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.

Tagged with:
 
Before tuckpointing

Before tuckpointing

The next step down the road to getting our basement livable is repointing the brick walls. 120 years of water damage, bad patching, paint, and neglect had left the brick in bad shape. Large portions of the walls had been parged with mortar or concrete, which can trap water in the brick rather than allowing it to dry. We started by chipping off the parging. Some of it was so loose and brittle we could snap chunks off with our bare hands, while other sections came off only reluctantly with a hammer and chisel. About the time I got my rotary hammer back from a friend, I decided we just needed to hire out the job to some professional tuck pointers.

After hammer and chisel

After hammer and chisel

We got a couple of quotes, but wound up settling on Tuckpointing Masonry Systems, who Dean had used and recommended. They came in with a crew and after two days of dust and noise, the basement looked amazing. They ground out all of the mortar below grade and completely repointed it. Above grade they knocked out the loose material and spot-tuckpointed where it was needed.

After tuckpointing

After tuckpointing

The other thing we had them do was to rebuild the sills on the front bay windows. The bay windows are taller than the other windows in the basement, extending down to ground level, which makes them susceptible to water coming in. To prevent this, the tuck pointers installed new concrete sills with flashing. The next step is to re-frame the two angled windows in the bay, since they currently don’t have lintels.

Rebuilt bay windows

Rebuilt bay windows

I’ve requested quotes on new windows and asked Percy, our electrician, to come over and give us a quote on new electrical in the basement, including lights, outlets, and switches. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but once all of that is done we start breaking up the floor!

Tagged with:
 

I haven’t posted since before the holidays, but we haven’t been idle in that time. Unfortunately our work just hasn’t been very interesting. Fortunately that’s finally about to change. Let me just cover what we’ve been up to, or rather down to since it’s all been in the basement.

Basement Before

Basement before

Over the last couple years, ever since we finished the basement apartment demo, things have been collecting in the basement. What started with the washer and dryer, some shelving with bins, and a neatly packed pallet of furniture gradually spread to take up half the basement, while the other half filled with reclaimed lumber and scrap metal. Now that we’re planning to redo the basement floor sooner rather than later, everything needs to be cleared out. We’ve been working on this project for a while now, and we’re finally done.

Basement during

Basement during

Ever sine we started this project I’ve been collecting scrap metal in hopes of selling it, but the price of ferrous metal makes it barely worthwhile, so my friend Dean helped me sort out the copper and brass, which do have some value. A couple months ago, our friend Mike came by with his truck and took a big chunk of our scrap metal, using his torch to cut down the bigger pieces much faster than my tools would allow. I ripped out the old steel tub from the basement bathroom and left it in the alley with the old cast iron boiler inside (in pieces). Thanks to the scavengers it was gone within 12 hours. Aaron sorted through the BX electrical cable and we got the last few remnants cleared out. I never did find out what my 5 gallon bucket of screws and nails was worth, for all the trouble it was to fill it. At least it all got recycled, even if we didn’t make money on it.

With our three-year-old Derek’s “help” I took down the remainder of the old brick chimney. Sarah added the bricks to the pile in the back yard and I hauled out several bags of mortar. We moved all of our “stuff” up to the first floor, including the shelving. It may need to go into storage eventually, but it can stay there for the time being.

Basement after

Basement after

I got the last bits of framing out, cut down and cleared out a bunch of the less useful lumber, and moved the rest up to the now quickly-filling first floor. I sold a stack of old floor boards on Craigslist, but so far that hasn’t worked for the elliptical that Sarah got from some friends and never used. We’ve got tuck pointers coming in to clean the inside of the brick walls, so we moved the elliptical, the freezer, and the washer and dryer to the center and covered them all in plastic. This was a lot of work. Sorry we haven’t been good about providing updates, but this is pretty much what we’ve done. Moving forward things should be more frequent.

Tagged with:
 

We’ve officially changed course. We’re now planning to hold off finishing the first floor and instead focus on the basement. If we can get the basement floor redone along with the below ground plumbing, we can move into the basement and do the whole second floor at one time, which also lets us do nearly all the plumbing, electrical, and HVAC at one time. That will make the rest of the project go faster, which after three years (so far) has become a more important factor. We debated buying another two flat and renting out half of it so we’d have somewhere to live besides the basement, but that would’ve cost a lot up front just to save money on rent and if we wind up needing to borrow money to finish the house it would have complicated things.

