Stone House Reno 7: The Basement Floor

November 12, 2011

For as long as I can remember the basement of our old stone house has been a warren of horrible little rooms only entered by necessity, but over the last two weeks I have poured concrete in the two areas which still had dirt floors.

The holes in the walls created by small animals over many generations are an affront to my sense of what is right. It doesn’t seem reasonable that critters should have free passage through the basement, even if they do no apparent damage. So I plugged as many low-lying holes in the mortar as I could while dumping the concrete for the floor. Mortar will follow later to seal the walls.

The former wood-storage area has always had air so bad our son couldn’t stay in the room. Turned out that was from an ancient block of firewood lodged behind the oil tank which was slowly turning to dust and releasing spores. Once it was out of there and a cubic yard of concrete mixed and poured, the room developed a completely different air. New florescent lights didn’t hurt, either. The fall vegetable harvest took over the new space with an electronic thermometer so we can monitor storage temperatures from the kitchen. Old horrors die hard.

The room next to the cistern is larger and the footings for the massive wood furnace had to be removed. Early in the renovation process I had pulled the cast iron monster out through the doorways with a long chain and my old Massey Harris 30. But the elevated base remained, so I dug it out, piece by piece.

My friend and companion in this project was my little Bolens tractor. Equipped with a three point hitch dump box I bought on impulse, the Bolens is small enough to back in under the outside stairs and deck, right up to the basement door. It carries away anything I can load into the box, which holds about two good wheelbarrow loads.

So the large slabs of sandstone have been relocated to a storage pile. All I had to do at that end of each trip was back up to the pile, dump, then drive back to the doorway while the little diesel pumped its comforting rhythm beneath me.

In this main room of the basement the 1970’s ductwork cut into the headroom. What’s more, I found the flagstones and concrete of the furnace footings were supported by a pad of crushed limestone gravel. It raked around quite easily. So I dug out a few more stones for the Bolens to haul. I could locate them with a hoe and tip them up, then carry them by hand the twenty feet to the tractor’s box. Easy. The headroom continued to increase as the tractor hauled rocks and grit away.

The job grew strenuous occasionally during battles between larger rocks and my pick, but I could cool down afterward with a tractor ride. That’s the advantage of a very small dump box: lots of breaks keep you going.

Before long the room, which used to consist of walls and a big hump in the middle, became flat enough that I could walk around upright without hitting my head. I even dug down a couple of more inches to leave room for concrete. Over by the water pump it still sloped down a bit, but I put an ABS fitting with a plug there to drain seepage from the pump back down into the dry glacial till below. That’s one advantage to living in a house built on a drumlin.

Then came the concrete. Compared to the complex recipe for mortar, the mix for concrete with Tackaberry’s sand/gravel combination is dead easy: shovel five scoops out of the trailer and into the mixer, add one of portland cement, spray until wet, five more gravel, one more cement, water, gravel, cement, water, then leave to mix while you dump the wheel barrow load already waiting.

It’s not a bad job at all, mixing concrete. The only problem lies at the other end, after dumping it. Proper concrete finishing involves a lot of steps and a complex timeline. All I wanted was to get the floor covered up so the mice would look elsewhere for winter accommodation.

I’d put the plastic vapour barrier down to prevent loss of moisture before the curing process was complete, but the screed, bull float and power trowel stages became a few tentative pokes with a rake to push down the larger gravel, then a float over the surface with a trowel before the next wheelbarrow loads cut off access to this area of the floor.

But gravity is a great help when pouring a floor. Nothing fell off, regardless of how badly I did.

So the floor is crude, but complete. To the satisfaction of the furnace inspector, the line from the tank to the furnace now floats above the new concrete rather than hiding from view in the dirt below.

The new basement should provide about 2500 cubic feet of fresh storage space. That should hold us until Christmas, at least. At under $200 in materials for a week’s worth of home improvements, the project hasn’t broken the bank, either.

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