Tagged: drainage

drainage report: all buttoned up

We closed on our house in August of 2006, a month before our first year wedding anniversary. Fortunately, we had about four weeks of overlap between getting the keys and the end of our lease on our rental house. During that time, we spent almost every night and weekend at our new home, furiously cleaning, painting and making it habitable. On the day of our anniversary we sat on the grass in the backyard, eating burritos and the top of our wedding cake. Maybe it wasn’t the most romantic of anniversaries, but looking back, it kinda was.

5 years later, we celebrated our 6-year anniversary – working side by side in the front yard, continuing to make this little house our home. Maybe it was the anniversary or maybe it was the fear that this really would be the last nice weekend, but we got a whole bunch of stuff done. Behold:

The first step of our porch stoop has always been too tall, so we decided to use some of the leftover ipe from the deck to build a landing of sorts that connects to the 1910 concrete steps. After excavating out around the area, Kyle installed a pressure-treated ledger board against the face of the concrete stoop footing and then poured a new footing next to the concrete steps.

He then built a frame out of pressure-treated 2x’s and 4x’s that hangs on the ledger and bears on the outboard concrete footing. Initially, we planned for the ipe to run parallel to the steps, but realized that the stoop (and therefore the house) is not exactly parallel to the concrete steps, which would have created a weird trapezoidal condition. Ok, whatever…it was 1910. I’ll cut them some slack. So anyhow, we decided to run the boards perpendicular to remedy the problem.

The animals oversaw the operation. GC Bailey and site superintendent Felix.

After the deck boards were attached Kyle skirted the landing in 1×8 ipe boards. Eventually we’ll have plants(!) that will help soften the edges, but we like the way it turned out. It reads more as a bridge that connects one yard to the other.

No, we didn’t have a Penofin accident – it’s just water. The rain is here.

Speaking of, if we do get another dry weekend we’ll go ahead and put a coat of Penofin on the ipe. In the photo above, the dark boards are from the step that was installed (and finished) two years ago. We’re curious to see how the color will change with a new layer of finish on both. [We also plan to add an abrasive admixture to the stain to prevent people from busting their butts on the wet wood. Not that I know what that feels like.]

Ooh, looks like someone’s been to the doggie spa. [If not regularly groomed, Bailey’s paws get so hairy that he unknowingly carries leaves, dirt and other debris into the house. Drives.me.crazy.]

Naturally, Bailey took this evening’s photoshoot as an opportunity to work on his own portfolio. Too bad Kitty totally photobombed him!

While Kyle was busy with the bridge, I sucked it up leveled out the rest of the dirt.

We decided that it would be smart to wait till next year to install the large-scale pavers (aka our old sidewalk and driveway). This would give the dirt time to settle and compact – because the last thing we want is to have to redo 600 lb. pavers. So in the sideyard they sit.

But alas, the joy of a freshly raked dirt yard was short-lived. Stupid tree and your stupid leaves. What is this, fall?

We also swept the driveway, sidewalk and pavers. No more construction site. Finally.

In addition to finishing up the drainage system, we also cleaned out the gutters, repainted the side of the house (that was victim to the bobcat “incident”), painted the dining room window trim, weeded the planting strip and spread the remaining pea gravel in the backyard. And now, we are ready for winter.

At the end of the day, we also squeezed in a celebratory dinner at Tavolata. Here’s to 6 years – I think we make a pretty good team.

drainage report: installation and backfill

Work weekend #4 began Friday afternoon when Kyle came home early to get a jumpstart on the waterproofing.

Normal people go to Happy Hour on Friday afternoon, crazed homeowners apply waterproofing.

First he applied a thin coat to the cold joint between the existing foundation wall and new concrete footing “enhancement” that we poured last weekend.

Next he used a heavy-duty roller brush to apply the thick substance to the concrete wall. A chalkline snapped 6″ below the shingle siding gave him a clean line to work with. [Apologies for the crazy harsh light, but you get the idea.]

The product we used is, technically, a liquid cold-applied elastometric waterproofing membrane system. Yeah. Basically it dries to form a durable membrane to keep water out. It was thick, smelly and cumbersome to work with. By the time he was done Kyle had (without question) ranked it in the top 5 least-pleasant home improvement projects. To make matters worse, we missed a friend’s gallery show that night because he literally couldn’t scrub the splatters off until I made an emergency run for paint thinner. [Tip: if you take this on yourself, wear long sleeves. Or better yet, a disposable jumpsuit that can be thrown away when you’re done.]

