Category Archives: Excavation and Basement Work

Slab Happy

A fundamental benefit of the renovation was bumping out the back of the house. In the basement, this meant more than doubling the size of the unfinished area. One member of the family whistfully believes this will provide lots of additional storage space (the other knows with confidence that it simply provides additional acreage to house more bikes and a proper bike repair area; oh – and a second refrigerator, of course, to hold a keg for the upstairs tap).

Below is a view of the area prepped for the slab to be poured. The concrete area at the top is the original house slab – it ended at the brick, south wall that was demolished in the “Excavation Day 5” post. Beyond this was the crawlspace under the old, built-over porch, then the back yard, which we’ve now pushed out into.

View to the west. The block wall has not been finished at this point due to an, um, revealed condition relating to the property line. The slab itself depended on resolution of this issue before it could be poured. More on this in a future post.

The walkway we’ve been using until now – it’s been like walking from a dock to a boat for the last several weeks.

Framing for the new basement stairs has now been added.

The slab and stairs have now been poured. The mason’s doing a key job in our basement. The drain used to be outside the house, under the original porch. Now it’s inside. Although the full bumpout on the top floor (which hangs over the kitchen door and basement stairs) will minimize the rain that hits the stairs and rolls down, some will still go down the stairs and get into the basement. The mason is grading the slab near the door to create a channel to direct this infiltration to the drain.

Finishing off the steps:

The freshly poured end result, looking south into what used to be the crawlspace under the old porch (up to the wall to the left) and backyard (essentially the length of that wall):

And to the east. The boiler for the hydronics and the hot-water heater will live here, consolidating the mechanical components to one corner and freeing up the rest of the basement for, um, storage (more bikes).

You can totally see where the Harry Homeowner blocks from a couple of decades ago are (ugly, but sound), and where the guys have installed new blocks as part of the renovation.

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Posted by on March 15, 2012 in Excavation and Basement Work


Basement Construction Begins

With excavation complete, construction of the block wall at the basement level begins.

I think there’s someone walled up in the opening under the steps, and the workmen used this niche like the one in “The Cask of Amontillado” . . .

Site meeting among Dave, the site manager, Mary, the project manager, and Natalie, our new architect. The outdoor furniture is now protected by a wooden framework that also serves as a work table.

In addition to the west wall in the basement that was removed earlier in the week, the small east wall next to the plumbing stack has now been removed, turning the entire area into an open space (to hold more bikes, of course):

The finished product, ready for framing to begin on top. The opening in the front will house the new basement windows. The only thing left is demolition of the rest of the chimney – the bricks that are visible to the left of the steel support. This will occur after the demolition of the rear of the first and second floors.


Posted by on February 10, 2012 in Excavation and Basement Work


Excavation Day 5

Three actions are on tap for Excavation Day 5:

  • Demolition of the original, 1925 south wall of the house
  • Inspection of the rebar and trench for footers
  • Pouring concrete for footers

Regarding the first item, the crew started early enough that we could capture the action.

Going . . .

Going . . .


Rebar was laid in the footer trenches and the city code inspector approved it that morning.

Poured footers:

A before shot of the furnace room with the original 1925 back wall, before demo began:

The same location, 5 days into demolition:

Demo of the chimney for the boiler exhaust also began (although it won’t be completely removed for another week).

The pile under the exhaust vent is actually decades-worth of willow oak leaves from the Wolfe Street side of the house that have blown into the chimney and created their own little Pleistocene era layer of leaf fossils.

A legacy of hydronics past. These are radiator supply and return pipes from the baseboard radiator in the kitchen that were routed through holes cut in to the old brick exterior wall. The bricks couldn’t be removed without damaging the pipes (we’re still living in the house, and could use the heat, inasmuch as it’s February), so these hangers-on remain for now.

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Posted by on February 7, 2012 in Excavation and Basement Work


A Little Rain Never Hurt Anyone

The weekend arrived with the site prepped for installing rebar and pouring footers after inspection on Monday.

A couple of folks have asked about the nest of conduit we have rockin’ the backyard. Below is a quick overview of the parade of PVC that pervades our patio. Note that these are the intended uses. It’s quite possible that Buddy the box turtle also uses one or more of these as covert, subterranean passages to get around the yard. (We’re really not sure what Buddy does when we’re not around . . .).

Here’s how the back of the house looks at this stage of demolition:

Everything seemed stable and ready for Monday, then we got rain, resulting in somewhat of a mud pit:

It was exactly like the ankle-deep mud we trudged through a few years ago when biking from Vienna to Budapest. Our intended route between Estergom, Hungary, and Budapest got flooded out by the Danube, so we had to resort to a little off-roading (except, of course, that our tires sunk in to the hubs, so we ended up walking for a while). Here’s how Lisa dealt with it at the time:

We didn’t try riding our bikes through the mud-floor basement, but you get the idea.

