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Old 01-15-2012, 10:58 AM   #1
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The CELLAR


After 2.5 years of backbreaking work, I am now completing this project... and after dozens of helpful suggestions from the DIYchatroom contributors over that time span, I thought it only fitting to "give back" and show you all what you have all contributed to.

The background:
I purchased my lovely 1908 home in early 2009. By september I had permits in hand. Basically, I got this home at a steep discount because although it was well-maintained, it had not been remodeled since 1940. The house needed a new electrical system (including wiring), a new heating system, and new plumbing. Actually, a funny story- the minute my wife and I moved in, I went upstairs to wash my hands. She went down to the cellar where the laundry was hooked up, so she could get a load going. Then I heard a scream. "It's raining down here!" I ran down- sure enough, the main stack, a 4" cast iron pipe, had cracked down the middle for about 6 feet at some point between the inspection and us moving in. I guess 101 years of poop takes it's toll.

So I had a lot of work ahead of me, and I was ambitious to fix all the house's problems. BUT... The electrical, plumbing, and heating systems ran in the cellar-a dingy space crawling with spiders and mouse carcasses. I could just update these issues... or I could turn this 1000 Sqft space into a 21st century testament to modern technology and comfort, below an early 20th century testament to solidness and style.

Difficulty: As most cellars from the early part of the last century, this space was not meant to be lived in. It was for storing coal that ran the house's boiler and its new-found "radiant heating" technology that was a gravity-fed system. The house is in St. Louis, MO., and thus the cellar got plenty of water. So before anything fun could happen, extensive waterproofing would need to be done. The walls are made of stone and are not square or flat. The ceiling was made of horse-hair and was falling apart. The floors were made of hastily-poured concrete that had lots of cracks and hollow space beneath, and usually was less than 1" thick. Oh, did I mention that the ceiling height varied from 7'1" to 6'5"? I guess I just did. Only a crazy person would decide to drop the floor to accomodate a reasonable ceiling height in this house. I introduce you to that crazy person, me.

I will periodically post pictures of the house as it progressed. I will start here with some shoddy phone-camera pictures of what it all looked like before I got started....


Spooky entrance to the cellar.... doesn't it look like you are descending into a cave?


This is the boiler and the 4" pipes ofthe gravity-fed system the goes around the periphery of the basement. Notice the walls and water at the floor.


Another long shot of the basement. there were only 3 light bulbs for the entire space. And 2 outlets, each on a separate and ungrounded circuit.


This is what the horse-hair ceiling looked like, for the most part. Notice the great plumbing job that puts copper pipe directly into galvanized steel. The previous owners were continuously fleeced by "repairmen" over the 30 years they lived in the house, and I constantly saw crap like this. You will too, as I post the pictures. Maybe I'll even give you their names and addresses so you can send a formal complaint.


What was here? Nobody knows. Actually, the house was originally meant to use gas lighting thoughout the house. I'm surprised more houses didn't blow up as a result. Also, most pipes and conduits were completely not supported by anything.

Will post the plans next.... stay tuned.

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Old 01-15-2012, 11:18 AM   #2
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MORE......I want to see MORE!

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Old 01-15-2012, 01:08 PM   #3
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In truth, it really does not look that bad at least as far as the walls and floor go. Much better than my 1925 craftsman did when I moved in..and in fact, still better!

I've never seen plaster and lathe ceiling in an old house basement like that. Are you sure it was not meant to be lived in? Is there any evidence of a toilet ever having been down there? Many larger houses of this vintage had rooms in the basement for the "help". Mine had a toilet and two small bedrooms under the front porch. Rather horrifying living conditions.

Can't wait to see more. I love restoration/modernization stories
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Old 01-15-2012, 03:21 PM   #4
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OK.. a few more "before" pictures.....



This I-beam runs the length of the basement...


This is a closet area made up by the old doors from an oak pocke-door set. What a waste. You can also see the gravity-fed radiant heat pipes.


This is behind the stairs. The wood along the bottom is completely rotten.


