For the third and final time, we held a demo party. Saturday, with the help of a great many friends and family members, the entire second floor was demolished. We managed to fill the 30 yard dumpster and we still have a fair amount of debris waiting its turn to go down the chute and fill the next one, which arrived Tuesday. Everything that’s left should fit into this second one, and at that point the gutting of the interior will be complete. We were so bent on wrecking things that we didn’t get in-progress photos, but we did get before and after!

I didn’t get the ceiling demo done until Saturday morning because I spent some time improving the chute by adding a wider hopper and putting a ramp upstairs to enable full wheelbarrows to be emptied. I wasn’t able to put the top of the chute at floor level because the downspout cuts across the door, but using a chunk of the ramp I built for the basement dig-out solved the problem.

Part of the demo crew

Part of the demo crew

Friday evening, Sarah dropped off the kids at her parents and picked up two of her nephews, Colin and David, and two of their friends, Dylan and Dustin. I picked up Will, in from Iowa City, and they spent the night. Saturday morning they were joined by Dean and Siobhan and Matt B. We got to work and Sarah’s brother, Matt, and his girlfriend, Amy, joined us in the afternoon.

Prybars, sledgehammers, 2x4s, regular hammers, shovels, buckets and wheelbarrows were put into action and the second floor came apart quickly. The plaster and lath, drywall and lath, random fiberglass insulation, and old trim all got ripped down, loaded into wheelbarrows or simply carried to the back, and chucked down the chute, while a rotating dumpster crew with shovels and rakes moved debris to the far end of the dumpster. Dust masks, goggles, gloves, boots, coveralls, bandanas, and hard hats all proved their worth and those cases where people didn’t avail themselves of them demonstrated their importance.

When she wasn’t doing demo herself, Sarah kept everyone going with sandwiches, water, Gatorade, Coca-cola, coffee, beer, and cider, and when we finished there was lasagna, shepherd’s pie, more beer and cider, wine, and scotch. Sarah’s also been working on clearing out the remaining debris this week into the second dumpster and we’re hoping to wrap that up and get the flooring out this weekend. A huge thanks from Sarah and I go out to everyone that made it!

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With the drainage project finally wrapped up, we’re getting ready to demo the second floor! As in the past, we’re having a demo party where friends come over to smash the hell out of the walls and tear everything down. To make sure this process goes smoothly, safely, and makes as little mess as possible, we have some work to do up front. First, we need to clean up the first floor. With us living in the basement, and the second floor empty, we’re using the first floor as storage. Between all of our projects, moving to the basement, and life in general, it has a tendency to get away from us and turn into a cluttered, disorganized mess. When we demo the floor above, dust and debris are going to rain down between the floorboards, so everything needs to be as contained and protected as we can make it.

Empty kitchen

Empty kitchen awaiting destruction

I tackled the back (everything behind the wet wall) since this is my de facto workshop where all the tools are kept. After we rushed to finish the basement, I wound up bringing them back up in boxes and not putting them away. I re-organized and cleared out the worst of it, but honestly, I still have a lot more cleanup to do. However, the critical part was I made a space big enough to put all of the kitchen cabinets from upstairs. When we bought the house, we got a bunch of free kitchen cabinets from Sarah’s grandmother (who in turn had gotten them from a friend of Sarah’s parents when they remodeled their kitchen). We’re done with them now, so we’re giving them to Sarah’s parents, since they’ve bought rental property in Florida and want to redo a kitchen down there. Until they pick them up, we needed them off the walls and in the first floor. Sarah cleared up the front of the first floor, which was a bigger process since it involved not just organizing, but throwing away what we don’t want, donating what we don’t use, moving some of what we want into the basement (and finding homes for it all down there), organizing the rest of it into bins and boxes, and finally, covering it all with tarps and drop cloths.

