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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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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