basement remodel

Aug 122014

Okay, I can finally come up for air now. My massive work project is winding down and hopefully I will soon return to a nominal state. I can breathe, anyway. No more going in early and coming home late.

The past few weekends I was squeezing in some hours working on the workshop. The latest project was a new sewing table top, with a drop in section for my machines and covers over some cool slide-out work sections. It was tough to get it done on only the weekends, but I did it. The workshop is covered in sawdust and paint splatters again, but every piece of this new top was finished.

The table that was, but isn't anymore.
Shiny and pretty. But, it won’t work. I tore it all down, repurposed a few of the pieces and the remaining pieces are in the garage awaiting reincarnation in some other project. It was pretty depressing, I have to say, on this last weekend to have it all together and sit there, faced with the insurmountable problems which I’d thought would be completely surmountable. It did take me a few hours of trials, attempts, reconsiderations and maybe a tiny tear, as well. In the end, it had to come out.

Having an action plan always helps. I tore it out, stashed it away and quickly moved on to the next project before discouragement set in. Now I am working on the computer desk, which should be the last major build of workshop furniture. There are lots of smaller things; custom shelves and cubbies, boxing out the windows, finishing the spandrel retreat, a freakin’ door, new and more lights, etc., but nothing so big that I’d need to clear half my spaces off again. If I get the computer desk done, I think I can let the smaller stuff wait for a while and get some creative projects done again. I get cranky when I can’t sew and create for a length of time.

Thus, painting and building some more! Woot!

Jul 262014

After I finished Scrappy Cat II, I started thinking about my next creative project to dive into. Then I realized I hadn’t really spent the summer working on the workshop as I’d meant to. I got the north wall worktable done, which was quite an effort, but it was one of about seven or eight things that needed work.
So, instead of another project, I packed everything away and got to work.

The north worktable was originally made at standing height. I got a couple bar chairs so I could sit as well as stand, but after using it for almost a year I realized I didn’t like it. For small or multifarious projects that required moving around and different areas of work, it was great. Most of my projects don’t fit those limits though and I found myself standing in one spot, working until my feet started to fall asleep and my blood pooled in my legs – that, or hunched over in the bar chairs, with terrible posture. I stopped using the area through natural avoidance. I finally came to the conclusion that I had to either remodel the entire north wall or give it up to storage. I decided on the remodel. This involved clearing off all the surfaces, removing the countertops, cutting down the base cabinets by about six inches, and reassembling them all. It was a hassle and a mess. Once I cleaned up, I built another base cabinet (the last one planned for the area) and put everything back. This was a great decision, overall. I find myself using the area often, as I’d hoped for originally. It is an excellent space, even with the temporary shelving and piles of tools all over.

This left me with the cutoff sections from the four base cabinets. I was reluctant to throw them away, since I’d made them, knew them to be secure, study and I was sure they had some use. After a week of them sitting around, I knew what that use was. They would become my new fabric storage shelves on the south wall.

Smaller pieces of fabric, say under a yard, don’t need much space to be stored, but when you have hundreds of those smaller pieces, as I do, you need a lot of small footprint storage. These cutoffs, turned sideways, would make perfect, shallow storage with the addition of a few shelves. Since I only had four, I arranged them so I could build the betwixt shelves in place. Sorta a built-in type deal.

Cutoff pieces of base cabinet auditioning for a new life as a fabric cupboard.
Here is the initial test fit layout. You should always make sure that your drawings match real life, if you can.
So, I spent a very sweaty hot evening last weekend cutting the shelves for this project. It took every evening after work to get everything together, filled, sanded, caulk and touch-up painted, but I did finish it on Thursday night. I still have sore muscles.
The almost finished fabric cupboard.
Here is the view of them almost done. I added the top shelf afterwards, but I don’t have a pic of it. I’ll show them again when I get fabric on the shelves. Frankly, that will be a while. I haven’t folded and organized my fabric for years because of the storage and moving and storage and remodeling and.. and .. you get the idea. Any fabric pulled out of boxes has not been folded and restored. Any new fabric has been put in a separate, non-organized box. I’ll have to make some new folding templates anyway; these shelves are a slightly different size than my old fabric storage boxes.
I like that I’ll be able to view pretty much my entire fabric collection once it is stocked here.

Next up for the workshop is the badge station. I’m tired of the badge press machines being covered up and the cats pulling the cover off so they can sleep on it. Once I get it built I’ll take apart, clean and grease the presses and cutters; and then they can live in their safe, enclosed cabinet. The cats can sleep atop the cabinet – it will be more comfortable than the presses, I’m sure.

Badge station and two more, huge, major builds and I’ll be ready for winter. I might make it.

