Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend

One of the things that I love (and is also very frustrating) about the House of 42 Doors is the continuous stream of discovery that occurs. In the past, people have made decisions about how to do something and most of the time they made the best decision they could with the information they had at hand. Trying to figure out what they were thinking is what I love. Dealing with the consequences of their actions is what is frustrating.

I have written some about our new plumbing, but I have left out some juicy details (nothing too gross, I promise). Last Friday we had a meeting with Don the plumber to go over what was done, what remains to be done, problems that arose and the final bill. So here's a recap of the "Let's Replace Our Sewer Project."

What We Did

  • Replace the soil pipe from the basement ceiling, all the way out to the sewer main, 75 feet behind the house. This means, tearing up some of the basement floor and digging the backyard up.
  • Replace the drain pipe from the kitchen sink to the soil pipe.
  • Add a floor drain next to the boiler.
  • Add a wash sink so that the washing machine doesn't have to drain into the existing floor drain.
  • Plumb in the original 1921 kitchen sink (with the original faucets) in the basement.
  • Add a new stack for the "someday" first floor bathroom.
  • Abandon the cistern overflow drain and fill in.
  • Abandon a mystery sewer clean out in the backyard and fill in.

Why We Did It

  • The cast iron sewer line under the basement floor was almost fully corroded through and backed up frequently. The previous owner had a nice collection of ten plungers to attest to this fact. I guess if one didn't work, he went out and bought another. More plungers is certainly cheaper than a new sewer. Ironically, the owner probably put in cast iron because it was seen as more durable than the more fragile clay tiling at the time. They didn't consider the effects of rust I guess.
  • Our municipality is upgrading the sewer mains and requiring home owners to upgrade older sewer lines by 2009. This is to reduce the amount of water seepage into the sewers and therefore reduce the cost of sewer treatment.
  • Our mortgage company required replacement as part of the mortgage. This requirement almost killed the purchase of the house. In the end, we were able to negotiate an equitable agreement with the previous owners.

Problems That Arose

  • Our backyard looks like a war zone. Hopefully we can get it put back together next summer.
  • We had a nice brick patio. A good portion of it had to come up for the backhoe to dig down to the sewer line.
  • Somebody, sometime in the past had replaced all but the last 20 feet of the external sewer line with PVC piping. The village inspector was NOT pleased to see this. He didn't know about it, meaning that whoever did it, didn't file for a permit. In the end, he could have ordered it replaced, but he signed off on it and let it go.
  • The concrete in the basement floor ended up being six to eight inches thick. This meant that the subcontracted concrete cutters not only had to go back and get a different concrete saw, but they also had to get two more guys to help haul the concrete out.
  • And now for the real gem (almost literally). When I went down the first day to see what the concrete cutters had done, I noticed a lot of good looking black dirt mixed in with the clay under the basement. I didn't think too much about it and didn't look at it that closely. According to Don, it wasn't black dirt. It was coal. That's right. coal. Apparently, there is a layer of coal placed under my basement floor. The combination of coal and eight inches of concrete means that the concrete cutters went through one of their diamond saw blades doing our job. Those saw blades usually last 30 to 40 jobs, and they aren't cheap. I had to chuckle at this. Once again the House of 42 Doors proves to be difficult. I have no idea what reasons could possibly exist for the coal. Drainage? Anyone have any ideas? Maybe they thought they could make diamonds given enough time. It's comforting to know that I have a secret cache of coal for when the real energy crunch hits!

What Remains to Be Done

  • The toilet in the basement needs to be reseated.
  • Both drains need to be cut down to floor level and drain covers put in place.
  • Parts of the concrete settled and need to be re-leveled with the floor.

What It Cost
The cost of the concrete cutters turned out to be huge. With the extra man power and the loss of a blade, the bill from them came in at five times what Don normally expected and made up half of the bill. Still, Don stuck to his bid plus a little bit more for the extras I requested.

Lessons Learned
Never do this unless you absolutely have to. Even then, consider building an out house, or moving. Our backyard is trashed. The basement floor looks bad with the new concrete channels. Our basement is filthy. The floor and walls needs a good sweep and mop. They even used a wet saw to cut the concrete. If anyone says that they are going to cut concrete in your house without a wet saw, box their ears and then kick them out immediately. Concrete dust is insidious and evil. I suspect that it was originally in the bible, but "fire and concrete dust" didn't sound as good as "fire and brimstone".


Anonymous said...

The coal under your basement floor may have used as a base instead of sand or class 5. It was readily available at that time, cheap, packs very hard, and is stable. Or it may be that you do have a coal seam available to you and they didn't care. Anyway, just in case natural gas prices get too high, leave a hole in the basement and every so often throw in a match. You might want to check for Radon and have them check for black lung when you go in for a physical.

Mr. Kluges said...

I like the theory of using it as a base instead of sand or class 5. Someone else also suggested that maybe the final layer of concrete didn't come until later, so that people lived in the house for a year or two with a dirt basement floor. The coal could have been left over from the coal used to heat the house.