We let the waterproofing dry overnight and on Saturday began installing the drain mat. We used a produce called MiraDrain – the mat comes in a large roll with a dimpled-plastic material on one side and a felt filter-fabric on the other. The dimpled side goes against the foundation wall and helps relieve hydrostatic pressure buildup that can come from an increase in groundwater after a heavy rain. The roll we purchased is 4′ wide but can be easily cut with a utility knife.

Kyle bought a rubber cleat that gets fastened to the wall and helps hold the drain mat in place. In short, it was a pain to install and didn’t really hold the mat in place so we removed it and let the pressure of the backfilled dirt do the job instead.

With the drain mat in place, we installed our EZ flow drains and connected them to the tight-lined pipe that we installed two weekends ago. [Water that collects in these drains will flow to a perforated pipe located 10′ away from the house in the front yard.] The pre-assembled drain can be cut to fit – you just need a zip tie (as seen in the drain on the left above) to wrap back around the netting to keep the foam aggregate in place.

The final step before backfill was to install the drainage for the downspouts. We chose to use a 2″ white PVC pipe for the portion that would stick out above grade and then connect that to the black ABS pipe with a rubber coupling. This allows us to easily remove the downspouts for yearly maintenance or if something gets clogged. From the north side of the house, the pipe wraps around the west side and along to the south, sloped at 1/4″ per foot and tying into the porch downspouts to pick up the flow in one single run. [We have one downspout on the backside of the house that is already tied into the drainage system.]

And finally – bobcat. This time we rented a front-end loader since our main objective was to push dirt back into the trenches. After about 30 minutes of work, Kyle got the sneaking suspicion that once again, something wasn’t quite right. Turns out that there was another problem with the hydraulics, but this time they sent someone out to our house with a new piece of equipment. Phew.

And no,  it wasn’t all fun and heavy machinery – lots of good ol’ fashioned manual labor was employed. At some point I simply gave up and embraced the dirt. I think I need a post-drainage spa package. Spa Nordstrom has that, right?

We ran out of time to return the bobcat on Sunday evening, so Monday morning it was. What better way to start off the work week than a bobcat ride across your front yard? Good morning neighbors!

So here we are – the south yard. Are you feeling it? Can you envision a small seating area surrounded by lush native plants?

And the north yard – a blank slate for our recycled large-scale pavers and a tree or two?

We’ll get there.

We still have some “micro-grading” that needs to happen and then we’re going to focus on the hardscaping before the rainy season is upon us.

drainage report: still in the #*!@*$% trenches

Aww, Labor Day weekend. Three days of camping in the San Juan islands, cooking over an open fire, playing fetch with your favorite golden retriever on the beach…

Well, It would have been great.

Early last week we decided to cancel our weekend travel plans and instead power through on the foundation work. In other words, we labored.

This remodel has certainly had its high points, but sometimes it is simply about putting on your homeowner pants (or jorts) and getting.work.done.

Did anyone else spend their weekend in the sweat equity department? To help ease the pain, we treated ourselves to a bottle of wine and dinner at Cuoco on Sunday night. So good. SO GOOD.

Anywho. Hey look, it’s our foundation wall again! That nubbly bit of concrete at the bottom of the wall is our footing and trust me, it was no small feat to get there. True story – after two weekends of Bobcat-assisted digging, we still spent almost a full day hand-digging to expose the footing.

In addition to a pickaxe, we also used our hammer drill with a spade bit to break up the hardpan soil around the footing. Kyle tackled the south end and then I took over for the north end. The Advil bottle was emptied that night.

In the spirit of “while we’re at it” we also decided to redo the plumbing from the house to the main sewer/stormwater line. The pipe on the left will tie into the downspout above and the pipe on the right will remain as a clean out. The previous assembly was a janky mix of concrete pipe, rusted out cast iron and plastic. We also increased the capacity coming out from the house (in other words, a bigger pipe) so that we can maybe add a second bathroom in the basement someday. [The rod and wire in the foreground is the grounding rod for our electrical panel.]

For the hand-digging we found that a variety of shovels worked best. We even tried our shingle-removing tool (the red rake-like shovel) to loosen the soil along the concrete wall.

And just like the early settlers of Seattle, we used the ol’ garden hose to sluice some areas into submission.

Once we were finally, finally done digging, we rented a pressure washer to clean the concrete for waterproofing.

Since we had the washer for 4 hours and the concrete portion didn’t take too long, we cleaned up the front stoop too. It was shocking how much gunk was stripped away! [It’s been two years since we put a coat of Penofin on the wood and it’s due for another, but the pressure washing alone was a vast improvement.] Oh and hey – Kyle also washed the gates, the sides of the house, the new back deck and the patio furniture! It was a scramble at the end, but we loaded it back in the car and I backed right up to the tool rental door with 1 minute to spare. After doing this remodel thing for 5 years now, we’re nothing if not Home Depot savvy.  