May 182013

So far this weekend, I have made some basic progress on the workshop furniture.
Two standing height bases, with temp top and Friday.
These are two, standing-height cabinet bases. They are currently unattached, just freestanding, until the domino chain of events and shuffling can allow them to adjust into their final home position. In the meantime, I threw an old desktop on them so I could have somewhere for the cats to nap to hold tools and help with smaller projects. The blue arrow points out the No. 2 leaf imprint. It will be just visible at the toe kick. Friday is inspecting the work, as you see. In the background is the frame for the utility sink. We were scheduled to have it hooked up while the plumber was here for another project, but he had to cancel. Thus, the sink remains non-functional, the sink base remains free standing and that section of wall (where the plumbing connections are) remains open and unfinished. I’d hook it up myself, but I will still have to wait for the plumber to arrive and work as this is where the connection to the north exterior faucet is and thus, must leave this open until the faucet is replaced. In the future, there will be an access panel there, but I don’t want to put that in until the replacement is done, in case it is messy or problematic. That plywood along the wall is my former, temporary door. This means the cats have unrestricted access to the workshop and has led to some conflicts over who really owns the room. That’s okay, we all agree that we love it.

After this picture was taken, I finished another base cabinet; one at sitting height which will go under the sewing table on the south wall. Its mate is drilled and ready to assemble, but I am out of my special, square-headed, pocket hole screws. I’ll pick some more up tomorrow while we’re out.

The chain of work is currently thus:
Plumber replaces exterior faucet with a new, superior and freeze withstanding device, hooks up utility sink.
Remove final piece of drywall (currently stored on south wall) and use it to finish that section of wall where the plumbing is.
Attach sink cabinet to studs and finish exterior of said cabinet.
Purchase more fancy screws and finish second base for sewing table.
Paint, varnish and install sewing table top & standing table top.
Complete standing table, fix into place.
Bring in map drawers, sand, paint, install, frame, top, build side shelves.
Window upper ledge shelf, ceiling paint touch up (the tape was gentle but our primer was kinda rubbish).
Put on outlet covers.
Build a door for me, then a cat door in the spandrel.
Bring in some boxes, move sewing machines down.

I figure all that will take a month or two, so probably through that list section by the end of June. Then I will soothe my aching wallet and empty bank account by making crafty projects for a few months. After some financial and spiritual creative recovery and downtime, I can start on the next phases, like finishing off the spandrel, window boxes, the other two worktables, etc. etc. – it doesn’t really end, you know.

Maybe I can start selling quilts, prints, Adventure Bunnies, and jewelry to supply the workshop. This is a never-ending cycle and I look forward to it.

Feb 072013

A little workshop update, since I’ve been pretty busy with it. Last time, I mentioned I’d have to rearrange some work areas to consider the soft and non-messy status of the spandrel. I got stuck on this for a week, considering every rearrangement possibility. Finally on Sunday, I sat down with a stack of printouts and examined everything until I finally found a few more inches that would allow some furniture swaps that would meet my desires and allow me to keep both my rolling workbench and my custom fit shelves from the surplus department.

Workshop layout plan.

These dimensions aren’t exact; there is no accounting for the depth of vapor barrier/insulation, framing, and drywall. Minor details are fuzzy and such. This a visual layout of the use of space that is close enough for fitting things into the room and accounting for electrical planning. Also, the sink won’t go there, it will go on the end of the blue work table there, but that didn’t affect my planning purposes.

I guess, in summary, this is rough and not exact, but gives you an idea of what I was up to and I have to put up something for you to look at since I have no pictures at the moment.

After this was settled and I mentally walked it out downstairs, I sat down with Slick and discussed my quirky electricity desires, then laid out a circuit run list and supply list. Last night, we went to Lowe’s and got the majority of the insulation, wire and components. Slick is probably already putting up insulation today, but this is what I’ll spend the rest of this week doing, when I can. If I can accomplish this, it means I’ll start putting up drywall next week. I’m not a fan for the finish work on drywall, with all the messy mudding and sanding, but it is the last major remodel construction that will get me to having a finished room. Of course, there will be months of painting, furniture building and finishing, trim work and furnishing coming still, but a finished room is a beautiful thing. A finished, workshop room.

Jan 212013

Since last summer, I’ve had a rough timeline projecting the workshop progress. Recently, I decided to assign myself specific tasks to do each week so I can keep somewhat to that timeline. Otherwise, I will be working on the workshop forever and not actually getting done. This past week, I was supposed to finish all the framing, all the spandrel work and clean up the wood stuff for electrical installation. I almost made it.
The east end of the workshop.
This is the view of the east end of the workshop, where the final wall framing was completed, and the spandrel in the south east corner.

In case you haven’t looked it up already, spandrel refers to the area under the stairs when that area is not more stairs. I had to look up what the word was because I got tired of writing out “the area under the stairs”. Thus, spandrel.

