The past week we've violently oscillated between outright angst over work being done on our house and utter exhaustion from the work we're doing.

The work on our house's HVAC and plumbing repairs has been progressing, and we've been trying to stay ahead of the contractors with our responsibilities.

Since the price tag for new geothermal HVAC and the re-plumbing of the entire house exceeds the insurance settlement to repair the existing systems, we're trying to save money where we can by doing some of the leg work, demo, and prep for the work ourselves, leaving the HVAC and plumbing work only for the HVAC and plumbing experts.

The problem with this approach is simple. Our time to get away from our day jobs and daily life to work on the house is limited...and there is no air conditioning at the house (or plumbing for that matter), so any work is done in the sweltering 90 degree plus confines of the cozy house.

Last week this whole effort kicked into high gear when the excavator started digging for the horizontal ground loop that is the key to the HVAC system's function. We knew it was going to be a mess, but we didn't understand just how bad it would be.

The rub of this whole thing, it was happening on a day when neither of us could get away from work, so we were stuck watching the whole thing unfold on the web cam we had hastily stuck in the window a few days before. Oh the agony.

I wanted to be there so badly. This was the culmination of both a childhood dream (the excavator and digging lots of stuff) and an adulthood dream (geothermal and digging lots of stuff), and I was missing the whole thing!

The plan was to dig three six foot wide and four feet deep trenches, each about 200 feet in length. Within these trenches they'd lay the ground loop pipe in several runs, two per trench (one leaving and one return).

As we watched we realized just what this meant. When you dig a large trench like this, it's not like you're digging a moat around your sand castle at the beach. There's a lot of dirt that needs to be moved to somewhere. I mean a LOT!!

As the operators removed dirt and piled it next to the trench, it appeared to mound much larger than the hole from which it came. This process does a pretty awesome job of turning everything into a giant dirt pit as its spread out.

This was made worse by the fact the soil is sandy and soft. While the trench needed to only be wide enough for the pipe, the walls of the trenches kept collapsing, so the excavator had to dig out wider to make sure there would be enough room for the pipe. You can actually see the guy running the pipe in the first trench that was dug.

Let me take a moment to tell you how generally impressed I am by excavator operators. They are artists with this giant machine. In our case they made a slight turn at the end of the pipe run to dig the trench between the two trees at the end of the yard. He did this to make sure he wouldn't damage the tree's root structure. It's always amazing to me just how delicate these guys can be with machinery that's this ridiculously large.

Before we knew it the whole front yard of the house had been completely dug up, the pipes laid, and all of the dirt was placed back in its best as they could.

This all happened over the course of one and a half days of torturous web cam watching. We were finally able to get out to the house on Saturday, a day after the work was complete. As we drove up I told Wendy to prepare herself. I told her that it gets worse before it gets better. I told her to look at the bright side, that maybe this digging process helped reduce the snake, mole, and tick populations around our house. But more than anything, I told her to brace for what the front yard would now look like.

This is what we saw as we turned into the driveway.

It wasn't terrible. Don't get me wrong, It wasn't great, but it could have been worse. However, it also highlighted just how much work we have ahead of us. Where we had once had tons of crab grass, grass, and weeds we now had dirt. Tons of dirt.

The really good news about the whole thing is the fact the excavator was also able to remove the old buried oil tank along with the leftover oil, so we don't have an abandoned tank in the ground that could end up causing an environmental issue down the road. But this does mean our fence and brick walkway have seen better days. At least they saved one of our boxwoods.

The also awesome news is that the guys digging found some pretty cool stuff while digging. Namely a bunch of cool old bottles buried at various points around the yard.

Someone in the house at some point apparently liked drinking liquor and digging holes, and for this we thank them. And the guys digging our trench were kind enough to handle them with care and set them aside. Our HVAC guy knows what nuts we are for this stuff, so he made sure to handle them gently for us. After we took inventory and cleaned them quickly, this is what we had.

The end result of this crazy effort is a yard that's more of a mud pit than a yard (will need to deal with planting grass later this season), a horizontal geothermal ground loop field installed, and the first major step back to getting ourselves to a point where our house is once again a functional house.

I spent the majority of the day Saturday crawling around I the crawl space and cutting out our old copper pipe. It was beyond filthy, dirty, hot, and disgusting. I think I lost about seven pounds and today I still fee like I was in a car accident.

