Redirecting Rainfall AWAY from the Basement

Once we discovered the source of the basement water problem – the window – we were ready to fix it ASAP. First, we had to dig out the existing window well. Of course, we then had to pause to take pictures of the kids standing in the window well!

We rented a jackhammer to get the two big chunks of concrete out. We’re guessing that the previous owners must have been attempting to “fix” the water problem with their first pour. They had poured the concrete around a plastic planting pot with holes drilled in the bottom. I guess they thought that it would direct the water into the drainage tile. Bizarre. Then they must have discovered that it didn’t quite work out the way they had hoped. Instead of taking out the concrete chunk, they dumped a second batch on top. And then drilled holes in it. Brilliant! Ahem.

We chose a different and, we like to think, more rationale approach:

  1. Once the concrete was out, we dug down about a foot below the window, exposing the drainage tile (pipe).
  2. We placed a screen over the drainage tile to prevent gravel from falling into the pipe.
  3. Next, we attached a new window well. To create an extra deep semi-circle window well, we took two standard sized ones and connected them together.
  4. Then, we filled the window well with gravel to facilitate proper drainage: about 6 inches of pea gravel.
  5. Finally, and most importantly, my husband dug a happy valley, otherwise known as a small trench, along the side of the patio.

Although we had already removed the deck earlier in the summer (that, my friends, is a story for another day),  the damage to the small patio was already done as the weight of the deck support posts caused the patio to settle on the side closest to the window. However, our new trench effectively channels rainwater into the yard and away from the window altogether, despite the sloping patio.

Success! Over a year later, we haven’t had a drop of water come in the window, and we haven’t even replaced the cracked window yet.


Unexpected Perks

It’s easy to look around at the piles of rubble in our basement and think, maybe we should have just replaced the flooring. Big projects seem to drag on forever, and that’s when you don’t have to pause for major surgery! However, there were several unexpected perks that came from our over-zealous demolition weekend:

  • Finally, A Bathroom Plug-in Before, we had a tiny downstairs bathroom without a single plug-in. Because that bathroom shares half its wall with the basement, having that wall wide-open allowed us easy access to wiring. With a teenage boy who just discovered the hair dryer, the ability to have him two floors away from my bedroom at 6:30 in the morning is very, very important.
  • Let There Be Light Perhaps not surprisingly, the flippers opted to put 2 recessed lights in the entire family room. We now have 7 that are on separate switches, allowing us to leave only the light directed at the stairs on during movies (as opposed to stumbling around in the cave-like dark when someone shuts off the TV). My toes are grateful.
  • Squeak Exterminator Another major perk of tearing down the sheetrock was the ability to fix the main floor squeaks. Since our house was built in the 1960s, there were a few ceiling joists that were cracked. So we jacked it up, and my husband glued and nailed plywood “crutches” on them. Buh-bye squeaks.
  • Full Frontal Access – To the closet, of course. Our closet in the family room had a regular size door on it and a partial wall, which resulted in awkward deep shelves and an empty space behind the door. This, in turn, encouraged the cram-it-in method of storage. Now that we are rebuilding it, it will have two bi-fold doors to allow access to the full storage space. In a small house, storage is king.

There you have it, all the lovely perks that wouldn’t have been possible with a simpler patch job.

Faux Chalk Labels

If you are anything like me, once you are in the middle of a big DIY project, you have the urge to do a million little ones instead. Some call that procrastination, but I like to think of it as sanity-saving. After days weeks months of seeing little progress, it’s nice to switch gears and actually finish something. My mini-distraction for the week was making faux chalk labels.

Armed with my handy packing tape (I guess I share that affinity with the flippers who lived here before, although I use it strictly for crafts and packing, NOT patching window cracks) and some chalk paper and a white marker from Hobby Lobby, I was good to go. In twenty minutes, I had neatly labeled half the kitchen.

My daughter helpfully pointed out that it was silly to label see-through jars since, well, you could already see what was in them. As I reached for the marker and lunged for her forehead, she decided labeling the kitchen wasn’t such a terrible idea after all.

