The Basement Takes Shape

[UPDATE MARCH 2016: since this post was written, Leanne and I have entered into a contract dispute with Ridgewater Homes. For more details, click here.]

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while!

Things are rolling along now and the longer it takes me to get around to writing about it, the more news builds up and the more daunting the task becomes.

So here is a series of photos to share the building of the concrete forms of the basement of Hammond Forever House.

Looking northwest you can see the forms going in for the rear extension. It stretches ten feet past the existing rear extension. After digging deeper, the basement ceiling will be about 7′ tall at it’s lowest point (the old basement ducts were something like 5’5″ and made a loud noise when you hit your head on them).

The footings are 24″ wide and the foundation walls are 8″ thick. Leanne’s Mom says she remembers being “rocked to sleep by the trains shaking the house.” I wonder if my kids will be able to say that after this.

It certainly makes us feel better about that big earthquake that we are expecting here in the Lower Mainland. As long as it doesn’t hit in the next two months…

We poured the concrete right in the middle of that cold snap last week so we needed to drape the forms in plastic and use a propane heater under the house so that it would set.

Meanwhile, at the front of the house:

Building concrete forms takes a while because you want to make sure you get it right. Pouring the concrete took a morning. I went to teach a morning class and by the time I got home before 2pm, it was done. That few hours is an over $8000 line item on our latest Ridgewater invoice.

Sound crazy? I calls it long-term thinking.

The front porch, of course, will be rebuilt as it was, at least in appearance. Originally, the space under the porch was outside the envelope of the house. It was filled with scrap wood and various pieces of broken furniture. The old water pump which drew water into the house from the well was in there. In another case of, “we might as well” we decided to enclose the space under the porch in a foundation wall to serve as a wine cellar and/or root cellar.

Another question was the chimney. You may remember how much trouble we are going to to save our fireplace. Steve, our Ridgewater Site Supervisor pointed out today that you are not allowed to build brick chimneys anymore, so taking steps to save ours is worth it.

We determined that we should give the chimney its own footing and foundation right from the bottom. Apparently some people have poured a concrete slab higher up, maybe at ground level, to set the chimney on and subsequently watched said chimney, and with it their fireplace, gradually separate from their house.

In the rest of the walls, Ridgewater used reuseable  forms. These are treated plywood with slits cut through them to allow for metal spacers to stick through. The spacers stick out on either side of the wall and rods are run through them which keep them in place and make sure the wall is the same thickness everywhere.

With the chimney foundation, as you can see in the above photos, they couldn’t use those spacers, so they added extra lumber to make sure the form would keep its shape when the concrete was poured into it.

By the way, the chimney foundation is hollow so we’re thinking we may place a time capsule in there before the house is lowered. Maybe we should ask our neighbours for suggestions of what to put in it.

Here are a few photos that show how the spacer system works. I like it because the boards are used again and again.

After the concrete is poured, you slide the rods out of the holes in the spacers again and the panels can come off easily. Then you take a hammer and whack the metal end of the spacer that is sticking out of the concrete. It is designed to break off, leaving a small dimple in the wall. Easy!

Rebar is the steel bars that are embedded into concrete to strengthen it. If any contractor tells you, in an earthquake zone, that you can “get away” without adding rebar to your foundation, thank them for their time and hire someone else.

We were impatient to have the concrete poured so that we could get on to other things, and it often appeared as if not much was changing day by day, but it’s clearly a bad idea to rush this stage.

Exactly where are the windows going to go? At what elevation are they so that when the house is lowered back down, they will appear in the same place they did originally? Do they need a notch to be blocked out in the form so that we don’t have to chip out concrete to fit them in later?

Exactly how wide a door do we want?

If we ever manage to afford to put in that legal suite in the basement, where do we need to move that rear window so that it is above the future toilet and not the future sink? Wait, we can’t have the window there because one of the beams that will support the house will go there.

And on and on…

Right now we’re thinking that we should have blocked out a piece of the footing under the porch to allow the small underground stream to flow through instead of building up water under the house. I guess it’s a good thing we were delayed until the rainy season or we might never have thought of that. It looks like tomorrow I’ll be doing some digging.

A lot happened this week, but I’ll have to post about it another time.

Good night!


Post script note for all you house lift enthusiast:  the current date for lowering the house is December 18th. Bring your camera!

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *