Have you ever had a project you've badly wanted to work on, but you never thought it would actually happen? 

As long as we've owned our homes we've always had a project list a mile long. Some of those projects are things we are going to work on in the near term, and some of those projects are things we dream about eventually tackling, but have no real concept if we'll actually get to that point. But if there's one thing you need to know about Wendy and me, when we set our minds to something, we don't like to stop driving toward that goal until we can make it happen.

Over the course of the summer, and now into this fall and winter, we've been planning and working on one of those projects we've always really wanted to take on, but weren't sure would ever happen. That project? A complete overhaul of our row house's dark, musty, dirty, crowded, and inefficient basement. You remember this gross space, right? The room in our house that could most easily pass for that of a hoarder's hideaway.

Back when we purchased our home we didn't have any sort of budget to put into the unfinished basement. The walls were covered in failing waterproofing paint, portions of exposed mortar were crumbling, and the ceiling height of the basement ranged from 6'11" at its tallest point in the center, to 6'3" at its shortest at the back wall. 

In order to get ourselves set up and working, we quickly built some shelves out of plywood and two by fours, and a workbench out of the same. Ever since, our basement has played triple duty as a storage area, laundry area, and our workshop. This triple play was less than ideal, essentially making the space fight over all three, doing none of the three particularly well. Not to mention that due to the shared space with the workshop, the storage and laundry areas were perpetually covered in a layer of saw dust. Needless to say, it was less than ideal.

Over this summer we needed to address some of the issues that have been impacting our basement, which included installing a French drain and sump pump to resolve periodic water infiltration following heavy rains, and correcting the out of level floor by working with a contractor to remove the old slab and pour the new. 

While we're at it, we're also removing the old and horribly inefficient forced air furnace. We're replacing it with a high efficiency boiler that will heat the first floor of our house with below floor radiant heat, and the second floor with a hydronic coil on our attic heat pump. We're looking forward to having a more efficient heating system, and the bonus is that switching over to radiant heat will free up a lot of space in the basement because the bulky ductwork is no longer needed. This is another project I've wanted to take on for about 10 years or so, and we're finally doing it! 

If you've been following us on Instagram, you've seen a few of our in progress shots that involve the restoration and repointing of the 130+ year old beautiful masonry walls. This is a tall task that involves stripping old Drylok waterproofing paint, removing some cement mortar from an old (and bad) repointing job, removing what appears to be plaster from other attempts at repointing, and generally trying to clean up all of the masonry.

Basement wall in 2003

This whole project has been a tremendously time consuming and exhausting undertaking. This, coupled with other projects and a very busy work schedule, have kept us pretty quiet on the blog the last several months. We're also working with a few contractors on this project, which is a bit outside of our norm. But if we want to get this done in a semi-reasonable amount of time, we've had to figure out what we should hire out vs. what we should take on ourselves. It wasn't an easy decision by any means, but working with a few good contractors that we know and trust certainly makes things much easier.

So, what's the plan? We're turning the basement into two truly separate areas. One third of the space will be a laundry and storage area for bulk grocery and cleaning supplies, a few of Wendy's real estate staging items and signs, and other household items that we want to keep clean. It will be separate from the workshop, away from the dust and grime that is unavoidable when working on projects. The other two thirds of the basement will be a real, actual workshop. The workshop space will be about 20'x14' and will house several moveable cabinet and workbench components that I plan on building over the next several months. 

The whole project is major and will take a good while to complete. Our goal is to keep you all updated as portions of the project progress. So, are you ready for the fun? While it's not your typical fancy Pinterest-worthy before and after kitchen or bath makeover, we can't wait for this project to come together. After all, this is a project we weren't sure would ever actually happen, so seeing it in the middle of the chaos is truly exciting! 

Comments 17

Comments

SH
11/20/2018 at 1:18 PM

What a massive project. One of the big first steps was getting the tub, boxes of tile etc. out of there. And the advantage of the 10-year wait is that options are more advanced. Good work so far...

Alex
11/21/2018

All of the stuff in the basement had to come out, and I think that was the single most daunting aspect of this work.

DWF
11/20/2018 at 2:08 PM

Welcome back. Figured you were mired in something huge. Looking forward to seeing your progress.

Justin Brennan
11/20/2018 at 3:18 PM

Incredible!

Krystal
11/20/2018 at 3:28 PM

Are you planning on keeping those beautiful brick walls exposed or do you plan on repainting them? Because man, those are lovely.

Alex
11/21/2018

Definitely going to be keeping them exposed, especially in the workshop space. The laundry area will probably be covered a bit by cabinets.

11/20/2018 at 3:50 PM

Those bricks really are glorious.

Kudos to you for tackling such an unglamorous project. You should definitely throw a Cellar-bration when you’re done. Invite your friends to a party in the basement, and Cellar-brate a space they might not otherwise visit.

(I’m a huge fan of throwing silly parties to celebrate finished projects.)

Alex
11/21/2018

I think this is a spectacular idea!

Lori
11/20/2018 at 11:14 PM

This is so awesome! I had no idea that you could actually take out and repour a basement slab. I don't remember-- do you guys have access from the basement directly outside? I can't imagine dragging all that rubble through the house, oy!

Having dedicated project/laundry spaces is gonna be so sweet. I look forward to your progress posts!

Alex
11/21/2018

It was a long, slow, and messy process. We don't have access from the outside, so much of the slab was removed through the small front basement window, and the rest with 5 gallon buckets walked through the house. It was a total mess that we cleaned up from every single evening of the weeks long process.

April
11/21/2018 at 8:32 AM

How did you get the old Drylok off the bricks without damaging the bricks? We have Drylok on our bricks, but our bricks are so old that I'm afraid if we touch them (or even look at them wrong) they will disintegrate into dust! Still trying to figure out how to repoint with Drylok on top.

Alex
11/21/2018

Well...I'll let you know when it's done Alt smile

It's a major work in progress. I've tried everything I can think of, from chemicals to brute force. The end result is that nothing works particularly well and it's a slow and hard process.

The crumbling on your bricks may actually be related to the drylok, as we've had it in a few places. The Drylok holds moisture against the face of the old soft brick, and starts to make it fall apart (sort of like spalling does with concrete mortar on soft brick). In some places ours came off without issue where the Drylok had failed, but in most cases it's staying put and I'm having to fracture it along the mortar line to get it off of the brick. I'll surely be doing a blog post on this topic specifically.

Laura
11/21/2018 at 1:01 PM

This project will bring you many years of satisfaction… Every time you walk in to the space you will feel accomplishment! Love the exposed brick..

Tee
11/24/2018 at 5:21 PM

This is such a worthy project. You are going to love this space when it is finished.

Steve
12/8/2018 at 2:29 PM

Love the brick walls! Will there be any room for a wine cellar?

Harry
12/9/2018 at 10:47 AM

This is very impressive. You must be so overwhelmed and so pleased at the same time. What did you do with the basement contents that you have to move?

GG
12/12/2018 at 2:47 PM

I'm particularly interested in this as I have a basement with similar issues. Curious to know how you will cool the house without ductwork?

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