We’ve been busy in the basement! So busy, in fact, that I haven’t been doing a good job of posting about it, nor even taking all the photos that keep the posts from simply being my long-winded explanations of why everything takes so damn long. So, in the interest of getting everyone caught up to where things are, I’m doing a catch-all post on the flurry of basement activity. My last update was August 5th, but the work it described took place in mid-July, so we’re actually a quite a bit behind. Let me jump to current though, and say we met our deadline of August 20th, and we are living in the basement. I’m actually typing this while sitting in the living room of the basement at an actual desk.

So, a lot has happened since we mudded the permanent basement walls. We got the permanent walls painted, the tub tiled, grouted, and caulked, and the bathroom and kitchen cabinets installed. That let us call back our plumbers, who got the finish plumbing done and reconnected the water heater in the basement. With that goal met, we framed and drywalled the temporary walls. These walls create bedrooms in the basement while we’re living down here, but once the rest of the house is done we can take them down and the main area of the basement can be finished as an entertaining space. We didn’t bother mudding this drywall, but we did paint it. I installed the interior doors, which included three doors in the permanent walls (bathroom, mechanical room, and between the front and back rooms), and two bedroom doors in the temporary walls. We cased the doors as well as the window in the kitchen.

I installed the medicine cabinet in the bathroom, along with the additional bathroom lighting. When we tiled, we installed a metal track at the top of the tub wall and ran a strip of adhesive LEDs along it. These are connected to an additional strip above the mirror and hooked up to a power supply inside the top of the medicine cabinet, which is switched on the same circuit as the overhead light. The tracks are covered by a snap on plastic diffuser. We’re pretty pleased with how this turned out. All of it is either waterproof or wet-rated, so the shower shouldn’t cause any issues.

In the kitchen we installed a butcher block counter with a single basin sink (Amazon literally sold us the kitchen sink). The sink was originally going to be under-mounted, but there wasn’t enough room for the clips inside the base cabinet. Since the sink can be mounted either way, I opted for top mount, but routed the top of the counter so that it sits flush, making it easier to wipe the counter into the sink. My measurements didn’t properly account for the curb when I bought the cabinets, so we built a wooden frame for them to sit on top off. This puts them about 4″ taller than typical, but we’re tall and it works for us. I also didn’t properly account for the dishwasher height being greater than the cabinets minus their feet, and had to retrofit the frame with reciprocating saw, oscillating tool, planer, socket wrenches, and additional 2x6s. The dishwasher is installed, and I never want to think about it again.


We painted the curb and the bottom foot of the wall with Drylok waterproofing paint. I’ve read a lot about building science and don’t want to seal brick, but despite our exterior water management efforts and interior weeping system, we’re still getting water coming through the walls on heavy rain. By only painting the concrete and the brick below the frost line, my hope is that water will be forced down into the weeping system, but won’t freeze within the brick and damage it. Having a radiant-heated slab should also prevent freezing. It’s been raining enough that the Drylok wasn’t able to dry fully. I bought some additional waterproofing putty for active leaks that I still need to install.

I put up privacy film on the window along our neighbors walkway, put pipe insulation on the incoming water line to prevent condensation, added a light switch in the mechanical room, ran a gas line for the stove, put up shelves, moved the phone line for our Internet connection, put up a shower curtain rod, swapped our mud rings for metal electrical box covers, painted the old part of the gas line before the meter and mounted it to the wall. Sarah hung shades, scrubbed, mopped, and scraped the floor, and watched our two rambunctious children while I spent countless nights either in the basement or running to Home Depot and Menards. Sarah’s parents, her brother-in-law, and her brother all pitched in with assistance on trim, painting, the cabinets, the door handles, and brushing down the walls. My mom came up multiple times to watch the kids so Sarah and I could both do tiling and painting. Dean and Matt B came to help us move last weekend, and while there’s still a ton of stuff upstairs to be sorted and packed into storage, we’re moved. We couldn’t have made the deadline without all their help and we’re very grateful for it. Without the deadline fixed in our minds, this easily would have taken an additional month or two, and I’m so glad it didn’t. We lived in the second floor for five years (exactly). Considering we wanted this to be a five-year project, considering we shifted to the basement plan in November of 2014 (21 months ago) and planned for it to take about a year, and especially considering how very far we still have to go to finish this crazy house, I’m relieved.