Did I mention that we also had to tunnel under our porch foundation? You can see that the footing at the porch is much shallower than the main house, so in order to provide continuous protection from water we dug out an 18″ wide canyon to access that portion of the basement wall. The goal of course was to dig out enough soil without compromising our porch’s foundation so we called up one of our friends who is a structural engineer to get the green light on our approach. I have to give Kyle credit on this one, he dug most of the tunnel himself and entirely by hand. If I ever need to dig myself out of prison, I hope Kyle is my cellmate.

Concrete mix? Concrete mix! Standard practice is to put the drain right next to the footing, but with our hardpan-apalooza and some questionable 1910 details, we decided to instead fill the small trench with concrete. There were also a series of holes where the footing meets the concrete wall which were likely leftover from the original formwork. At any rate, we were concerned that water would find its way through the holes and up through the basement slab (which is above the top of the footing). So just to be sure, we plugged it all. This step was not part of the original plan, but it’s better to be safe than sorry, right? The new concrete will also make it easier to install the waterproofing and drains since we won’t have to work around the old wonky footings.

Even though our foundation is over 100 years-old, it is actually in fairly good shape. For the few minor cracks, Kyle used an elastomeric polyurethane expansion joint caulk to keep unwanted water out.

For smaller holes or other imperfections, Kyle applied a cement skim coat(which he later grinded smooth).

To summarize the weekend: BELTS + SUSPENDERS.

This week is all about the liquid applied elastomeric waterproofing, gutter drain pipes, foundation drainage mat, footing drains, and then finally backfilling. For real. It’s go time.

drainage report: in the trenches

Bobcat weekend, take 2.

Two weekends ago we dug out around our basement foundation to prep for new drains. A hose leak in the bobcat slowed our progress, but this weekend we were back at it, faster and stronger. Digging out around the basement was the first step, the second was to dig two trenches on each side of the front yard that go from the corner of the foundation wall out to the retaining wall (about 20′ each). During heavy rains, this gives excess water a place to flow (and then infiltrate) that is away from the house.

Well hello there pickaxe. Haven’t seen you since we dug out the crawl space.

Once again, we hit hardpan about 3′ deep in some spots and Kyle had to use the pickaxe to break up the soil till we reached the desired depth. Not as confident swinging an axe, I used the smaller trenching shovel to break up hardpan on the other side of the house. The practice conjured up fond memories of elementary school, when my friends and I earnestly spent our recess unearthing “dinosaur bones” on the playground. I only wish this was as gratifying.

For the trench on the north side of the front yard, we’ll tight line the drain for the first 10′ (which basically means the pipe won’t have any holes in it). The second 10′ will be a perforated system that allows water to disperse out and infiltrate back into the soil.

Of course, we’re relying on gravity for the water to flow properly so we used a laser level to measure the vertical distance at various points to ensure that we had enough of a positive slope (about 1/4″ to 1/2″ per foot).

While excavating, we found some old clay pipe sections that were at one point connected to the roof downspouts. Huh, wonder why they weren’t working?

[What we didn’t find – gold bars. I think I’ve officially given up on finding a buried treasure at this house. It would be nice though – “Couple Finds Gold Bars and Uses them to Pay for Remodel”.]

A traditional drain assembly would include a perforated plastic pipe that is surrounded with drain rock and then wrapped in filter fabric to prevent the drain from getting clogged with roots. To save time, we found a pre-assembled product called, no kidding, EZ Flow. The price was really reasonable too (about $3/linear foot). Instead of drain rock, the product uses a lightweight aggregate so the pieces are relatively easy to carry.

The smaller black flexible pipe will connect to the drains around the house and then direct excess water to the perforated assembly near the retaining wall. The two pieces are both 4″ in diameter and connected with a standard coupling fitting.

Just drop it in and you’re done. Easy. We like that.

The first weekend we hauled away about 8 yards of dirt to Pacific Topsoils. Our front yard has always been a little on the high side, so in addition to the dirt displaced by the new drains we knew we’d need to get rid of quite a bit. To determine the exact amount, we relied on the scientific practice of eyeballing it.

Worried that we would be “dirt poor”, we ended up dumping the 2 yards that we’d dug up from the south yard and re-depositing it back on the north side of the driveway. Now we have a dirt dune around our house, ready to backfill…

…and a moat! Maybe we should fill it with water, you know Bailey would be all over that idea.

After the drains were placed in the two trenches, we used the bobcat to backfill the holes, tamping down the dirt intermittently so our future seating area doesn’t become a sunken patio.