Rebuilding the spandrel into an inviting and useable space was written as Revision Eleven of the basement workshop plan. This revision included rerouting a radon vent ever-so-slightly to allow a floor – the vent pipe before came up about two feet, in the middle of the door hole space, and made the area awkward and unusable for even box storage. We tore out the existing landing supports (which were a bit pathetic) and rebuilt the supports with much better and more stud support and a lovely beam across the opening. This means the entry to the spandrel needs only a head tuck through the four feet wide space on entry instead of hunching over and crawling through the 2’x3′ hole that was there before. This included pulling out an air vent (that didn’t go anywhere, but ended in the next room!), pulling out a heating vent that was wrapped in asbestos tape, removing electrical wires that had long ago been partly disconnected and left hanging, and finally the aforementioned pulling out of the old, poorly attached and simply inadequate support studs from the area. The floor is concrete (one of three basement areas with original concrete instead of dirt) and 4.5″ lower than the new concrete floor in the workshop. However, since it contains a radon vent and the pass-through of the radiant heat tubing, I will not be concreting it to match, but building a raised wooden floor in sections that fit over the items, atop the concrete. This will make the floor the same level as the rest of the workshop, while allowing the sections to be pulled out for vent pipe or tubing maintenance and retain flexibility for future modifications.

And this where I stopped on Sunday night. I was completely knackered and sore, and after staring at the boards for about 10 minutes, I realized I had to quit for the weekend. So, I’ll finish off the spandrel floor tonight, only a day late of my goal. With the framing done, I can really picture the finished walls. With the spandrel being so nice now, I will have to revise my workstation layout, again. Previously, when the spandrel would only serve as crappy, spider-infested, dark, storage I had planned to have my rolling workbench with small tools (Dremel, miniature chop saw, etc) against that now-pink wall. Now, with spandrel screaming to be a small lounge of luxury (think a foam mattress, about 29 pillows, a small reading light, an ornate cat door through to the laundry room, a movie monitor) I don’t want the workbench there, getting sawdust and metal shavings into the comfort and softness and the bench partly blocking that wide doorway. I will have to rearrange everything again. Fortunately, I have built a paper mache and cardboard scale model of the room for this reason. After I get the spandrel floor done tonight, I will pull out the model and rearrange my work areas. Then, I can get to the electrical planning, which is the goal for this week.

I love my nail gun and tool belt.

Nov 122012

I am typing quickly because my site and server provider are having troubles today. Forgive my typos until I get steady access and can fix them.

Oz is camera shy – he runs and cowers when we bring out the camera or get close with a cell phone. We’re working on more photos of him. It will involve treats and sweet-talk, like everything in life!

Work is variable – one day everything is great, the next day a boss gets picky about something and you are full out scrambling! Ugh.

Drawing class continues. No more homework assignments now, only two major projects before the end of the class (and the year) in December. No classes planned yet for next year – I don’t want to detract from finishing my workshop. As it stands, every time I go to class instead of building walls I get seriously cranky.

I have been framing when I can. I love how fast framing goes up – it is satisfying. If I work very hard, I might have walls by the end of the year. Wait, we’re already halfway through November? Well, fuck. I guess I should say January 2013. That’s my new goal now.

Basement workshop framing.

Yesterday, I was framer; this weekend, plumber; next week, electrician; coming soon, carpenter, drywaller, painter. Very busy and occasionally excited enough about my workshop to get off my lazy ass and work on it.

Slick got me a toolbelt. I love it.

Oct 162012

The new concrete guys we selected had to cancel their large outdoor job today due to high winds and asked if we were up for getting our floor today instead of later.

New concrete floor in my workshop.
There are not fonts big enough to properly express how thrilled I am with this.

More later, famished.


Oct 122012

It has been months since the last basement update, and not much has happened since then. You saw that we dug up the outside of our house, verified its integrity, put a protective coating on it and buried it back. It is still just dirt around that half of the house and I can tell I won’t be using the side door this winter unless a damn miracle happens and we do get concrete outside. Until next year, it will simply be a mud trap.

Inside, you saw the dirt basement, you saw the hole we dug around the drainage pipe so it could be replaced. I don’t have a picture of the new pipe, but we had the whole thing replaced up to the city connection and installed a cleanout outside and drain inside for the new floor of the workshop, near where the sink will be to catch overflow or experiments gone terribly wrong.

I told you about radon last time, and to assist our radon venting system we put in a five or six inch layer of loose rock. This will allow the radon to pass through to the venting system.
Layer of air passing rocks atop the dirt that is below our house.
This was the perfect way to get rid of those reddish landscaping rocks we removed from the outside yard. This was about the time I started my drawing class, so almost all the work done here has been done by Slick during the workweek. The drawing class was supposed to fall at the same time as building furniture inside the workshop, and thus be a nice break from the repetitive woodwork, but I had no way to know how far behind everything would become back when I signed up for it.

Layer of air passing rocks atop the dirt that is below our house.
We put in a layer of insulation atop the rocks to assist the fantastic thing coming up. This was sealed with tape and works as a vapor barrier as well as minor insulation.

Vapor barrier over insulation and under concrete.
Then we put down a six mil thick plastic vapor barrier. Overkill, yes. Then the mesh for the coming concrete.

The Captain, sitting on the finished mesh.
The Captain inspected and approved all work. He’s an active job supervisor.

PEX tubing for radiant heating floor system.
Finally, the PEX tubing for the radiant heating system in the concrete floor. We had to call a company and have them ship us the tubing. It is thin-walled 7/8″ tubing designed especially for radiant systems and no one in town carries anything other than standard house tubing. The layout looks wonky here, but we got it straightened out the next day and retied. The tubing really has a mind of its own and requires a little wrestling. Slick also put in the foam insulation around the edges of where the slab will be. Now everything is ready for the concrete, which will come in via a chute through the window, same way the rocks did. The mesh and tubing will be pulled up by the concrete guys to the middle of the pour once everything is mostly in. So close!