This door goes to a set of stairs outside. The basement sits about 5 feet below ground level. Or it did, now it's obviously lower....
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Old 01-15-2012, 03:26 PM   #5
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OK... well I was GOING to post the house plans that were approved by the city... but I don't know how to attach a PDF file. If anyone can help, I would appreciate it.....
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Old 01-15-2012, 03:32 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Ironlight View Post
I've never seen plaster and lathe ceiling in an old house basement like that. Are you sure it was not meant to be lived in? Is there any evidence of a toilet ever having been down there? Many larger houses of this vintage had rooms in the basement for the "help". Mine had a toilet and two small bedrooms under the front porch. Rather horrifying living conditions.

Can't wait to see more. I love restoration/modernization stories
There was no evidence of a toilet ever being in this space. There was no plumbing for the basement. The previous owners had a drain put in for the washing machine- so a part of the cast iron 4" main underground drain was replaced with PVC, and a 2" drain was attached. The floor was originally dirt... although it's not impossible to think that "help" lived on straw mats down there with the rats. There is a "servant's staircase" in the main part of the house... but that's another story and has now been removed. Also, as part of the inspection, the previous owners had to replace the remaining underground cast iron pipe, as it was cracked and leaking. I'll get back to that later, because the company screwed the previous owners as well as myself.... but we'll get there soon enough....
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Old 01-15-2012, 04:05 PM   #7
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Wow is that concrete ceilings? The builders must have been used to building high rise buildings or something. I guess you don't have to worry about floors creaking when someone is walking upstairs. Does make it harder to mount stuff though. You'd almost want to build studded walls and add some 2x6 joists just to make mounting lights and stuff easier.
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Old 01-15-2012, 04:20 PM   #8
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Forgot to mention a critical part of my project: I would do virtually ALL the work by myself. My wife SAID she would help. Turned out that every time I tried to cash in on this, she would help for 30 Min and then get REALLY cranky. So really it was just me. If I ever got any help from anyone, I will state what they did. So if you see something, you can assume it was done by this crazy person with no help and not even a lot of spare time to do it in (I have a full-time job BTW).

So let's get going...

Part 1 : the Demo.

OK, it's not that there was a lot of demo to do, right? Just rip out the ceiling and floors, and start over. How long could that take, maybe a couple of days, right???

We started with the ceiling, because, well, we just didn't know what was up there. I got a trust crowbar and some safety equiptment, because at the time I didn't know if there was any asbestos up there. Turns out there wasn't, but being my first demo job I couldn;t be too careful. So I got a trusty crowbar.... just in time for Holloween....


Ready to work... or star in a horror film...

I didn't really think through just how long it would take to demo the ceiling. Turns out the plaster wasn't too hard to remove... but the lathe was. Each lathe was 4' long and about 1 1/2" wide. The basement is 1000 sq ft. each lathe is therefore 0.5 sq ft. The basement had apprx. 2000 lathe. Someone can double check my math. Each lathe had 4 nails holding it up. After about 4 hours, the basement floor looked like this...




And after a whole day it looked like this:



What a way to spend the weekend. And here are the fruits of my initial labor...



and then



After a week the pile of rubble was about 3 feet high and I had to clean it out before continuing. And the dust was ridiculous. It permeated the entire house (yes, the basement door was closed). It makes you wonder how long it took someone to put all this up in the first place.

My favorite part of the demo was when I got near the gas meter, I saw some black material in the joist space near where I had demo-ed. I knew there was something dead there, but I didn't know what. So I carefully positioned a trash can under that part of the ceiling, grabbed the lathe with my crowbar, moved to the side awkwardly and pulled down hard. Down came a slowly-moving cloud of back dust- the ancient remains of a crow. Maybe it got stuck in this space when the house was forst constructed? It was impossible to say. The feathers had basically turned to dust. All that really remained of the bird was a perfectly-preserved bird skull and two mummified bird feet sticking out of the pile. I didn't tell my wife. I know her reaction would not be favorable.

My least favorite part of the project: Some times you find something you REALLY didn't want to find....