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Posted by on February 7, 2012 in Excavation and Basement Work


Excavation Day 4

Site condition the morning of Excavation Day 4:

The new location of our electrical meter:

The underside of the house – the product of multiple generations of Harry Homeowner jobs (we’re not blameless here – there’s some of our handiwork from a few years ago included here):

Our crappy, old hose bib, now suspended in mid-air above our heads. The thing leaked when we moved in, in May 2000, because the freeze protector had popped out of the top. Our solution? Shove the end of a wax candle into it (just temporarily of course) and strap it in with an old mountain bike innertube. This temporarily solution actually survived until now.

Profile of the old steps to the basement. The door jam that used to house Ol’ Rotty is to the left.

Work on excavation for the footings has begun.

The guys’ ingenious system of hauling the excavated dirt and construction materials:

Our exposed, dangling electrical panel:

Footing preparation work complete.

Excavation of the east side under the stairs complete:

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Posted by on February 5, 2012 in Excavation and Basement Work


Excavation Day 3

The morning of Excavation Day 3 began auspiciously. Protection was put up the day before to prevent rain from screwing the work site up, but it proved unnecessary.

Note the dirt still remaining around and to the right of brick pier.

Later in the day, additional excavation has been completed. The guy on the bottom left is Dave, our project’s foreman. The guy on the ladder is the electrician, who’s moving the meter to another location. The surface it’s mounted on is soon to be no more.

The brick pier remains, but the most of the fill that used to occupy the space under the east side of the house is now gone.

On the night Excavation Day 3, the southwest corner of our house is now supported only by a steel support.

Excavation also has begun on the east side of the former crawl space, and the retaining wall is gone.

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Posted by on February 4, 2012 in Excavation and Basement Work


Excavation Day 2

Unseasonably nice weather this week helped keep the demolition and excavation work on schedule. Below is a picture of the basement entrance / crawlspace area before renovation. The rear of the house is actually built out over the original 1925 porch, so entering the basement from outside requires walking through an area that used to be an exterior area under the porch. There are cement retaining walls with a narrow crawlspace on either side until you hit the furnace room (the entry there is half of a repurposed French door from the original dining room).

Note the drain inside the door. This is what you get when a house evolves over time and you build out over what was supposed to be exposed, exterior space. Rain + steps down + drain inside = creation of Ol’ Rotty, our forsaken backdoor.

Here’s what this area looks like halfway through Day 2 of demolition and excavation. At this stage, good progress has been made in demolishing the west retaining wall and excavating the dirt behind it (no cool artifacts, unfortunately – just lots of old-school bricks). The cable and pole in the middle is grounded end of the lightning rod.

The resulting rubble now occupies our entire patio:

View from inside the basement. Note the electrical panel to the east. This baby’s gotta move at some point, too.

Here’s a before shot of what this area used to look like:

Dangling electrical connection to our outdoor outlets.

The brick, rear wall of the original house, exposed at last. The hole in the brick is for some long-forgotten connection; it’s been buried for decades. There’s a smaller, round hole on the inside that may have gone to an electrical panel against the inside wall during an earlier iteration of the house. (Wait ’til you see the hydronic, plumbing, and electrical maze in upcoming pics – the furnace room ceiling is graveyard of renovations past, with radiator supply lines terminating in mid-air and three generations of electrical wiring.)

Excavating around our maze of conduits, which were installed when we had the backyard hardscaped in 2007. We still need to access them all, but having them reach daylight out of sight in the little alcove next to the house will no longer be an option. More on the approach to address this in a future post.

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Posted by on February 3, 2012 in Excavation and Basement Work


Excavation Day 1

Construction started at the rear of the house. We’re bumping out 5′ across the entire top floor and 5′ on the left side only on the first floor and basement. In Old Town, this additional 120 square feet is like getting another floor added to your house . . .

Current rear elevation. In addition to the bump out, we’ll be building into the small alcove to the left of the house in the picture.

Stairs leading into the basement. One of our friends had a tremendous affection for the rotting back door and pleaded with us to incorporate this architectural element into the new house. After careful consideration, colored by fond memories of the oceans of water that have leaked under this door during storms over the last decade, we reluctantly demurred.

Excavation underway. It’s a yard sale – everything must go.

The rubble begins piling up. The beloved basement door – Ol’ Rotty – is relegated to fireplace protection . . .

The rear basement window is gone, as are one of the retaining walls. The bricks visible under the remaining steps are old-school, oversize bricks from the hospital that was on this spot until 1925. They were used as fill on these properties (I dug up scores of these mothers when I dug our old pond, and Bill and I dug up more when we put in the back fence.)

Note the brick pier to the left in the picture. That’s all that’s holding up the left side of the house, and that’s gettin’ booted out on Day 3 – stay tuned.

View of the demo from inside the basement:

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Posted by on February 3, 2012 in Excavation and Basement Work