Excavation Day 1

Monday, August 24th, the day the great ballet of deconstruction began.

The house lift had happened the Friday previously (for lots of video of that go here) and Leanne, the kids and I had taken a break over the weekend.

Although I had taken some time to remove several sections of beam that were toe-nailed to the joists above them but otherwise hanging free, there was still pieces of stud walls littered around the yard. I knew that the excavators were not coming for the purpose of cleaning up our yard and all that waste wood would probably end up buried under piles of dirt. If we were going to keep it out of the landfill or at least keep it from getting in the way later, it was up to us.

Leanne and I got up at 6am and, after setting up an iPhone on the clothesline pole and an iPad on the roof next door, got to work clearing they yard. I also picked up a few perfect pears from the ground.

Here is the time-lapse video from the south-east corner–iPhone taped to a pole taking photos every 20 seconds.

In it you will see Leanne and I flitting about with wheelbarrows as the sun rises, the large excavator setting to work on the back of the house and piling up concrete in the foreground, and finally the small excavator arriving to get under the house (but most of its work is blocked by the pile of concrete).

Did you spot the frame of me holding up a pear to the camera? Hint: you have to stop and start the video to catch individual frames.

Here is another time-lapse from the roof of the Little Yellow House which I started after the large excavator got to work.

Note the complete absence of the house falling down. Fantastic.

This is pretty dramatic stuff for a single-family house and a lot of people are a little gob-smacked that we’re going this far. Basically it comes down to thinking of the long-term instead of the short-term. In the long term we get a more stable, more energy efficient and more comfortable home that uses less energy and water. We also get to enjoy that house a lot sooner than if we had done the work ourselves over years.

I’m not saying everyone should do this because hardly anybody can do this. The upfront costs are daunting. I’m saying everyone should be able to do this and whatever obstacles are in front of the average homeowner doing this should be dealt with.

Who can afford to go this deep inĀ  reducing their carbon footprint? Wealthy people can, but wealthy people can also afford to keep paying high heating and cooling costs so why would they bother? See the problem?

Here’s our stream of logic for lifting and digging out the basement.

1.If we want to fix all the bathroom problems we should also fix the foundation problems in the Northeast corner.

2. To fix that corner we need a building permit.

3. To get a building permit we needed to fix the property line that ran through the two houses.

4. The easiest way to do that was to get a Heritage Revitalization Agreement (and 5-year tax break).

5. With an HRA, any plans we want to do in the future will have to get a Heritage Alteration Permit, so we should put all our plans on paper now including a larger bathroom, a master closet and a bathroom for the kids upstairs.

6. If we’re extending the rear of the house to enlarge the bathroom etc. we should dig a new section of basement under the new addition which will be easier to insulate and give us more living space with a reasonable ceiling height.

–But that’s where we draw the line. We don’t even know how much all this will cost and digging out the existing basement is just too much! Hmmm…

7. Wait, if we dig under the new addition, we will need Nickel Bros. to support the east edge of the house, so how much more will it cost for them to support the entire house?

8. And, if the new basement section is going to be super-insulated, wouldn’t it be good to do the whole basement at the same time? Now, we could insulate the existing walls from the inside and leave the floor where it is.

9. However, if we spend a little more on house lifting, we could replace the entire foundation to modern earthquake resistant standards (the Big One is coming!), put insulation under the basement floor and add radiant floor heating pipes to the basement floor, too. We might also be able to insulate the exterior walls a little and super-insulate and seal the entire basement, new and existing, at the same time. Other “cheaper” ways of achieving this such as removing sections of foundation one at a time to dig the basement deeper would have kept us in construction mode for years and been more expensive in the long run–like a payment plan for a car.

Once again, it came down to our willingness to bear upfront costs (and a bigger debt load) for long-term savings and immediate quality of life improvement. (It also came down to our total frustration at the near-total inaction of our governments on the climate crisis.)

In this final video you can clearly see one of the main benefits to lifting your old house when you replace the basement–you can get a machine under it and do the work in a day that jack-hammers and shovels would take a month to do.

I decided to try giving you a little narration for this one, however you might pick out a couple of mistakes in what I said. I believe I called a white water pipe PVC pipe when it is in fact PEX pipe and the old rusted water line that ran from the well at the side of the house to the pump house at the back is steel pipe, not iron.

Mistakes aside, I hope you enjoy this 13:47 long destruction ballet. Happy Labour Day everyone!

Published by

James Rowley

James lives in Maple Ridge, BC, Canada with his amazing partner, Leanne Koehn, and their two amazing kids in their beautiful house. He studied Science and English Literature at the University of British Columbia where he met Leanne. He also studied acting for a while at Studio 58 in Vancouver. He works as a teacher of English and curriculum writer for new Canadians.

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