last section of roof because the left column started to lean out, not only getting close to our power line, but pulling away from the beam that held up the second floor of the porch! After we got the roof section off things went quickly and we got the second floor structure removed. I also screwed the second floor door shut so we won’t have any accidents.

Finishing up

Finishing up (Dean and Matt B)

The first floor went pretty quickly too. We left the section by the stairs so we can still get in and out. We moved all of the drywall out of the garage and the freezer out of the basement and into the first floor, and then Dean and Matt built a new railing while I put up some house wrap over the sheathing and patched the lower two holes in the wall.

All done!

All done! (With Dean, Drew, and Hector)

We now have a massive pile of debris in the back yard (scroll back through the pictures to watch it grow). We’ll need to live with it until we get the garage torn down and a dumpster into the yard, but that should just be a few weeks. I plan to salvage some scrap material to build a ramp that we can use to get wheelbarrows of dirt into the dumpsters when we dig out the basement. This was a big two-day project and we couldn’t have done it without tons of help from family and friends.

A huge thanks go out to the Saturday crew: Mike, Lee, Matt L, Amy, Rob, Nicole, David, Collin, Dylan, and Dustin, as well as the Sunday crew: Dean, Hector, Drew, Anna, and Matt B. Thanks everyone!

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Clearing out debris

Rob clearing out debris

We kept up work on the basement floor, but the more I used the concrete saw, the more I used the sledgehammer and rotary hammer. The saw was simply too slow and produced too much dust, even using water. I worked out a technique with the sledge where I could get a single crack running the length of the concrete, maybe a foot from the edge, then use the rotary hammer to split off chunks. It wasn’t perfect, but it made shorter work of the floor than the saw.

Quality floor

Quality floor

The concerns I had with using the sledge, namely the ceramic tiles and the clay sewer line, were misplaced. With some safety goggles and a few thwacks, the sledge makes quick work of the tile. The sewer line is buried deep enough that I’m not worried about cracking it, especially since a fair portion of the floor wound up being suspended a few inches over the dirt, leaving cavities beneath it (including an old rat nest and a whole section of bricks).

Breaking up the floor

Collin breaking up the floor

We got the dumpster delivered last Thursday morning, and Sunday Sarah’s parents, sister and brother-in-law, as well as her nephew Collin and two of his friends came out to help load all of the concrete into the dumpster. It was a long day and at one point we started getting concerned it wasn’t all going to fit in the dumpster, but ultimately we got everything we had broken up loaded. There’s just a section at the front left to finish that we’ve been working on this week and hope to wrap up this weekend.

Back of basement

Back of basement (also bricks from under the concrete floor)

We left a small section of floor at the back of the basement that has the washer, dryer, chest freezer, and hot water heater for the time being. We’ll have to remove that later, when we temporarily move out and the sewer and water main are replaced. In the mean time we’ll start excavating the plumbing and get some quotes on that work, and I can finish the masonry and lintels around the front bay windows and start installing the new windows.

A big thanks to Mike, Lee, Nicole, Rob, Collin, Dylan, and Dustin for all their help!

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LED lights

LED lights

We’ve been hard at work in the basement. Since getting the new electrical installed and putting in the LED bulbs, we’ve pulled up all of the linoleum tile to make way for concrete floor removal. I bought an electric concrete saw from Amazon, but it uses a 20-amp plug. As it happens, we now have two 20-amp outlets, thanks to the new electrical, but we don’t have a 20-amp extension cord. Home Depot didn’t even carry one, aside from a 9-foot “appliance cord” that wasn’t going to reach very far in the basement. I ordered the extension cord from Amazon as well, but I didn’t want to sit idle over the weekend. That meant it was time to break out the sledge hammer and do things the old fashioned way.

 

Using a combination of sledge, pry bar, and my rotary hammer in chisel mode, Sarah and I managed to break up all the concrete on the North side of the basement. We spent a fair number of hours on it Saturday, Sunday, and last night. The other half of the basement (technically sixty percent) we’ll use the saw, since it’s covered in ceramic tile and we don’t want to crack the sewer pipes running somewhere underneath it by swinging the sledgehammer too much. My hands are pretty sore from the sledging we did so far, so switching to the saw sounds like a big improvement. The problem with the saw is dust. For that I’m hoping the shop vac attachment will make a difference, since we can’t use water with the electric saw.

Sarah ordered a dumpster for Thursday, and we’ll have it for two weeks. We need to have the whole thing broken up and hauled out by then, aside from the back corner where the water heater and laundry are. Those can wait a little while longer.