I was very excited to post about this today since we were supposed to have the concrete folks out to pour my floor, but there was a scheduling failure and they did not come today. Now we have an appointment for either Thursday or Friday of next week, depending on how their job before us finishes out. I might, possibly, maybe, if I’m lucky, get walls up inside before the end of the year. The chance of getting appropriate electricity (we need rewiring and larger service) is slim, but there is a snowball’s chance in hell. Besides, as soon as the drawing class is over in December, I’ll again have the creative restlessness that might help motivate me to work even more on the workshop. Until then, I’m trying not to get to caught up in it emotionally. The many delays have been trying to crush my spirits, but spirits are slippery and wispy things, thankfully. Makes them more difficult to crush.

Aug 162012

Pssst! Want to get dirty?
Dirt excavated from around our house, pile.
Because we can help with that.

The excavators came out yesterday morning and dug out the north and east sides around our house, The Arches. They did the whole thing in less than a day, but were scheduled for two days. We aren’t sure if this means the project will go on ahead of schedule or not as there are four separate groups doing work on this and may each have independent appointments that can’t be moved. Anyway, this part is done!

Basement excavated, north side basement exterior.
The north side of our house. This is the long stretch of my basement and exterior of my future workshop. One day, on the other (interior) side of this wall, I will have a work counter stretched this length. It will be marvelous. Now, not so marvelous.

Basement excavated, north side of house with piles of dirt in back yard.
The work left two enormous piles of dirt and concrete remains in our backyard. Funny thing, we all thought the excavator would come in through the driveway and apple tree. However, when the excavator team arrived, their digger was larger than reported. They were concerned about fitting it diagonally between the tree and the edge of the garage, so they instead came in from behind the garage, where we had conveniently removed the wooden fence gate.

Dirt excavated from around our house, root into basement wall.
Remember how I told you about the west side of the house where someone had planted bushes right next to the house, then after the roots did some unruly spreading (because they’re roots – that’s what they do) they realized it was a bad idea and pulled them, although failed to back fill the ground thus creating a negative slope? This one was especially stubborn.

Basement excavated, cracked brick.
As far as we can tell, this was the only damage to the house. Everyone was concerned for the integrity of the foundation walls during the digging and was careful. We think this one cracked the way it did due to weakening over time the the digger scraping against it right on the weak spot, as you can see by the black swipe. One minor break that is easily fixed. Honestly, I’m surprised this corner isn’t in worse shape – the gutter ends here with not enough angle and the outside faucet is a few feet away, ready to get excess water down the walls.

Basement excavated, north side basement exterior.
Yesterday I showed you the apple tree lit up by the setting sun. This is the same view from the sidewalk. Now with a couple enormous piles of dirt!!

We have dug our beloved Arches halfway out of the ground. In a few days, we’ll dirt it back in.
Finally. Finally, progress.

Jul 242012

I’m sure you recall a couple weeks ago when I posted an update on the basement workshop’s (negative) progress towards completion. For how detrimental finding that dirt was to my plans, I was strangely zen about the whole thing. In retrospect, this was partly because the future concrete floor would be a much better quality and durability than the wood floor we had to rip up and partly because somewhere in my head I was satisfied that we’d hit the bottom. When you go so far down that you hit bottom, you are done; you can’t go any lower, right? I mean, we had quite literally hit the dirt at the very bottom of the house, the dirt below the concrete piers. We were done. It couldn’t possibly get worse, right?

Not right. Not at all.

If you’ve watched The Shield, you know the feelings I have right now about the workshop plan. A couple seasons into The Shield and you’re thinking to yourself, “wow, it cannot get worse. The things these guys have done – horrible, but they have to be done now. This is it. They’ve hit the bottom. It must get better.” And then the new season and the remaining seasons start up and The Shield introduces you to the concept of a shovel. They did hit bottom, but with effort, sweat, tears, blood, and spite, they pick up that shovel and start digging. There is always a new low, a new bottom. It can always get worse and it does.

That is like my basement workshop.

I told you we were waiting for a plumber to move the drain so we could have the concrete floor poured. Well, the plumber came out and gave it a good look. He suggested we dig around the drainage pipe and inspect it since it looked like it may be running along the underneath of our foundation footings, aligned under it. If we ever had issues with it, he said, it would mean digging everything back up from outside the house (the same outside we’re scheduled next month to have completely enveloped and sealed, then sidewalked on top of) and possibly jackhammer the foundation footing above it, which would impair the integrity of said foundation and thus, our house. He pointed out, and we wholeheartedly agreed, that the time to trace it out and possibly replace it and reroute it is now, when we have dirt access from the inside as well as the excavator coming out next month to dig up … everything on the outside.

