Our House

Terre Haute House Repair - Cellar (1)

Our cellar is a mess. It smells of mold, cat pee and damp. It's got a living history of 80 years worth of gas and water plumbing and electrics. It looks like everyone calling themselves a plumber or electrician within a 50 mile radius must have worked down there at one time or another and used whatever bit of scrap material they had left over from other jobs and none of them had the sense to route any of the work properly.

Let me illustrate...

Our utilities

Our utilities - 17th May 2009

Yes folks, all of this is "live". That includes the strangely twisted lengths of copper tubing attached to the steel water pipe which in turn is connected to the plastic water pipe. The old "knob and tube" electrical wiring is also live. It's supposed to be still safe so long as it hasn't been messed with but after 80 years and the state of the plumbing I think that's pretty unlikely.

Patty had someone dig down to the outside cellar walls and they covered them with tar paper or something similar, but that was years ago and now we're getting water back into the cellar. It's never a lot but it means the cellar can't be used for any real purpose and anything down there cannot be put on the floor. In October 2007, we looked at the possibility of getting the cellar waterproofed. We put off making a decision then but as this is now "The Year of the House" we asked the guys who gave us the best quote, and who happened to have what we thought was a better system, to come back and give us a new quote.

In the meantime the old wallboards have to come down and as I want to replace the electrics, so does the ceiling in the part of the cellar that has it...

Old cellar

Removing the cellar wallboards and ceiling - 17th May 2009

Whilst removing the wallboards I came across this bundle of wiring...

old wiring

Old wiring

A voltage sniffer says none of these wires are live - we'll see when I rip them out. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for this wiring...

knob and tube wiring

Knob and tube wiring

Knob and tube wiring

Cellar Electrical Sketch

Sketch of the new cellar electrics

Some people can visualize how things go together in their head. I can't without forgetting details or wanting to add things later so I draw sketches of almost everything I want to do to the house. The above sketch is a rough plan of the new cellar electrics including the new socket outlets and lights. Not very pretty or accurate I know, but these sketches work for me.

With all the ceiling and wallboard down I washed the walls with a stiff brush using solution of 3 parts water, 2 parts bleach and a small amount of washing detergent. The use of bleach as a mold killer is debatable as the water in household bleach can actually make a damp problem worse but the solution really does clean the walls well. The problem using it in the cellar was that the fumes are very strong and made my eyes water.

Preparation - 19th June 2009

The guy from Indiana Foundation Service called back on 18th June and agreed to do the work they quoted for in October 2007, not only that but also at the same price they originally quoted us, which we thought was fantastic.

We had some work to do to prepare the basement for them. This involved clearing a four foot space around all the external walls and clearing an area around the useless floor drain that has never worked - in fact it seems to let more water into the basement than it drains away. The pipe for this drain must be at around 8' below ground level and is worked by a simple floating ball. When the pipe fills with water the ball floats and is supposed to seal the drain opening. As far as I can tell, the pipe is choked and forcing a high pressure jet of water down it has never cleared it. As the pipe is so deep, digging down to and inspecting it will be difficult so it's just been left.

Cellar Drain

The Cellar Drain

I've no idea what the short piece of plastic pipe is for. At the top right of the image you can see a cast iron downpipe, I've no idea what runs through this as it goes straight through a hole in the basement ceiling but it is not part of the "dirty" water system. I don't even know if it connects to the underground drain pipe. This photo was taken after a couple of days of heavy rain and, although it doesn't look like it, there is two inches of water sitting on top of the drain.

One thing that had to be done was the cellar steps had to be stripped of the horrible yellow shag pile carpet that's been there for years and like the rest of the cellar smells of mold, cat pee and damp. There were about a million nails and staples holding the carpet down but I eventually got it all up.

Cellar Stairs

Our cellar stairs with our horrible yellow shag pile carpet

Cellar Stairs

Our cellar stairs without the horrible yellow shag carpet

They don't look in that bad shape do they? The bottom couple of steps of these stairs have always felt a bit "soft" but after I took the carpet up they didn't look so bad. Unfortunately, what I at first took to be white paint was actually a thin layer of linoleum. Removing this meant the full horror of what was under it was exposed...

Cellar Stairs Cellar Stairs Cellar Stairs Cellar Stairs

Oops, they don't look quite so good now do they Ray?
This looks like old termite and rot damage, I couldn't find any trace of live activity by either.

Whilst pulling off some of the paneling in the cellar we also found traces of dry rot on the bottom ends of the furring strips or battens holding the wallboards to the wall. Not many of the strips were found in this condition and it looked old as I couldn't see much damp or the fruiting bodies of the fungus anywhere around.

Cellar dry rot

Dry rot damage

This page created 5th June 2009, last modified 2nd August 2009

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