If you look at the joists to the left, you will see some of the joists were charred and blackened from a fire. The previous owners didn't know anything about it, and I suspect the fire was easily more than 50 years before. I say this because where else could you buy horse hair nowadays for a plaster ceiling? Exactly. Sorry I don't have a better picture of it, but it was pretty extensive. At some point, someone supported all the damaged joists, occasioally using table legs. Don't ask.
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Old 01-15-2012, 04:29 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Red Squirrel View Post
Wow is that concrete ceilings? The builders must have been used to building high rise buildings or something. I guess you don't have to worry about floors creaking when someone is walking upstairs. Does make it harder to mount stuff though. You'd almost want to build studded walls and add some 2x6 joists just to make mounting lights and stuff easier.

The ceilings were mostly made up of a mixture of plaster with horse hair (real horse hair, not the cheap Chinese imitation stuff) applied on the lathe. There actually was some concrete in the ceiling as well underneath the fireplaces of the first floor. It was mixed with chunks of coal.
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Old 01-15-2012, 04:39 PM   #10
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I'm looking forward to following this thread. My folks house looks very similar. Built 1896, house documents call the foundation 'bluestone'. VERY irregular inside and out. No plaster on the ceiling, though. Same setup with 4 and 5" mains for the gravity hot water heating, floor is about 1.5" thick concrete, but is very uneven. Fortunately the sewer manhole is at the low spot because water is a constant issue around here (NW WI, red clay country). Ceiling is 5'8" at the lowest and 6'10" at the highest.

They updated to copper supply lines, replaced most of the DWV (tho the main stack is original), and the electric is all updated. New boiler (with a circ pump!), a sump pump, lots of stuff over 35 years.

I just bought (a year ago) a 1914 house across town. Lots of the same kinds of issues...currently saving $ for the first major renovation...the bathroom (I have twin girls).

Will be watching with great interest....

Andy
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Old 01-15-2012, 05:19 PM   #11
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Old 01-15-2012, 08:48 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gbwillner View Post
The ceilings were mostly made up of a mixture of plaster with horse hair (real horse hair, not the cheap Chinese imitation stuff) applied on the lathe. There actually was some concrete in the ceiling as well underneath the fireplaces of the first floor. It was mixed with chunks of coal.
Ahhh yes now that I saw those pics, makes more sense. I cannot imagine what the cost would have been to use cement ceilings in a house. Looks like lot of work. I never realized myself how much work demo can be until I did my own basement a few years ago. Now I need to actually rebuild it once money permits.
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Old 01-15-2012, 09:21 PM   #13
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So it took me about 3 weeks to rip out the ceiling. Some demo work continued for about 3 months.

Finished basement plans:


Last edited by gbwillner; 01-15-2012 at 10:32 PM. Reason: personal information needed to be removed
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Old 01-15-2012, 10:23 PM   #14
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If you guys want a bigger plan, let me know.

Basically, you can see that one of the changes was the location of the stairs. The basement stairs, where they were located, were small and cramped. You had to be a dwarf to be able to walk down them comfortably. Interestingly, the house has 2 floors, and there is a perfectly good set of stairs going to the second floor, with nothing underneath except a small coat closet.

Here are the stairs to the basement (original)


If I'm going to add a kick-ass basement, would you want to go through this entrance? No, of course not.

There would be 4 rooms, and several closets. There would be an office, a workshop, a gym, and a media room/bedroom. Also a 3/4 bathroom under the stairs.

Part of the design is to make the space pleasant to live in, but still functional. To that goal, one closet would hold the electrical box, another the water heater, another the sump pump, and yet another the gas meter. Also, all the plumbing and electrical lines for the house would run along the I-beam, hidden in a wooden soffit that could be removed if needed for access.

I would leave the above staircase area open as a raceway for future plumbing, electrical, and other components. It would also serve as the location of the water heater closet. I purchased a Bosch direct gas water heater (ES800) for the whole house. It was placed on the wall where the old stairs were. Sorry, I didn't take any pictures of the installation, but you will see it in subsequent images. Also, I cut off the 3/4" galvanized steel line to the existing GWH, and when I added the direct GWH I used PEX for all the connections.

Last edited by gbwillner; 01-15-2012 at 10:27 PM.
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Old 01-16-2012, 08:56 AM   #15
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Looking forward to this thread!

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