The HVAC guys should be back this week to start the interior duct work and we're hopefully not too far from functional air conditioning in the house. I can't tell you how excited we are for that day.

We have a long road ahead of us but we're taking baby steps to get this place put back together. The project list looks like it will never end at this point, but I'm hopeful this is a temporary feeling and we'll eventually get to a point where we'll be able to both enjoy staying for the weekend and working on the occasional single room improvement project. This whole house disaster thing is for the birds.

Comments 15


Jeanne Bowes-dietz
6/25/2015 at 3:15 PM
find anything interesting buried in you yard?
vicki jane
6/25/2015 at 4:07 PM

We start house renovations on monday, when the contractors will start by removing a very dodgy retaining wall, remove a very large tree stump and dig trenches for undergrounding the electricity. Plumbing has to be rerouted and we are also putting in some watertanks to catch overflow off the roof for the garden. I have been dreading how bad the mess is going to be while my partner has been very pollyanna about the whole thing. ( I would just like to add that we live in NZ where it is the middle of winter and has been pouring for the last month )
Thank you for your post. I have showen it to him am happy in the knowledge that once again. I AM RIGHT!!!


We can commiserate as you get further along in your work. Just remember to keep your eye on the prize. And by that I mean when the whole thing isn't a disaster anymore.

We're doing some things with our new plumbing that may allow us to do a gray water recovery system in the future, but I definitely want to look at the option of doing rain water collection for the grass/flowers/garden.

Dave Large
6/25/2015 at 6:45 PM
My brother just put in a ground source heat pump like this in the middle of the Mojave Desert in California and, even in that ridiculously hot area, it works like a top, almost always cruising along at its lowest setting. I wish such a system would work in Sequim Washington where I'm headed next spring, but no such luck.
Margaret Schleicher Bjorklund
6/25/2015 at 7:00 PM
80's next week.
Old Town Home
6/25/2015 at 7:40 PM
Can't wait :-)
Old Town Home
6/25/2015 at 7:40 PM
Just the bottles and an old septic tank. Going to do a little more searching and see what we see.
Old Town Home
6/25/2015 at 7:44 PM
That's great to hear. I think we got lucky living in an area with enough yard where we can use geothermal. It should save us big on our heating and cooling bills.
6/25/2015 at 9:23 PM

Could you run a circular driveway over the pipes? If you wanted to, that is.


Yes we can! This was one of our primary questions early in the project.

Jeanne Bowes-dietz
6/25/2015 at 9:30 PM
I lived in a pre civil war house but there had been an encampment there. I always found bullets pipes. bits of metal and pottery. When the moved a drainage ditch i found Early Woodland arroheads
Jeanne Bowes-dietz
6/25/2015 at 9:30 PM
Dave Large
6/26/2015 at 2:10 AM
You are also lucky to have a flat yard. In my brother's case, his house sits on top of a fairly steep hill, so the backhoe operator had to dig on land so steep that he was constantly in danger of the whole rig tumbling down the hill. Incidentally, his system has a second in-home heat exchanger that pre-heats the domestic hot water, so the single system provides both space heating/cooling and hot water.
Karin K
6/26/2015 at 8:31 AM

Wow! If there was any bermuda grass lurking in there, you're better off with dirt. I'm hoping you have a nicely cooled house before summer is over! Great post, as usual.


There was some, and it was ugly. We need to make a long term decision on the type of grass we want for the rest of the yard.

Since you've not signed in yet, you will need to fill in your name and email below. If you have a Facebook account, save yourself a step and use Connect to login.

Denotes a required field.

Please enter full URL, including http://

You can use Markdown syntax in your comment. And you can also use lots of Emoji!
  • Search

  • Login
  • Follow
  • Advertising

If you're looking for information on advertising and sponsorships, head on over to our sponsorships page. You can purchase site sponsorships in a few easy clicks. 

Toolbox Tuesday
Open Housing
  • We're Featured!

Old Town Home has been featured in the following places and publications:

The Washington Post
Washingtonian Magazine
Old House Journal
Apartment Therapy House Tour
Washington Post Express Feature
Home & Garden Blogs
© 2024 - Privacy Policy
Login Below
Sign in with Facebook

Unexpected Error

Your submission caused an unexpected error. You can try your request again, but if you continue to experience problems, please contact the administrator.