I disconnected the water, which was complicated by the fact we still have the washer and dryer on the first floor and by the way the plumbers replaced a perfectly good dielectric union with a brass female adapter and my side-drain valve with a regular valve (both for no apparent reason other than to piss me off). That meant to disconnect the hot water I had to cut the copper pipe past the valve (which was full of water) and drain it that way. I still need to solder a cap on the pipe. For the cold water (which is all we have for the washer) I was able to reconfigure my press-fit PEX fittings (so easy!). I also disconnected the gas line that went to the stove upstairs. That was made more difficult by the fact it was one 12′ pipe going from the basement to the second floor. Disconnecting it was easy, getting it out of the wet wall was a bit more difficult. We had Lester, our radiant contractor, disconnect and drain the radiators a couple of months ago, so I was able to just lift those off the wall and move them downstairs. I unscrewed the thermostatic valves and fancy stainless steel fittings and saved them in a bag. These radiators will eventually be in the attic bedrooms, since the other stories will have radiant floor heating.

I turned off the electrical circuits for the second floor and took down the ceiling fans and light fixtures, but I still need to remove the actual BX wire cables strewn through the attic. I reclaimed the outlets (few that there were), which we’d installed new when we bought the house. The whole upstairs only had one light switch (in the bathroom) since everything else was on pull chains and a couple of fan remotes. Honestly, one of the nicest parts of the basement is the normal complement of outlets and switches, since they were in short supply upstairs.

Debris chute

Debris chute

Sarah ordered a big dumpster and it was dropped off in the back yard on Friday. Monday I built a chute out of the extension ladder and some 2x4s and plywood to go from the back door of the second floor down to the dumpster that will make the demo process go much faster. We discovered when we demoed the first floor that balloon frame houses lend themselves to a particular order of deconstruction if you want to contain all the plaster dust and mess. By demoing the ceiling first, all the debris falls into the still-enclosed rooms rather than into the wall cavities and into the floor below. By saving the flooring for last, we prevent (some of) the mess raining down between the subfloor boards. Also, by demoing the ceiling before the demo party, we prevent some of the more dangerous aspects of wanton destruction with large groups of people.

Chute close-up

Chute close-up

I got underway with ceiling demo, starting in the back bedroom and kitchen and working forward. We insulated the attic with blown-in cellulose a few years ago, so there was a lot of fluff shoveling, but the chute is working as hoped. The top of the chute is slightly higher than I’d planned, so I need to lower it a bit, but otherwise it’s a vast time saver over hauling everything down by hand. When we prepped for demo of the first floor we took down all the trim, but in the second floor, at least for the windows, I’m concerned the trim is actually holding the windows in place. They’re all cheap replacement windows and they’re less than professionally installed. We may take it easy on those until we’re ready to replace them. The weather is getting cooler and we don’t want any gaping holes in the exterior walls, let alone the possibility of broken glass and injured people.

I expect to finish ceiling demo tonight, the kids will be out of the house with grandparents for the whole weekend to avoid any noxious dust contamination, and we’ll get this, quite literally, knocked out!

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With the excavation complete, it’s time to put everything back together. We enlisted the help of my brother-in-law, Rob, to attach the 6-mil plastic sheeting to the houses on either side of the walk. The plastic lines the trench and ensures that water is only going where we want it to. Given the heavy clay soil we’re dealing with, we were concerned that water would find an easier time coming through the cracks in the brick than draining in the clay, so putting down plastic and gluing it to the houses makes sure there’s no other way for it to go. The plastic wraps across the front of the house as well, terminating in the small trench we dug across the front, which connects to the main trench along the side. Sarah and her sister, Nicole, put down a landscaping fabric in the front yard. Since we spent so much time digging up weeds, we wanted to do what we could to prevent their immediate return.

The next step was to run the pipes. Sarah’s dad, Mike, helped me get all the pipe from Menards and installed. We have a sock-wrapped perforated rigid pipe (holes down) that follows the trench across the front of the house, turns 90°, and then runs the length of the house in the bottom of the trench. This pipe will pick up water and channel it to the cancelled catch basin. Eventually it will go to a water feature/rain garden, but that will have to wait until we have the back yard done. There’s a second solid, rigid pipe that runs parallel to the first along the side of the house down the trench that picks up the downspouts. There’s a port for the (currently nonexistent) porch roof, a clean-out that could be re-purposed for a downspout if we end up having downspouts both front and back, and a port at the back of the house for the roof downspout. This pipe Y’s into the corrugated pipe and they both go to the catch basin. Because (a) we don’t have the rain garden set up yet and (b) we haven’t redone the roof and gutters yet, this pipe isn’t currently in use.