Living room, before furniture

Living room, before furniture

We’re planning to relax a bit, but we still have a lot to do, just to get the basement situated (and not leaking) and to get the second floor ready to demo. The next couple weekends are relaxing (going to the beach and going camping), but hopefully after that we can get settled and start on the next exciting, exhausting, and endless phase of this project.

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Dean came back to help me start mudding and taping the drywall on the permanent basement walls. We did some drywall patching with joint compound when we bought the house and I attempted to drywall my basement rec room years ago when I owned a duplex and helped a friend drywall an attic before that, but I’ve never made a properly smooth wall and I needed some help. Dean’s done a number of small drywall projects over the last few years and had acquired some skills at it.

I tried to soak up the lessons and the end product is vastly better than my previous attempts. We mixed up not-lightweight compound for the first coat since it cures fast and it’s harder, and then used pre-mixed lightweight for the later coats since it’s easier to sand. Once that’s dried you can run your hand over the wall to feel out any imperfections and just sand them down or add some compound to build it up. We had one wall with a butt-joint where there was only one tapered edge, as well as above the doors where we used pieces rather than whole sheets. Getting those flat was challenging, since you have to feather it carefully. What I didn’t like was finding spots later that I missed, and there’s at least a few of them.

We wound up not drywalling the interior of the mechanical room for the time being. I want to test the tub surround for leaks, add some cabling for the wall that will eventually have a TV on it, and add a light switch instead of the current pull chain. We’ll circle back and do that later.

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We’re planning to tile the tub surround in the basement bathroom. The first step was to install Hardibacker board to the studs (with the correct special screws). I’ve read a variety of methods for configuring the backer board and the flange of the tub, and ultimately I just screwed the board to the studs and left a small gap above the flange. I believe the idea is that by leaving a gap, there’s enough thinset to hold together and not crumble. I put fiberglass mesh tape on all the board seams, including across the gap above the flange, figuring it would also help hold it together. Then I thinset over the seams, the screws, and the flange completely, to make a nice even substrate for the tile.

I didn’t put any vapor barrier behind the board. Instead, after the thinset cured, I applied two coats of RedGard over the board to create a waterproof surround. In theory, the water should never get into the wall system this way, but if it does it should still be able to dry. I haven’t drywalled the inside of the mechanical room yet. My intention is to thoroughly test the shower for leaks before we insulate and drywall the other side of that wall. I highly recommend the plastic sheeting over the tub; it caught more than a couple drops. The next step for the tub is tiling, but before that I need to finish mudding the drywall.

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Dean and Hector

Dean and Hector

Dean and his dad, Hector, came over on a Saturday to help me put up the drywall on the permanent walls in the basement. All of the permanent walls were also insulated with Roxul Safe’n Sound for sound proofing, as well as reducing both condensation on cold water pipes and heat loss on the hot water pipes. We’re using ⅝” moisture resistant (green board) drywall for all of the permanent walls in the basement. We’re still working on our water issues and I don’t want to replace anything we’re putting in because it got wet. Using ⅝” instead of ½” adds addition sound proofing and fire protection.

In the case of the bathroom, the first step (after putting up the ceiling) was to install the tile backer for the tub surround. We’d originally planned to install a fiberglass surround that fit the tub, but even though I ordered the correct piece I received the wrong one. We didn’t realize that until the plumbers tried to install it. When I went to get the right one I found they were out of stock across the city, so we just gave up and decided to tile it. It’s more work, but the cost is similar and it will look nicer, plus I’ve got a cool idea in mind that I’m going to try. I bought Hardibacker instead of regular cement board and screwed it to the studs with the appropriate special screws. After a variety of conflicting information and opinions from various sources, I elected to install the bottom edge of the backer board ¼” above the tub flange. In a couple of spots the gap was bigger than planned so I went behind and added some wood blocking between the wall studs.

