Wentworth Street: Gutting the basement

Where to begin? My first step, strangely enough, was to try and mow the lawn, which was really a tiny field. When the 2′ high grass choked my  lawnmower, I borrowed a brush cutter from the local trail group and managed to knock it down.

That task out of the way, we turned our attention to the basement. Although we generally didn’t shy away from dirty jobs, this one seemed imposing. Not only was the basement completely filled with rotting flooring, sheetrock and wood trim, it had live wires and plumbing.

We called a local handyman service and the next day three guys in a beat up truck appeared to view the job. Their leader was a short guy with a limp who didn’t seem at all disturbed by the size of the job. “Three days,” Steve told me and two dumpsters.

A few days later, a 30-yard dumpster arrived in the driveway. A few days after that, the team appeared, towing a tractor with a bucket loader, toting several chainsaws and got to work.

I would swing by after work at the end of each day to check their progress. The first dumpster filled quickly with great chunks of flooring and walls. It was hauled away and replaced by the second, which Steve had predicted. That one filled as well and was hauled away and replaced by a third, which on the third and final day of the job, was filled.

In the end, the team managed to clear out 90% of the basement. They left the toilet, at my request, since I thought this might come in handy someday. They also left a section of ceiling which contained a lot of live electrical wires. I said I’d handle this myself.  Later, once I had disconnected the power, I set to work with a crowbar and sledgehammer to pull down the remainder of the ceiling. Throughout the process I was showered alternatively with rat feces and the bodies of the same critter that produced the crap in the first place.

This, I thought, explained the numerous chew marks on the floor joists.

With the basement cleared, the task turned to keeping the water under control. The “floor” was composed of a foul muck that consisted of clay and filth from more than a century of inhabitation. There was actually a “sump” of sorts in the front — a cracked clay vessel that appeared to have once been a pickle crock and was now buried and collecting water.

My friend and I spent two days digging a trench around the perimeter  and laying down drain pipe, directing it to a new, plastic sump which replaced the old. It was tough digging, as we repeatedly came across rocks and piece of clay drainage pipe which must have at one point served this purpose. We scared up one rat in process and quickly disposed of him with the shovel. He was the only live rat we ever saw during the entire process.

We also discovered what we assumed to be bedrock not far below the surface. This prevented us from burying the sump as deeply as we had wanted, but it proved to be deep enough.

Once we had the drainage in place and a sump pump installed, we spread about 9 yards of pea stone over the surface to bring it up a little bit higher. Much later I would hire a contractor to pour a cement floor over the pea stone.