Coincidentally, that same morning, my friend ChevyIIragtop stopped by to say hi and suggest that we have that same drainage pipe thoroughly inspected if not outright replaced. He suggests this because he had to do the same thing to the drainage pipe in his old house, which was built at the same time as ours. His plumber explained that the pipes had a lifetime robustness of 50 years, which expired about 25 years back. If that pipe has degraded over the last 75 years, even a bit, it will be obviously more desirable to replace it now when it is merely residing in some dirt than in X number of years, when it is underneath a foot of concrete and all my workshop items. The logic here is explicit and irrefutable.

Of course we dug that bastard up.
Our drainage pipe, exposed in our dirty basement.
The main drainage pipe does not run parallel under the foundation footings, which is very good. While the pipe and fittings are quite dirty, they do not have any exterior damage. This is fine, but until we look at the inside of the pipe we won’t know about any internal degradation. The plumber has been contacted to come out again and give it a look. It is likely that we’ll replace the pipe anyway, in order to buy ourselves another 75 years of pipe life, before the concrete arrives. That smaller, upper drainage pipe (from the kitchen and to also be from the newly installed workshop utility sink) does run through and under the footing, but it is the one we were already replacing to begin with, so it isn’t a concern.

What you don’t see in the picture above is the massive pile of dirt behind Slick’s feet there. It is approximately enough dirt to raise suspicions of anyone peeking in our windows as to the insidious nature of our activities. I suppose this is the right time to offer a place to bury a body, but you’re digging that damned grave yourself – and after the plumbers are done. Slick and I are sore all over from hunching down in the hole while carefully avoiding the water pipes and existing drain pipe and digging a horizontal hole. Reference the aforementioned effort, sweat, tears, blood, and spite. And I’m a wimp; Slick did almost all the work himself while I was in an air conditioned office area, allegedly working.

If we replace the pipe, it will be Revision Eight to the workshop progress plan and I will begin to give up hope of moving into the workshop this year. I might still be able to, if I have very precise furniture plans drawn up and am able to streamline my work and dedicate a few weekends to the creation process. Even with that, it still won’t be a complete move in, but probably the long worktop, maybe a desk for the computer and a few stacks of boxes. Honestly, it has been so long since I’ve seen and gone through my supply boxes, I’m starting to forget what I even have. Add to that our library storage which has been in boxes for a year longer than my creation supplies – I am afraid to buy any books because I may already own them!

It’s okay, though. I have a table upstairs, I’ve enough supplies for a few quilts, bunnies, carving and printing. I have an enthusiastic circle of friends ready to distract me with games, revelry and flat out drinking. I have a husband at home working steadily on the work we can do and pushing this project rock up the hill. I have (barely) money to pay for the contractors. I have four fuzzy cat to keep my spirits high. We’ll have positive progress eventually. And we will have the content knowledge that we have new, properly laid pipes under a solid concrete floor, everything done right, fresh and well.

We are NEVER moving.

Also, in the spirit of Murphy’s Law, I predict the next thing we’ll find during the pipe inspection/replacement is an ancient Indian burial, complete with precious artifacts which would reasonably require our lovely Arches to be torn down, without recompense, and disembarked completely while budding archeologists from LCCC slather eagerly, lined around our previously private property. I have informed Slick that we will steadfastly pour concrete right over that shit. Because I am done with this.

Unless we find dinosaur bones. I will reconsider the ‘destroy all evidence’ policy if it is dinosaurs. Maybe.

Jul 092012

Basement workshop update. It has been three weeks since my last remodeling confession and there is a reason for my delay. First, a recap, as I am wont to do. This time last year, we were scraping up layers of carpet, vinyl flooring and various glues and nails, along with tearing down the wall to what was the former downstairs kitchen. At that time, I expected to, with a touch of good fortune, be moving into my workshop just before the winter Solstice Party – in 2011. That was, of course, before the quality of the walls in relation to the unknown foundation wall situation was known, thus before the plan to build new walls, and before refinishing the wood floors. And, obviously, before this new discovery a couple weeks ago.

Back then, I’d mentioned that we were going to put a hole in the floor to check for concrete quality and any possible water damage. We did that and found that the concrete, while awfully dirty, seemed sound and there was no evidence of water damage. I proceeded to have the wood floor refinished and we continued on as expected. The former kitchen sink pipes will be reused for a new workshop sink, but in the workshop plan they were going to be way too close (actually touching in places) to the block foundation to put the new wall behind them. Between that and one of the old rusty, drainage pipes leaking a bit, we had a plumber out to do some work. The plumber completely misunderstood the scope of work (despite Slick’s detailed explanation) and came prepared to only replace the leaky pipe. We agreed that the pipe needed replaced and that he’d come back out to move the other pipes and the base of the drainage pipe, which was situated in the floor. After the replacement and plumber departure, we decided to cut a hole in the floor ourselves and see how much of the plumbing work we could assist with while we waited for our second appointment. I admit, I was pretty eager to get this plumbing stuff done, because it was the only thing holding up framing the new walls. I had my saw set up, the nail gun loaded and ready, the lumber stacked neatly – I was fucking ready to frame!

