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Basement Demolition

July 10  As I planned, I started the demolition of the basement today. Mind you, I still have some cleaning up to do in the ensuite, and I still have to rip the floor up, but I needed a change of pace. With my friend available to help out, today was a good day to tackle the heaviest demolition in the basement. Things went pretty smooth, and we accomplished a fair amount. The bar is gone. The built-in entertainment unit is gone. And no day would be complete without a bit of blood loss.

Why am I gutting the basement?

Every wall I have opened up in this house has had hidden problems, especially bad wiring.  I already had to remove the suspended ceiling so that the plumber will have access when he upgrades our hydronic heating system.  I figured that I might as well go the extra distance and remove all traces of the previous owner from the basement and start with a blank slate.  We are only using the basement for storage right now so if it remains unfinished for a while, it won’t be an inconvenience.

Transferring clutter

The basement is a mess. It has been a mess since we moved in. A lot of the boxes that are cluttering up the space are from my workshop at our old house. Not to mention the big power tools, like the table saw, band saw and jointer…. I moved a lot of stuff to the workroom (which is still in middle of some renovations itself) and started removing the suspended ceiling.

Goodbye bar

Once again, one of the selling points of the house will be taking up residence in the landfill. The bar was actually pretty cool. It was a simple design made of parquet flooring glued over plywood. The top was glass, which was back-lit, over a recess that designed to display currency, seashells, photographs, etc. Fluorescent fixtures installed beneath white acrylic provided the light. There was enough space between the acrylic and the clear glass top to place small items like seashells, postcards and currency.

Bar area before demolition.

A new use for parquet flooring.

Whole-house chiller was hidden beneath counter to right.

There was nothing wrong with the bar. In fact, as we ripped it out, we were impressed with how well built it was. However, it was in the way of other demolition, and it really doesn’t fit in with the future plans for this room. Behind the bar was a counter, which covered the old chiller unit. We weren’t aware of the chiller (which operates off of the plumbing for the boiler) until after we had an air handler installed up in the attic. It is interesting to note here that the receptacle that the chiller was plugged into was completely inaccessible And it was on the same circuit as a full size fridge. Another example of the lack of foresight shown by the previous owner.

bar demolition
Bar area after demolition.

I started taking some of the drywall down, revealing 2×2 strapping. At least the vapor barrier was proper 6 mil, rather than the 4 mil used in other areas of the house.

So long entertainment unit!

entertainment unit
The built-in entertainment unit.

Okay….not the greatest picture. We thought the entertainment unit was pretty cool when we first looked at the house. With room for a stereo and a small (20 inch or so) television set, we had visions of kids hanging out downstairs, playing video games and listening to tunes. I also thought it would have been ideal if we eventually put a pool table downstairs. The other side of the entertainment unit is a decent-sized closet. More storage! You can never have enough storage.

After demolition.

My life’s blood supply draining away

Okay…the injury at first appeared much worse than it actually was. There was a lot of blood!

Somehow, as we pried the stud wall of the closet apart, a board, with protruding nails, swung around and struck me in the back of the head.  I rinsed the wound using a facecloth and cold water. The water diluted the blood and it streaked around my face. Good thing my wife wasn’t home at the time, or she would have freaked out.

When the bleeding subsided my friend examined my gaping head wound. ‘Twas merely a nick– no stitches necessary. My wife also examined my head once she returned home and concurred with the original diagnosis. No doubt about it, I was lucky. The nail could have struck lower, causing a deep flesh wound (as opposed to bouncing off the skull). Or worse. If I turned, that nail would have struck my face, right at eye level. Pretty good argument for wearing safety glasses.

Problems uncovered in the basement

Water problems

We definitely have water coming in the basement, but I strongly believe that much of it can be solved with landscaping.

wet basement
A sure sign that water is coming in the basement.

A couple of years ago I removed the wooden porch because the wood had rotted. The area that was under the porch is significantly lower than the rest of the front yard. I didn’t want to spend money on filling the hole since we will likely have a new porch built in a few years. However, it is obvious that we will have to do something about it now. Often, landscaping can eliminate water infiltration such as this by building the yard up near the house so water will flow downhill away from the foundation.

The curious case of the concrete wedge

concrete wedge
Can anyone explain the purpose of this concrete wedge?

This is definitely a case where I wish I could approach the previous owner for some enlightenment. One wall in the rec room had an angle near the top. Picture a crown molding, only this was drywall). I always thought this was some sort of “character” design. But when I removed the drywall, and the plywood that was behind the drywall, I discovered that the angle was built up with concrete….that the plywood had acted as a form while the concrete cured. The obvious question I have is “why?” I had never heard of or seen anything like this before. Very curious indeed.

Update: We consulted with various contractors and architects over the years that followed. The best theory is this: the top row of the block had been opened up so that concrete could be poured into the voids of the block foundation, in order to reinforce the structure. Our next door neighbor later confirmed that that part of the wall had collapsed as the house, which was moved from another location, was placed on the foundation. That would explain the reason for this sort of repair.

More structural problems

Once again, the previous owner apparently messed around with main structural support without having a clear understanding of what he was doing. In his defense, he did attempt to do something the right way, but as usual, he came up short in the actual execution.

The rec room has one window– a rather large picture window with a decent view of our scenic back yard. I guess the previous owner wanted to have an unobstructed view of the window from the other side of the room, so he removed the post supporting the main beam. To compensate, he built a 2×6 wall at one end, and he installed a beefy 3.5 inch by 8 inch post (actual size) at the other end.  In theory, this should have been adequate for supporting the span. However, the post was not properly installed.

support post
A support post that’s not supported.

No support for the support post

The post (on the right) is resting on top of a concrete hearth where a wood burning stove was once located. This is not even close to being a proper footing, and the hearth itself is very unstable. Just one whack of the sledge hammer broke it apart cleanly. And no trace was left on the concrete slab after it was removed). The stud on the left is not structural in nature. I think that the real problem was that the post was a little short. There is a sag on the first floor between where the original post was and where this one is. I have a couple of options in mind for the repair, one of them being to replace the main beam (which is comprised of 2×10′s) with a steel I-beam. I will investigate this option and see if our budget will allow it.

The other issue with the support beam is the fact that it is not continuous across the basement, as it only goes up to the chimney (which is also visible in this picture). For about 6 feet between the chimney and the block wall for the workroom, there really is no structural support– just a 2×4 wall with a double top plate between the chimney and the stairs, and nothing over the stairs.


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