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Before we start ripping up the floor of the basement, it made sense to put in the new electric. For one, it’s easier to put in overhead lights with the floor a little higher, but more importantly we want to cut down on work that needs to be done after the floor is done since we’ll be in a hurry to get moved back in. Plus, having good lighting down there instead of some crappy dangling fixtures will make working on the floor a little better. I debated doing the electrical myself, but in the end I just called Percy, our electrician, and he and his assistant Kevin got it done in a few days, where it probably would have taken me a month. Percy will come back after the interior walls are up to add a few more outlets and switches, but this gets us 90% of the way there.

New switches and outlets

New switches and outlets

We went the typical recessed can light route. The ceiling in the basement won’t be very high, so anything that sticks down is less than ideal. I bought a few LED light bulbs to decide what color temperature and style we like before ordering a whole set of them. We settled on the 3000K “bright white” since they’re a nice compromise between the 2700K yellowish “warm white” and the 4000K laboratory “daylight”. The bulbs came out to $12 each, cheap for LEDs, but expensive relative to CFL and incandescent until you consider the operating cost and lifetime. A regular 65W bulb costs $3 and  lasts 1,000 hours. A CFL costs $8, uses 14 watts, and lasts 8,000, while an LED uses only 8 watts and lasts 25,000 hours. Including replacement costs and electricity, every thousand hours of incandescent use costs about $13.85, compared to a CFL that costs $3.38 and an LED that costs $1.82. Since we’ve got nineteen lights just in the basement, the payback is there even vs CFLs. We spent $75 more on LEDs than CFLs up front, but even ignoring that the LEDs last three times longer, the electricity savings will pay that back before the CFLs are half used.

New can lights

New can lights

I was concerned about mounting the switch and outlet boxes on the brick, since even though the metal is galvanized, moisture can corrode it. The old finished basement had some extremely rotted boxes and conduit that we don’t want to recreate. Percy sprayed the backs of all of the boxes before putting them up with a rubberized coating to prevent water contact from the walls. Our hope is that along with improved water management, the electrical will stay dry and last a long time.

Outlet box spray coating

Outlet box spray coating

The plan is to install a foam panel system on the exterior walls that will provide a drainage plane behind the insulation. These systems have raceways for the electrical so we can just fit them over the installed conduit when we finish the basement. That will ensure any water that comes through the brick will be able to drain away and that the wall itself is impervious to water and won’t rot. It’s exciting to see more progress,and to see how much the basement has changed so quickly, especially since I didn’t have to do all the work!

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We’ve worked out our plan for moving into the basement. Part of that is figuring out how we’ll lay out the space, given that eventually it will be an entertaining space, not an apartment. To that end we’ve come up with a way to integrate some temporary bedrooms into the plan without having to change around the walls we want in the finished product.

Basement Apartment Plan

Basement Apartment Plan

In the plan you can see some of the walls are white and some are green. The white walls represent the finished product. We’ll build these walls with the intention of leaving them there. The green walls will partition off some bedrooms and will be temporary (they won’t actually be green). We won’t anchor them to the floor and we’ll take them out as soon as we’re done living there. The top left is where we’ll have a kitchen and laundry space. We’ll put in a utility sink that will serve for the kitchen but we can leave it there for future use. The laundry is there now and it can stay there until we finish the second floor, since it can share the sink plumbing and vent out the back window. We’ll put a counter on top of the washer and dryer to use as a kitchen prep space.

The wall in the bottom right corner is to close off the gas meter, which is a little scary and we don’t want the kids to play around it, hang from it, break it, blow up the house, etc. Eventually, People’s Gas is supposed to move it to the outside, but for now it’s stuck where it is. We may try to come up with something simpler, but this also gives us some closet space, which is otherwise lacking. We’ll set up shelving where we can, but storage will definitely be at a premium.

To get to this point we need the electrical run, the windows replaced, the concrete floor dug up and the foot of dirt removed. Then we start putting stuff in: the interior weeping system, new plumbing (that’s when we have to move out), gravel, rigid foam, wire mesh, PEX tubing for radiant floor heat, and new concrete. With the floor in place we can build the permanent walls and finish the bathroom so we can move back in. Then we put in the sink, build the basement stairs and the temporary walls, and finally move into the basement!

There will be a lot of other projects along the way, some big and some small. Near term I need to install bracing between the first floor joists before the electrical is run, install new lintels over two of the front bay windows, and try to patch some leaks in the gutters to stop water from coming into the basement. We may take the concrete out through the front window to a dumpster on the street, but to remove all the dirt and bring in the new gravel and concrete we’ll tear down the back porch and the garage. We’re also changing the back basement steps including a new retaining wall, and after we lower the floor we need a new back door. Even with some chunks of this work being done by contractors, it’s safe to assume that this will take us most of the year.

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