This is what we found.
Under the floor discovery.
Dirt. Lots of dirt.
What the fuck.
So, clearly the drainage pipe base will be a breeze to move since it is merely surrounded by a bit of dirt.
Motherfucking dirt.
A few questions probably arise at this picture. Such as, “but I thought you cut a hole in the floor to look around?” Well, yes, we did that. The hole we cut was conveniently centered over one of the concrete piers which are spaced about four feet apart. The next picture should show what I mean. Now we know why it seemed awfully dirty when we looked.

Under the floor discovery.
The floor beams were laid directly on top of the concrete piers. If we didn’t have such decent drainage, this could have been a problem. As it is, the only floor beams with degradation were in the area of the leaky pipe.

Another question may be, “is this why your radon levels were shockingly high? Why, yes! Yes, it is almost certainly a major factor. If you have no idea what I’m talking about you A) probably don’t live in Cheyenne, and B) can check out this link about radon. But quickly, radon is a radioactive, heavy gas which is odorless, invisible and undetectable except by testing. Breathing the gas is the same to your lungs as smoking (hello, non-smoker lung cancer!) and contributes to radiation absorption. In short, you don’t want to live in this stuff. While radon is a fairly rare gas, it is common in Wyoming and surrounding areas, in wildly sporadic concentrations. When we bought The Arches, the radon tests came back so high we had a double vent radon dispersion system installed before the paperwork. It was at pack-a-day levels. We did not pussyfoot around with that stuff. Coincidentally, a quarter of the basement has lower, concrete floors where there are no wood floors, which added to the assumption it was all concrete underneath. Those two concrete floor sections are where the radon pulling vents were installed.

A possible third question could be, “but what about your freshly refinished wood floor?” I’ve made my love of wood floors well known, but after mine was finished I wasn’t the biggest fan of it. The wood floor guys that came recommended to us turned out to be not so stellar at all. We don’t need to go into the details, but we were not happy with the service or work. As well, the condition and quality of the wood was mediocre. Over the past few months I’d managed to convince myself that I’d be okay with replacing sections as they failed (with special pieces made and detailed by me), and that the poor quality would help me NOT treat the floors as precious, which is a factor in a workshop. So, yes I’m out the money for the floor refinishing, but that simply cannot be helped.

Thus, with our radon concerns and with the general low quality of the wood floor, we decided the best course of action would be to pull up the wood floors and have concrete floors poured. This weekend past, Slick and I got down there with a saw, sledgehammer, gloved-up hands and ruthlessly pried up all the wood flooring. Our little pull-along trailer is stacked with the cut up flooring, ready to go to the dump. Due to the quality of wood and refinishing, very little of it was salvageable or worth even looking at. And, Slick built a makeshift door to block off the room from the cats. The cats, naturally, would be all too happy to have a 270 sqft litterbox, but they also might find a way under the remaining floor and piers to get stuck.

Under the floor discovery.
Here is a shot of the floor before the beams were removed. We found a dozen or so spiders, a couple scraps of newspaper or wrappers (pictures soon!) and evidence of the leaky pipe in the former kitchen being a long-term problem. The next step is to have concrete poured into a floor shape in here.

This is Revision Seven to the general basement workshop remodeling plan. It is a big one and all work has completely stopped. Instead of positive progress to show, we have negative progress. While this is frustrating, I’m sorta okay with it. The wood floor didn’t satisfy me and I am excited to have a fresh, new concrete floor that I can paint or stain as desired as often as I want. I was investigating the possibility of floor heating cables to put in the new concrete floor pour. It would feel very nice, but it seems to be a lot more involved that simply slapping a mat down into the wet pour, especially since we have plumbing in the room. Considering the plumbing move, existing pipes, radon considerations (you don’t necessarily want to merely seal dirt, you want to consider facilitating the venting system), the fact that this is a non-structural floor pour, and we don’t have a contractor or estimate yet, we’re not completely sure where the new floor level will be. This may affect the walls that I spent many days carefully repairing, sealing, and first-layer insulating, but I’m hoping I’ll only have to fill in and reseal the bottom edges once it is done. Also, I’m going to feel better about my walls being framed against concrete – even though they aren’t load bearing, but merely decorative and insulating.

On the upside, we did find a contractor who is willing to go overkill on our foundation. If he responds to us again (instead of fleeing, blocking our number and/or stubbornly refusing to respond to us) we might have hope of the foundation work being done the best way possible. The other guy who said he would do the lesser version stopped responding, wouldn’t give an estimate and was irritated with us (!!) when we kept calling him every day. What has happened to service nowadays? Or even simple professionalism? DIY takes on a gloomy quality when it is the only choice.

If everything goes well and there are no more major Revisions to the plan, I might be moved into the workshop by the end of the year. That is moved in, but not with all the furniture built and significant amounts of boxes and stuff still residing in the garage. Faced with this timeline, I bought myself a small table and crammed it into my makeshift office/library/box storage/closet/dressing area. There is only a skinny path through that room now, but I have Gretchen back out and dusted off, ready to roll with me.