 

With the pipes in place we back-filled the trench and the front of the house with ¾” crushed limestone. This allows rain water to drain through to the pipes. We also continued the crushed stone as a base through the rest of the path that runs across the front yard to meet the front walk. I originally estimate this would be about 2 yards of stone, but it wound up being 5. We managed to do this in the most expensive way possible, because we wound up buying the first load of stone, followed by the pavers, followed by the second load of stone, followed by the load of fine-crushed stone (from a different company), and paying delivery fees every time. Better planning and estimating would have saved us probably $250. On top of that, we’d been looking at both the 24×24 and the 18×24 pavers. The 18×24 pavers were cheaper, but we’d need more of them, so they wound up being pretty much the same price. I decided on the 24×24, but instead the clerk sold me the 18×24 in the quantity of the 24×24, which we didn’t realize until they’d been delivered, so we didn’t have enough pavers. We decided to keep the 18×24, but had to go back and pick up 9 more pavers to finish the project.

Either way, we got the stone down and then put down the pavers. I wanted a large paver so that they wouldn’t move around even though they don’t have the typical sand underneath and they aren’t in direct contact with one another. The pavers are 18″x24″ Unilock “Rivenstone” bluestone. We’re hoping this means we’ll be able to buy more of them in a few years when it’s time to do the patio and continue the walkway through the back yard. I put the pavers into place using a 2×4 to space them and then Sarah fine-tuned with a string line on stakes to get them straight.

The last step was to spread fine-crushed stone around the pavers. This will still allow water to drain through, but holds the pavers in place and makes for an even walkway. We got a couple of yards of the finer stone and wound up with a wheelbarrow leftover that we’ll use to fill any low spots after a rain or two. We had looked at some chipped blue stone or other matching option and the price was horrifying, so we opted for the fine-crush and it looks nice, in my opinion. We also spread mulch around the front yard.

We haven’t had any water in the basement since we took up the old sidewalk, and I’m hoping it stays that way. I really think this will make a big difference, though I’m not thrilled with how quickly the cancelled catch basin fills up. Obviously, it’s cancelled, so it’s not expected to hold anything, but I was hoping it would handle a bit more rain than we’ve gotten. Once we’ve finished the house and can take up the concrete patio in the back yard, we can put in the water feature and hopefully solve it completely, but either way it should keep the basement dry. This was a big project, and as usual, we had a lot of help. A big thanks to Rob, Nicole, Sarah’s parents, my mom, plus Derek and Emily.

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Original sidewalk

Original sidewalk

Sorry that it’s taken so long to post, but we’ve been really busy with the house. I really thought I was done filling dumpsters with wheelbarrows of concrete, dirt, clay, and stone, but here we are again. The purpose of the drainage project is to prevent rain water from coming through the brick walls of our basement, but we’re accomplishing a lot of other things at the same time. I was planning to do this project after the house was done as part of landscaping, but after having moving into the basement and getting water every time it rained, we knew we needed to do something about it.

More dumpsters with concrete

More dumpsters with concrete

We got a dumpster delivered into the back yard (I believe this was dumpster #10) and broke up the sidewalk between our house and our neighbors, which runs from the front of the yard all the way to our basement steps. Technically, it keeps going to the back of the property, but that can wait. Under the sidewalk, on the side closer to our house, was a layer of asphalt, and under that was even older sidewalk. Under that was a really loose, oily black soil that I think might be fly ash or something. We couldn’t dig a trench in it, so I dug it all out and we filled the dumpster.

The result was a very uneven excavation down to the clay, but since we discovered that the yard slopes to the front of the house, while the drainage tench needed to slope to the back, we dug deeper in the middle and built up the side against our house. I used the laser level to keep things correct, with the typical drainage grade of 1″ every 8′. Factoring in the added slope of the yard, the end result was a trench close to two feet deep. Sarah’s brother, Will, took a crack at the trench digging, helping us knock out the last ten feet or so of trench, including the old concrete porch footings.

