Basement / Process

The basement was a project created out of necessity. Over time, the columns in the crawl space had settled which meant the floor in the back of the house sagged a little. Before doing any finish work on the main level, we wanted to beef up our structure to avoid any future settling, cracking, etc. The wall separating the basement and crawl space was wood, which after oh, 98 years of being against dirt, it wasn’t looking or functioning too well. So we had quite the work cut out for us. The roof project definitely maintains the award for filthiest job, but the basement can definitely take claim of “most back breaking” job. This also constitutes phase one for the basement. Eventually, we’ll finish out the full basement portion and turn it into a media/guest room (done!), a second bathroom and a utility/laundry room…linked to the upper floor via an open stair so it feels less basement-like. See the design here.
January 2008

As 2008 arrived, we were itching to demo! We rationalized that demoing a basement was a good way to spend a Seattle winter.


As we started to demo the chimney, we discovered that Spiderman lived in our attic!


As is the case with most old houses, the tape around our furnace and duct work contained asbestos (we had it professionally tested). We hired a professional abatement company to come out and remove the ducts and sheet metal enclosure around the furnace. Now, just the carcass remains.


Goodbye Indestructo, sorry you couldn’t live up to your name!


With the ductwork gone, we demoed the wall board and wood retaining wall.


The basement stair, sans chimney.


This is a lot of dirt.
March 2008


Kyle built a temporary stair which is actually the same size as the future stair.


Bailey is concerned about the mysterious disappearance of the stairs.


A glimpse of the dirt moving sequence. Basement to wheelbarrow, wheelbarrow to truck.


Fortunately, our neighbor Chris (a landscaper) let us borrow his truck one day which holds much more dirt than Orange Crush.


It would seem that our crawl space was attacked by a crazed, burrowing creature, but this is what had to be done to prep for the new footings and retaining wall.
May + June 2008


Building formwork.


We bought some leftover rebar from a job site (another Craigslist find). Kyle then proceeded to cut, bend and tie it all together for the footings and retaining wall. Not bad at all for a first try!


I inspected the reinforcing and found it to be satisfactory.  =)


Temporary shoring in preparation for the concrete pour.


Our friend Todd came to help. We hired a concrete truck as well as a pumper truck to get the concrete to the basement.


Pumper truck hose leading to the basement.


Todd and Kyle trowel the wet mixture as it is being placed.


Concrete is set, just waiting to cure.


After the footing pour, Kyle moves on to prepping for the retaining wall concrete. Here he’s bending rebar (with a jig he made himself!).


A detail of the wall formwork. The horizontal metal pieces are snap ties that hold the boards together. After the concrete cures, the boards are removed and the protruding ends of the ties get snapped off.


Formwork done, ready for concrete pour #2!


This time, the concrete mixer was a bit more festive.


We changed the location of the jog in the wall, so we had a small area of slab that needed to be poured.


Bailey is very unsure of this.


Aww…something for posterity. [I’m also impressed that my hand and Kyle’s hand seem to be the same size.]


The finished concrete work!
July 2008


With concrete mostly done, it was time to move on to the beams and columns. We used temporary supports on bottle jacks to level the beams.


To beef up the existing beams, we added LVLs (engineered lumber) on each side of the beam and then attached it to the new columns.


A glimpse of the jacking process. This is what caused the excessive cracking in the old bathroom “before” photos.


With the beam and column work complete, we needed to level out the dirt in order to pour the rat slab.
September 2008

Even though we were trying to finish the bathroom project at this time, we needed to switch gears and finish the rat slab in the basement so we could have the furnace installed.


To prep for the rat slab (which is thinner than a typical floor slab), Kyle put down a vapor barrier, welded wire mesh and rebar for reinforcement.


For concrete pour #3, we hired someone to help us float the slab.


The finished slab! Kyle also installed rigid insulation along the perimeter, to provide a thermal break between the foundation wall and slab.
December 2008


Bailey approves of the golden retriever scaled space.


The finished structural work!
January + February 2009


As another year begins, we finally finish our basement project. Last on the list was to complete a seismic retrofit which basically means bolting the framing to the concrete foundation. In the event of an earthquake, this would be a weak point and is the reason some houses literally move on their foundation. We also took the opportunity to insulate and add a vapor barrier. 


Before moving stuff into the “short basement” Kyle installed some gently used, interlocking rubber mats that we found on Craigslist. This would protect our hands and knees when crawling around in the space.


In order to finish the seismic retrofit, the wardrobe had to be demolished. Fortunately, we didn’t really need it anymore with all the new crawl space storage. We were also able to reuse the plywood as subfloor for the porch project!


After the mats were installed, it was time to start organizing! We bought a bunch of plastic bins that we labeled and filled with various things like ski gear, camping supplies, Christmas decorations, etc. Everything is very easy to find now and the bins are on wheels which makes it easy to push and pull things around.


We also organized all of our house-related literature into labeled cardboard magazine holders (top shelf). All of our “how-to” books and past issues of Fine Homebuilding and Dwell are on the bottom shelves.


Of course we owe a special tribute to the new furnace! It fits perfectly in the crawl space, as does most of the ductwork.


The final step on the retrofit was to install plywood shear walls over the framing to add extra rigidity against lateral movement.

Read more about the process of creating the basement bedroom!

Basement / Before
Basement / After