I updated The Plan and I’ve been thinking through our next steps. We need to start by cleaning out the basement and re-pointing the brick walls. Then, to make the basement livable, we need to run new electrical and replace the windows. Then we can start breaking up the floor and figuring out how we’ll run the new plumbing. Hopefully we can run some (most?) of the new underground plumbing before we have to move out and disconnect the old stuff, but we won’t know until we can see how the existing stuff is laid out.

One of the challenges is that to dig out the basement we want to tear down the existing garage and back porch so we can get a dumpster into the back yard. We don’t want to tear them down in the middle of winter though, so we’re arranging our tasks to do that a bit later. Another issue is the hot water heater and the water filter. Back when I was shopping for water heaters, I debated getting a tankless unit just so it would hang on the wall and I wouldn’t to worry about it, but since I didn’t we have to disconnect it in order to drop the floor under it. The same goes for the main tank of the water filter. We’ll leave them for last and work around them as much as we can, but it means we can’t completely remove the existing floor before we have to move out.

We want to do everything we can to shorten how long we’ll have to be out of the house, since we’ll have to stay in a hotel or temporary apartment while the new plumbing goes in, the basement floor is poured, and we build the basement bathroom. Once we have a bathroom and a utility sink we can move back in. We’ll move some of the kitchen cabinets down to the basement and set up some temporary partitions for bedrooms. It’ll be cozy, and we won’t have a proper kitchen, but we’ll manage. If nothing else we’ll have a lot of motivation to get cracking on the rest of the house!

 

We’re facing a conundrum. We got confirmation from the city that we can pass inspection doing things the wrong way and found a different plumber willing to work with us, so we should be all set to move forward with our plan. Then we started thinking more about the future. We’ve lived in the house for over three years now, and by all accounts we’ve made a ton of progress. That said, it’s taken a long time to get to this point and we have a long, long road ahead. It’s possible that if we did things the right way it wouldn’t take as long, plus it would make several parts of the work simpler. It would still take a long time, but maybe not as long.

Here’s the decision before us: we can continue our current plan and finish the first floor. When that’s done we gut and finish the second floor in two separate phases so we always have a full bathroom. This adds complexity to framing, plumbing, electrical, and HVAC. After that we have to dig out the basement, which involves moving out for a month or two while the water line and sewer are replaced. Then we can finish the outside, the porches, the garage, the attic, the basement, and the landscaping.

The other option is we don’t finish the first floor yet. Instead we demo the back porch and the garage, dig up the basement including the part where we stay in a hotel for a month or so to replace the sewer and water line, then move into the basement. We’d have a full bathroom down there as well as heat, so we could gut and re-frame the entire second floor at one time. Then, since both floors would be open, we could get the HVAC, plumbing, electrical, and spray foam done for the whole house rather than in pieces. After that’s done we could finish the first floor followed by the second, with the remaining projects proceeding as in the first option.

Time estimates are incredibly speculative, and there’s no real way of knowing how long it will take us, but looking at the tasks and how they need to be done tells us the second option could potentially save a lot of time, possibly a year or more. Demoing and framing the second floor all at once with the first floor still open would be much simpler. Running the ducting all at one time through open walls would be significantly easier and avoid potential problems. It would also eliminate the complications of attaching to existing plumbing while supporting new plumbing. All of these things being easier and simpler translates to cheaper and faster while likely giving us a better end product.

There’s a catch, of course. We’d have to live in the unfinished basement for an indeterminate amount of time likely measured in years. Instead of a finished first floor next year, we probably wouldn’t have it for two or three. While we were in the basement there would be no kitchen and no bedrooms. Most likely we’d set up some sort of partitions, but it would be smaller than our current space on the second floor and much less comfortable (radiant floor heat aside). It would mean not having a garage for the foreseeable future, not being able to entertain friends and family, not being able to cook, and not having a dishwasher.

Finally, it would mean spending a lot of money sooner than we thought. The advantage of getting all the plumbing, electrical, radiant heat, air conditioning, and spray foam done at once turns into the disadvantage of having to pay for all of them at once, and in rapid succession. We haven’t reached a decision yet. We’re mulling the two options, looking for other alternatives, and trying to decide what will work best for us.