Monday, July 30, 2007

Digging the basement, or digging to the tune of Primary songs

I looked out the window and what did I see?

This might look wrong to you. See the dirt under the footings? Me neither. For a WEEK our foundation was unsupported.

The wise man built his house....

Oh what do you do in the summertime, when all the world is green?

It's kind of a funny (?) story. We didn't know how far out we could dig without undermining the footings. The main excavator boss actually had surgery so he wasn't on site all the time. The morning they began digging, he told the trackhoe operator to start 6 feet out from the house and not to go closer than four and a half. He got a little overzealous because the dirt seemed so solid and he talked with a bunch of people on the phone and went ahead and dug next to the house, then underneath the foundation. The main boss was so drugged up on painkillers that even when we expressed our concern, he didn't seem worried. The concrete guy was supposed to show up the very next morning. His vacation ran long and he didn't return our calls and John, the excavator boss, upon emerging from his drug-induced stupor, came over apologized profusely for recommending that concrete guy (apparently he'd never flaked out like this before) and went out and bought some huge 4x8 posts and he and his son and Frugaldad put them up underneath the house to help support it through the weekend.

Today (July 30) the new concrete guy is laying forms as I type and we'll have footings by the end of the day and walls tomorrow.

Sunday, July 29, 2007


Like I mentioned before, the existing family room in the house was an addition to the house around 1978. We decided that the best place to add on to the house would be in place of the family room. It was poorly built, and the floor was about 6 inches lower than the rest of the house (a realtor would call it a feature--the sunken living room).

The family room addition--now known as the "subtraction."

Ironically, this is the room that we had made the most improvements too since moving in in 2003. We replaced the carpet before we even moved in. It was the original 1978 orange shag. Since our couch is green we decided the color clash was too much. There were no overhead lights in the room so we ran wires and installed a ceiling fan and two other lights. Frugaldad also ran computer network cables through the walls. The windows were covered in atrocious brown and orange shade and the trim around the windows was unfinished. We put wood blinds on the windows and stained the trim to match the door trim.

The fireplace in the room also sucked warm air like a vacuum so we sealed it up the best we could with foam board and put our entertainment center in front of it.

Inside the family room

Looking into the kitchen from the family room. We hadn't moved everything out yet, obviously.

We took out the windows, ripped out the carpet, took down the light fixtures, and made a saw cut up the walls and across the roof to disconnect the subtraction from the rest of the house.

Getting the room ready to demo.

All ready to tear down

Our own little version of Extreme Makeover Home Edition. We all sat on and around the swings and watched the demolition.

Next up: excavation of the basement!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Digging a new drain field

For those of you unfamiliar with a septic system, when your house is too far away from city sewer services, you have a septic tank. It is a concrete tank that is located underground not too far from your house. They hold anywhere from 750 to 1500 gallons or more. The drain line from your house goes into the tank (the inlet baffle), and then from the tank there is another line (the outlet baffle) that goes to your drain field. The inlet baffle and the outlet baffle are not at the same level so that the only thing that goes out the outlet baffle is liquid. A layer of scum floats on the top (like the small amounts of grease that you can't help send down the drain) and the solids sink to the bottom of the tank. The liquids that come out of the tank go to the drain field, which is some perforated pipe embedded in small rocks that causes the liquid to be filtered and eventually end up back in the water table as clean water. Every few years you have the tank pumped and the solids and liquids removed so, hopefully, it is like starting over. Every so often, though, the drain field will fail because the soil stops draining, or the drain lines become clogged. According to a few of the people we talked with, a drainfield's lifespan can be as little as 15-20 years. Ours was 32 years old, but we have fantastic sandy soil about 6 feet down because our land is old river flood plain. We decided to install a new drain field because the old one was too close to the location of our new addition. We oversized it by over 50% so we can add extra bedrooms down the road (the health department gauges the size needs by number of bedrooms, not number of bathrooms).

This is the location of the new drainfield before the digging began.

Sorry for the fuzziness but I took this through the window screen. Just beginning the digging.

Working their way west to finish digging the hole. They put the drain rock and pipe in the first half before they finished digging because the track hoe couldn't reach that far, though.

Preparing the bed for the perforated pipe. It's several inches of drain rock.

Half of the drain field pipe. The other side is a mirror image but they worked so quickly I wasn't able to get a picture of the entire thing.

They covered the pipe with more rock before they put felt over it and backfilled with dirt. This picture was taken in the evening after they'd left for the day. It's my husband, me holding the baby and the camera, and my brother-in-law.

The second half of the pipe is all covered and ready for felt.

We ended up waiting for the inspector before they could backfill. So they started demolition while they waited.

Now it's a big dirt field. We're waiting to reseed the lawn until the big machinery is done driving through the yard and we had to turn off the sprinkler lines before they got munched by the trackhoe so it will be a dirty summer. Anyone want to come sweep for me multiple times per day?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Background

Back in 2003 when we were looking at moving out of suburbia into a house on some acreage, Frugaldad's brother let us know that a house on their street was going to be on the market soon. The man living in it had passed away and the widow was moving out. They didn't know anything about the house.

My sister-in-law happened to be walking by one day when the realtor was there but the house hadn't gone on the market yet. She got her business card and our realtor was able to walk us through it. Our house had been on the market for a few months already. The day this house went on the market, we got an offer on our house so we put in an offer on the house and though it was up against another offer, ours was accepted.

The drawback was we were moving from a 2100 square-foot house into a 1600 square-foot house. There were still two living areas, but one fewer bedroom, one fewer bathroom, and smaller closets. We knew, though, that with a big piece of property like this (it's about 4.5 acres) that it would be a lot easier to add on to the house than to make the lot bigger. Big lots were also getting much more few and far between, and the cost of real estate in our area was skyrocketing.

The last (almost) 4 years we've lived here, planning all the while. Frugaldad sat in front of the television with a floor plan and a pencil and sketched and erased and sketched again.

Finally, we decided it was time. Last fall we hired a designer to draw up blueprints for us. We didn't have a final set, however, because our plans included a basement under the addition, and no one knew how close we could dig to the existing house without undermining the footings and foundation. We finally decided to just draw the plans with the assumption that we'd dig a little distance out from the house and make the basement smaller than the upstairs.

The new addition is going to be in the place of our existing family room. It was actually an addition to the house about 3 years after the house was built in 1975. It was a glorified porch. It leaked like a sieve. It was always the hottest room and the coldest room. So it had to go.

As spring turned into summer, we turned our plans into the city to get our building permits. The next day, because of the permitting process, we found out that the existing drain field of our septic system was too close to the proposed location of the addition. Since the drain field was already over 30 years old we were lucky that it hadn't failed. We decided to put in a new drain field and found a good excavation contractor. And since he was going to be here with all his equipment, we also hired him to demo and excavate for the addition. His crew put in a new drain field and while they waited for the inspector to come they started tearing down the existing family room (which we have dubbed the "subtraction"). Then they finished the drain field and finished the demolition. Then they came and dug a big hole for the basement.

I'm working on uploading pictures but it takes a while, even with a fast internet connection. The Frugalkids go back to school tomorrow so I hope to have a little more time before the concrete contractor gets here on Thursday.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The thing about renovation...

Is I'm actually too busy to make any updates. I am in the process of uploading pictures and will try to get them on here soon.

To make a long story short, so far we have had our septic drain field replaced, our family room knocked down, and a gigantic hole dug in our back yard.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Under construction....

Check back to see updates to the addition at The Frugal Farm.