Will breaking up concrete

Will breaking up concrete

We also took off the concrete “apron” that ran along the front of the house around the bay window. Under that we discovered the original window sills. We’d had new sills put in by the brick tuck pointers last year, and they were in pretty bad shape having been buried in the yard. The front window sill in particular came apart with the concrete, leaving a gaping hole in the first wythe of brick. Sarah and I filled that in with bricks from our chimney and a judicious amount of mortar. Once that was set we back-filled with dirt and dug a small trench abut five feet out across the front of the house. We’ll have a front porch eventually, and this trench drains into the main trench under the sidewalk.

The next step was the rest of the front yard. We’d let it get overgrown with weeds and the two evergreen shrubs had gotten out of control over the years. I chopped both of them down and pulled out the root balls (pro tip: sledgehammer). The rest of the weeds came out as we I re-graded the whole yard to slope to the front. The next step was to cut the path the walk will take as it bends across the yard to meet the front walk. I used landscaping edging to mark it and then excavated everything. By this point we’d made a pretty big mess, and it was time to start putting it back together, but that can wait for the next post.

Laying out the path

Laying out the path

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There are some downsides to living in a basement (who knew?!). These are amplified when it’s an old basement with brick walls, and even more when said walls have problems with moisture. We’re tackling the drainage project to hopefully address the biggest problem, which is water coming in. However, that isn’t going to solve everything. Because the roof, gutters, and siding are all problematic, water is coming into the brick wall above grade. Worse, the outside of the above-grade brick is parged in concrete, so the water has nowhere to go but inside. The result is humidity, mold, bugs, and brick efflorescence. None of these things is particularly pleasant to live with and none of them are solved by the drainage project. We plan to fix the roof, gutters, and siding, but there are a bunch of dependencies we have to do first, and that’s going to take some time.

Efflorescence

Efflorescence

We’re running a dehumidifier most of the time, as well as open windows and fans. We put a retractable screen door on the back door so we can improve the air flow there as well, but that doesn’t help when it’s muggy and rainy outside. We also picked up a used portable air conditioner from Craigslist on the cheap, but it’s missing some parts and we still have to get it hooked up. Hopefully between the two we can keep humidity under control. On top of that, we have good quality air filters running. We’ve sprayed for bugs a couple of times and picked up some stronger stuff to try on the centipedes. If it doesn’t improve, we’ll call in an exterminator.

We looked into painting the rest of the walls with Drylok, but that would actually make things worse. For one, Drylok is a water barrier, not a vapor barrier, so the moisture would still be coming through, which means it wouldn’t actually stop the efflorescence or humidity. On top of that, Drylok can actually host mold and make that problem worse. The only thing it might help with is closing up the hidey holes the bugs are living in and stop some of the fine brick dust from raining down on the curb.

We could remove the parging on the outside, but we’re pretty sure it wasn’t put up on a great-looking brick wall in the first place, not to mention the damage the parging has done to it since. Removing the parging would mean re-pointing (and replacing) a lot of brick. On top of that, we discovered the color of the face bricks on the front of the house is a rather, um, strong red, and we’re not big fans of it. That means the face brick would either have to be painted (and re-painted every 3-5 years), or replaced, both of which are pretty unappealing. In short, it’s an expensive project that probably wouldn’t actually solve the problem, because the underlying cause is the roof, gutters, and siding.

Since that’s not possible immediately, we’ll need to spray a mold remover/mildewstat/fungicide periodically and try to keep the efflorescence under control by cleaning it and spraying a water/muriatic acid solution. We put some of our wire shelving up against the outside wall, and at a minimum we’ll need to pull it back an inch or two, since as it is the efflorescence is snowing on our food (yuck). We discussed putting something between the brick and the shelf, but we’re concerned about anything that would reduce air flow across the brick and potentially make it easier for mold to grow.

All of that means that, in the end, we’re just living with these problems for the time being. Until we can stop the water from coming in, the basement is going to be somewhat unpleasant. That may rearrange some of the priorities on our project to speed up the outside, but it doesn’t change our immediate next steps: the drainage project and the second floor demo.

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