May 142012

In the process of this exploratory work, Slick decided he’d like to have a water level viewing spot. He devised a method, using a PVC pipe and a high pressure nozzle on our garden hose, to blast a skinny hole into the ground a few feet. At least, that was his plan. Instead he hit something hard and solid at about 18″ below turf. Curious!
We began exploratory holes and flagged areas we hit something at that depth – it was smooth concrete.
Mapping out the Thing.

Two weeks later…
Oh hell. I started this post when the Thing in our backyard was a mystery. However, now we know, so I’m going to just summarize the events.

After confirming it was almost certainly not a septic tank (size, shape, historical likelihood) and digging up steps leading down into our yard, we were hoping the Thing was a bomb shelter, although admitting to ourselves it was likely only a odd driveway or foundation.
Steps leading to the Thing.
We’d decided that if it wasn’t a bomb shelter full of Nazi gold leading to our immediate retirement, we’d turn the former driveway or foundation into a sunken patio – making much better use of our backyard than growing, feeding, and mowing grass for no good reason.

While we speculated and dug some more shape-finding holes, Slick ran into our neighbor, who is finally back from his winter house, and since he’s always belonged to that neighboring house, asked him about what was under our yard. He told us the second or third owner back, in the late 1970s, had put in a sunken patio. However, it was unique and we all know that you have the supposed best chance of selling your house when it is as ‘normal’ as possible. Personally, I’d have loved a sunken patio and don’t look forward to removing a ton or more of topsoil to get to the buried thing and enjoy it.

So, no big, exciting revelation or discovery But, one day we’ll have a sunken patio to hold the (as yet non-existent) summer solstice parties in. Woot.

May 102012

Many of our evenings include an hour of digging around the foundation to check the integrity of it. Most of the work has been focused on the north side, this wall as you’ve seen before, since we’ve cleared any obstacles and it is easy to walk around.
Digging around the house.
There is a tree in our backyard who decided to send out roots along the foundation. Normally, this would be bad. However, because of the negative sloping and stupid landscaping rocks in this area, any water was shunted right to the root, which grew along the inch or two gap between the plastic and the foundation. Yes, someone in the past put down a double layer of plastic, sloped slightly towards the house, with a gap and covered it all with rocks with sprinklers nearby. Does it get more wrong than this? It is essentially a water ‘catch and divert’ the way you don’t want it. Fortunately, this encouraged the root to stay in that choice water area instead of investigating the foundation wall.

See on the left there, that pool of muddy water? That is me doing leak testing. Uncovering the foundation blocks showed them in good condition, as mentioned before. To be safe, I have repeatedly hosed the whole area heavily and checked inside. No water inside. The only water getting in was from the line of cinder blocks, as suspected. This is good.

What is even better is that we got a masonry guy out to investigate. The older gentleman has many years of experience and knew his bricks and blocks. He confirmed every suspicion and assumption we had. He called the cinder bricks ‘like sponges’ and agreed that the foundation blocks are fine. He spent some time discussing options with us, and has agreed to seal and put an elastic water protective covering over the area, including a few feet extra for safety. Following that, we’ll work with concrete people to create a permanent slope around the house so we never have to mess with this again. This is fantastic news. It is reassuring to have a professional confirm what we’ve found. Plus, we have a digging depth goal for the work, which is MUCH less that what we were afraid we’d have to dig. Although, we may still have a digging party soon. Bring your shovel!

Digging up roots around the house.
Here’s a shot of the corner of the house where the downspout was clogged and unattached, dumping water into the corner, on the left and middle. On the right was negative sloping (towards line of ‘sponge’ bricks) due to a previous bush being planted there, then dug up and not backfilled. This is the root leftover from the bush removal. Again, no damage to the foundation wall, but it is a bitch to try to dig through a root like that, even if it is long dead.

So, this is all good news. Our foundation is fine and can be somewhat easily fixed. We’re going overkill on the fix portion, but that is how we like to do things. Whenever I get tired of digging, I move to the comparatively minor repairs on the interior walls of my half of the basement. The last wall, the one I’m on now, is the worst of them because it not only had bad sloping, and plants, but TWO sprinklers, right next to a window which must have been left open often. But, it is almost done – maybe a few more hours of scraping and filling, followed by twice that time in hours with the Extreme DryLock. After that comes walls!! Very exciting!

I have more to share. It is much more interesting and mysterious news, but I’m out of time right now. Come back for the Thing!

Apr 172012

This time last year I was preparing to move everything in my half of the basement out to the garage so I could remodel it. Back then, I said,”I’d like to get to it while I’m still excited by the idea instead of dreading it and simply wanting it done and over with.” Well, the ‘dreading it’ stage came into full, blossoming despondency with the setbacks we’ve had along the way with and during the entire basement. You’ve heard about it enough, so I won’t repeat it here, but we thought we had some damage or cracks to our foundation which were letting water inside the basement and would require complete excavation of our entire house and extensive repairs. For months we tried to get a contractor to take on the job, but that was like requesting a full body massage for a leprosy victim. This continued on through the winter and we had to give up until we had nicer weather since no one would even talk about it when the ground could be frozen with snow.

