Basement Part 3: What We've Farmed Out

Heading into this project we were generally uncertain about how much outside help we'd have to call in and if we did need the pros, when and what for? Once we got the old construction cleared out it became wildly obvious that someone (ahem, anyone but us) would need to cut out the old bathroom drain pipes and the nearby concrete so we could put new ones in. Later on it also became wildly obvious that someone (again, anyone but us) would need to put the new drain lines in so, you know, they would actually drain even when they seemed to be going against gravity.

Home Depot rents concrete cutters and of course they have all kinds of plumbing materials. But what they don't rent or sell is the know-how necessary to keep amateurs from causing their house to collapse, either from accidentally digging up the concrete that holds supporting columns into place or from plumbing things in such a way that causes smelly explosions later on.

This left us throwing up the white flag and me quickly putting ads on Craigslist (thank you, Mr. Craig, for your highly functional list!) Within minutes I had too many responses to keep them straight. I think my email account was a great (or sad) snapshot of the times - there are clearly a lot of people looking for work right now. We're not loaded, but thankfully we seemed to have scraped together enough loose change, birthday dollars, and credit card rewards gift cards that we can do this project now AND therefore can benefit from some eager and affordable contractors. If you've got the cash and the desire to do a home project now, I'd say jump on it while all this talent is around!

Anyway, after getting about 3 or 4 estimates for concrete cutting we settled on Jim. Jim's an ex-Union guy who came prepared with all his tools in case we liked his estimate. We did. 5 hours later and with a house reeking of gasoline from his gas-powered saw, we had some trenches!

Jim hauled away the chunks of leftover concrete but there was still a decent amout of dirt/sand around. And the fine dust that mixed with water from his saw? Let's not even go there, except to say sludge was all over the floor and we're still vacuuming it up as it dries into powder. You can see in the picture below the splatter marks on the pipe. That's the sludge, friends. You can also see black plastic tied around the main sewer stack. Jim accidentally cracked the clay pipe when digging, but given that it was probably 80+ years old and super fragile, we didn't stress. Besides, Pete was on his way to put in all new PVC!

Again, we got a few estimates and Pete was the winner so he visited us on Saturday. 6 hours later and this time with a house smelling of nail polish remover (from the flux used to connect the PVC) we had drain lines and vents sprouting from the ground!

During demo we learned that the old bathroom was never properly vented. As a consequence our toilet was very slow to flush and drain. Occasionally, there would also be a slight odor. Not going to all this effort just to half-ass things, we concluded it was worth the extra $150 to have Pete properly vent the new bathroom.

And while on the topic of messy things, let's just finish up the bathroom drains by discussing the concrete needed to fill in the trenches. Matt and I hauled in 840 pounds of concrete mix (and not without first worrying that we were going to bust an axel on our trusty Volvo) and went to town mixing it one half bag at a time. Some tips:

  • Our smoking drills (yes, plural) demonstrated that the egg-beater attachments for drills cannot be used in mixing concrete (it's way too dense)
  • It takes a few batches to figure out the optimal consistency but no need to waste the first few as long as they somewhat resemble concrete - it all gets smooshed together anyway. I only say this because our concrete was not structural.
  • A 2x4 remnant works well f0r further mixing the concrete and leveling out the mix once you've dumped it into place.
  • Wear goggles and a face mask. The dust is unreal and it WILL give you gross black boogers for a few days.
  • Wear long sleeves. When the powder and water first mix, the chemical reaction makes it quite hot and you can burn yourself.

1.5 hours and only 540 lbs of conrete later, we closed up our floor and felt some serious pride!

Careful observes might spy some framing in the background. So riddle me this: what does a 3 day weekend and an untold amount of lumber get you?

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