It took most of the day, but we got all of the drywall hung. We have one section of exterior wall framed and drywalled right now because it has plumbing on it and we want to put cabinets on it. I got to use my collated screw gun (previously employed for screwing in the first floor subfloor) to rapidly put up screws with decent success not under or over-driving. My skill level is improving, but it does leave room for improvement. The rest of the exterior walls will be done when we refinish the basement into an entertaining space, and the temporary bedroom walls will be drywalled as soon as they’re framed. For the duration of us living in the basement we’ll have the exposed brick and rafters “loft” look, which is fashionable right now anyway. After hanging the drywall (and backer board) the next steps are mudding and taping the drywall and backer board seams.

As always, a big thanks go out to Dean and Hector. Once again they’ve been a huge help!

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We’ve been so busy that I’m falling behind on blogging! With the inspection behind us, the next order of business was to install the bathroom exhaust fan ventilation. I had done some reading and decided that the best way to do this was to use PVC pipe, as opposed to the galvanized metal ducting that is typically used. The ducting can leak if there’s a lot of moisture condensing unless the mastic and taping are perfect. Even if they are, if it isn’t perfectly wrapped in insulation water can condense on the outside of the duct. On top of that, all the moisture can mean that even the galvanized metal will start to corrode and rust over time. PVC pipe, however, is impervious to these problems. You slope the pipe to the outside, so that any condensing moisture drains out. Since this is in the basement ceiling, it’s a straight shot between two joists to the outside wall, at least until it gets to the rim joist.

In most houses, a rim joist is 2x dimensional lumber, the same size as the joists, running around the outside perimeter. Cutting a 4½” hole is just a matter f a hole saw. However we have a balloon-framed house where the rim “joist” is more of a rim “beam”: a 6″ high, 8″ thick wooden sill that sits on top of the brick foundation. The floor joists are notched into it and the wall studs sit on top of it. Getting through this was going to take more than a hole saw that would bottom out in less than 2″, and specialty bits were very expensive.

Instead I pulled out my cheap, trusty Harbor Freight reciprocating saw. Instead of a nice round hole, I cut out a 4½”-wide block, then cut a round hole through the sheathing and siding. It took a long time, and I actually took a few breaks to keep the saw from overheating It would have gone faster but I only had one dull blade that was long enough. The rest was easy: I cut the pipe to length, used silicone caulk to seal it to the bathroom fan, and put a cap on the outside. We need to use some canned foam to seal around the hole in the wall.

Next up was leveling the ceiling. The floor joists were of various heights, partially because they’re old and partially because in this section I was still working out the best way to level the floor above. I screwed 2x4s to the sides of the joists at the lowest level. I wound u having to add blocking along the top of one wall, because the ceiling was now lower than the top plate. I ran into some challenges getting the other side, having to cut down 2x4s on the table saw so they’d fit in some confined spaces and adding some ½” plywood in another spot, but at the end I could put a level to it that didn’t wiggle, so I knew drywall would work.

After that was done I was on to insulation. We’re insulating between floors for a few reasons: sound proofing, fire resistance, and to keep the in-floor radiant heating in the floor above instead of in between the floors. I picked up a bunch of Roxul Safe’n Sound insulation and installed it in the area above the bathroom. For the time being we’re not installing it in the rest of the basement ceiling because we will still need to run plumbing and electrical up to the other floors, but the bathroom ceiling is getting drywalled, so this is the only opportunity. With that done, Sarah and I put up moisture-resistant fire-code drywall.

Once the shower surround is in and the rest of the drywall is done we’ll start mudding and taping. We got some more water in the basement, so we also have some additional downspout modifications to perform along the side of the house. It feels good to be back at it and getting things done!

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