We still have some hand-digging to do and then it’s on to waterproofing, drains and backfilling! Yeehaw!

[P.S. On Monday we celebrated our 2-year blogiversary! As part of the celebration, we’ll be posting a Q&A next week – if you have any questions (house-related or otherwise) leave a comment or shoot us an e-mail before next Monday!]

drainage report: digging up our yard

Back in May we talked about all the issues with our yard. Now that the deck is more or less done (still need to put the finish on it before the formal reveal), we’ve moved on to fixing our house’s drainage.

And you know what that means – it’s bobcat time!

So last weekend we rented a mini-excavator and dump truck. This was Kyle’s first time to rent heavy machinery of this caliber and after the 3 minute tutorial he received from the rental place, he was ready to roll. Backwards!

The main objectives of the weekend were to basically dig a moat around the front half of our house and take out extra dirt/mulch/gravel from the front yard. We picked up the bobcat and truck on Saturday afternoon. (One trick we’ve learned is that if rental places are closed on Sundays they usually rent from Saturday afternoon to Monday morning for the same rate as a 24-hr rental.) So we did that.

We started on the north side of the house. All was going well until we hit hardpan about 3′ down. Using the power of the machine, we thought we could just slam the bucket down a few times to break up the soil. Unfortunately, this method didn’t really work. What it did do was cause the right tracks of the bobcat to jump off the concrete driveway and into the dirt, which then caused the bobcat to get wedged against the house.

Bobcat FAIL! (As seen in the above right photo.) We popped a few boards under the track for traction and eventually backed it up onto the driveway, accompanied by the screeching sound of a crushed downspout. Oh well. On the bright side, we have plenty of experience restoring cedar siding and we also have an extra downspout. Which is good, because of course these aren’t your plain old downspouts that you buy at any big box store. No, they were special ordered from a gutter place up in Marysville. Why? Because they’re round. Ain’t no rectangle downspouts on chezerbey!

Once Kyle made his way to the west side of the house, he was getting the hang of things. In fact, I’m pretty sure he’s grinning because he’s channeling Mike Mulligan (Kyle’s all-time favorite children’s book).

I mean, who doesn’t fantasize about being a steam shovel?

Even though we’ll be backfilling the dirt after installing the new drains, we still needed to remove and haul away a good amount. The process on the north side was tedious. Kyle would dump dirt straight into the wheelbarrows and I would then wheel them up and deposit the dirt in the back of the dump truck we rented.

I complained the whole time. I may have kicked a wheelbarrow, called it a name. Maybe.

This picture reminds me of that ridiculous arcade game where you try to use the claw to get a stuffed animal. Y’know…the game that is obviously rigged because no one ever gets the prize and the next thing you know you’ve spent your week’s allowance on a stupid machine. But I digress…this picture isn’t about arcade games, it’s about JORTS! Saturday was a blistering 82 degrees and the work jorts were in full effect. And Kyle owned them.

On Sunday morning Kyle started digging up the south half of our front yard and tearing out the weird mess of plants along our property line.

This half of our front yard is uneven and awkward and so our plan is to level it out a bit and create a small seating area (using some of the smaller pavers that we salvaged from the driveway in the backyard).

Digging on this side of the house went a lot faster and best of all – no wheelbarrows! We just backed the dump truck straight onto the sidewalk for easy access!

By this point Kyle was an excavating bad ass. Scoopin’, dumpin’, some more scoopin’.

And then tragedy struck. 

Around 10:30 a.m. we noticed that one of the hoses was leaking hydraulic fluid. Great. So much for our full day of machine-assisted digging. [The good news – we get the equipment again this weekend for free!]

But no worries, we still had good old-fashioned hand-digging on our side!

We also had the good fortune to not bust through our water line. (The main line was replaced several years ago, but the old (and broken) pipe was left in place.) Phew. (Note: we had our utilities located before we started digging so we knew where everything was. We just used the bobcat to take the first layer of dirt off before hand-digging around the water line.)

Kyle spent the afternoon hand-digging around the sewer line on the south side of the house while I shoveled mulch and pea gravel from the north side. This is the area where we’ll reuse the large-scale pavers that we cut from the old sidewalk in the backyard.

While we optimistically thought we could get all of the digging done in one weekend (seriously, when will we ever learn?), we probably would have needed two weekends even without the bobcat malfunction. (We hauled away about 8 yards of dirt and probably have 8 more to go. Crazy!)

After dirt removal, it’s waterproofing and drains. Could this be the most unexciting house project yet? Maybe. Probably. Unless you’re Mike Mulligan Kyle Zerbey.

Next time – more dogs and kittens!