In the meantime we did the wood floors, which was also a hassle, and generally fretted and were wrought about the vital foundation repairs that would suck away any extra monies we’d ever had or hoped to have, if we could even find someone to tackle the nightmare job. Not a fun thought grouping, that.

This past weekend, adhering to our carefully considered plan of action, we brought out the shovels and safety gear and started digging. The preceding weekend was spent hauling away a veritable fuck-ton of those obnoxious red landscaping rocks from one side of the house. Thus, our recent time went directly into digging dirt away from the side of the basement foundation walls and diverting any potential for water to the area. What we found was surprising, given the winter of dread we’d recently completed. The foundation we’d expect to find cracked or split, we instead found perfectly intact. Solid bricks, smooth grout, stiff stuff all around. Confused, we kept digging. More of the same. A few feet down we stopped and investigated the entire situation. It appears we do not have a flawed foundation in need of repair. It seems, from initial review, that we merely have a combination of factors putting water above the ground level where a horizontal line of windows and porous bricks change the pattern from foundation to pretty, facing bricks.
A lousy cell shot of the brick line in question.
While this is not a perfect thing, this unfortunate brick line, it looks like they would have never been a problem if so many other water diverting factors had not piled up to work against them.

A lousy cell shot of the window, with unfortunate bricks, in question.
In summary, our foundation is fine. This first investigative dig suggests it is a fairly straightforward problem of water getting into a place (with the right circumstances, i.e. hail storms with flash rain dumps) it was not expected to be. It is fixable and it is even something we can fix ourselves, although we’re still going to have some professional assessments and the work done by pros with work crews. This is all based on one small, exploratory dig and is thus, speculative. We’ll be spending the next few weeks digging down, larger on any suspect areas for inspection, by us and by experts. We think it will be much easier to get contractors out for this small fix rather than the tribulations and agony of an entire foundation repair, which no one wanted to even discuss. We are initially hopeful and largely relieved. Especially me, since my workshop (and goddam sanity!) depends on this. As well, I spoke to a friend this morning who had the same issue on a previous house of his – although his was in one spot instead of a couple. He found his problem the same way we seem to have found ours and fixed it up in a long weekend himself. Quite encouraging, all around. This is good news.

This also means I have a quite real chance of getting my workshop done this year. I’m making progress on the inside, which I know everyone loves to tell me should wait until the outside it done, but I hate sitting on my ass without a workshop. So, when I’ve worn out my arms on the shovels or the weather is disagreeable or it is dark outside, I work inside. I’m wire brushing and cleaning the interior masonry and painting it with Extreme Drylock. Painting isn’t really the best word, since Extreme Drylock is the consistency of pudding. And it needs two layers, so it is slow work. After that comes more sealing, framing and drywall. Real walls. Good news.

Coincidentally, also this time last year I was proclaiming to the ether how I wanted a decent job in Cheyenne with regular hours, not much fakery or travel, an office and etc. I now have that job. We’ve been able to carry on with our standard of living (minus the occasional online shopping sprees) and I will only travel two or three times a year. I have been able to put my creativity and skills to good use and while I don’t have an office yet, they (boss/boss’s boss) don’t care what I’m doing with my monitor. They don’t care that I’m foul-mouthed, in fact they seem to be amused by it. The position I hold now is very different from the one I held when I previously worked for (Company Name), which seems to confuse … everyone who doesn’t work with me now. I like this job, I like my flexible and generous hours, and I like all my coworkers. This is good news.

I hope you all enjoyed the book review yesterday; I have many more to get posted. I also plan to review things other than books, like movies and television, but also products and services. I think sharing gained information is as important as gaining it. Thus, you will all benefit. This is also good news.

Feb 142012

To recap, my half of the basement needs work. When I pulled off the carpet and paneling, we found that whoever put it up didn’t do a proper job and the walls were in poor shape. We scraped off the crumbling plaster, which had been closed up without ventilation, but cannot refinish them until we do some more work, which we can’t do until spring. So, we had the wood floors refinished in the meantime. It took months to get the appointment and their service was poor, but the floor is done!
This past weekend, we removed the barrier across the door and let the kittens into my half of the basement for the first time in their lives.
The Captain in the basement, recently refinished floors.
They loved it. Even though it is cold, because we have the vents shut off since it is empty, they go down to visit the room often. They bat their toys across the floor and then do sliding tackles after them. The Captain especially likes running full speed into the room from the stairs.

The kittens in my half of the basement, recently refinished floors.
Here is a good shot showing the differences in their body shapes. When they starting changing from kittens to cats, Moxie got thick and stocky while The Captain got tall and skinny.

The kittens in my half of the basement, recently refinished floors.
The under-stairs closet hasn’t been cleaned since we moved in, so it is layered with the rubble dust. The kittens have made a full investigation of the space, as evidenced by their pawprints.

My workshop has a floor now. It is very nice to go down there and just sit on the gleaming wood, anticipating my workshop. I still can’t do much down there, but at least I can reasonably put a few things in the space for now. Gretchen is sitting there along with my iron and half ironing board. I think I can set up one workbench and probably one set of shelves for the winter, which will help while we’re working on the walls and furniture building to come.

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