Shared at:

Blue Cricket Design and


The Basement Plan

Now that you’ve seen the shambled mess of our basement, I thought it was time to share the vision for the space!

First, I chose the tile, which is a gorgeous tumbled quartz. The 4×4 squares will go on the hearth. Of course I only ordered a sample – a year ago. Hopefully it’s still available online!

Tile for fireplace, board sample, and colors.Picking paint colors always takes me a long time, but we decided on two: one for the family room and one for the small playroom/office. It’s Winter Lake for the family room, the second blue from the top. The playroom/office will be Tiny Fawn, the first brownish color at the top. Although deciding on the type of flooring took a long time (tile, laminate, tile, laminate, laminate), choosing the laminate for the family room was easy. I fell in love with the Sonoma Cherry immediately. We snatched up some sale tile for the playroom/office. It’s not pictured here because, honestly, it’s boring… and buried under building supplies somewhere in our garage.

Next up was sketching the space. Truth be told, I compulsively produce drawings despite my nonexistent art skills. Imagine my irritation when my ever-practical husband demands dimensions. “Well look!” I tell him, holding my thumb and index finger in the classic measurement pose, “It’s about this much higher than it is wide.” When I wasn’t looking, he smuggled my masterpiece drawing of our fireplace mantle into AutoCad to create precise measurements. Snore.

Here’s what we came up with:

Drawings of the fireplace.I’m really happy with what we have planned. I’m just crossing my fingers that the finished space will somewhat resemble the one I have in my head.

The Proverbial Straw

One weekend last summer, we started demo on our basement. It seemed to be a remarkably quick and easy task. At the end of our last day of cleanup, I was perched on a ladder in the middle of the now barren family room, congratulating myself and my family on our hard labor and looking forward to rebuilding. My husband was across the room, removing the final piece of decorative crown molding at the top of the fireplace so he could take out the remaining studs on that wall. At first, I thought it was a product of tired eyes. Surely the brick fireplace couldn’t be swaying.

Fireplace before demo.

I rubbed my eyes and looked again – at the still swaying fireplace. Apparently, the only thing holding the floor-to-ceiling brick fireplace facade up was this:


DIY Rule #1: It always turns out to be a bigger project than you planned. Always.

Clearly, the existing fireplace was a safety hazard. So instead of being finished with demo, my husband started tearing down the old fireplace, brick by stinkin’ brick. Then he began making a new hearth with cement block. It was like a puzzle, only with really heavy pieces and much bending over.

Well yes, you may be thinking, that is a big job, but why on earth would it take a full year? That fireplace, my friends, was the straw. My husband wound up with two herniated discs in his back, which ultimately required back surgery. After a lengthy, do not lift more than 5 pounds or bend over recovery, his doctor gave him the green light to return to his old nemesis.

Here’s the fireplace now, ready to be tiled:

Fireplace ready to be tiled

Table Inspiration

I have been on the hunt for a new dining room table forever. Since we live in a split level, the dining room space has to bridge the living room, with its dark wood and chocolate fabrics, and the kitchen, with its all white cabinetry.

With so many beautiful pictures and ideas floating around the web, finding rooms and furniture to covet is easy.  A while ago, I ran across this picture and thought the table would be perfect:

Source: The Old White Cottage

Unfortunately, as is often the case, my tastes and my budget do not align. I found similar tables in furniture stores everywhere, but none of them were quite right. Most of them had a lighter stain on the tabletop than I wanted, and all of them were pricey. Then, one day, I spotted this little diamond-in-the-rough at our local Salvation Army.

Thrift store table - before.

Price Tag: $69.99 (Pretty steep price tag for a thrift store, I thought. Not that it stopped me from grabbing the tag and making a mad dash for the register, much to my husband’s horror delight.)

On my agenda this weekend is stripping and refinishing the table, while my husband toils away in our basement … and answers my endless questions.

     Do we have a sander?

     How long do I need to leave the stripper on?

     How bad are these fumes for my lungs?

     Can I start painting the legs while I wait?

Multi-tasking is a beautiful thing.

Out With the Old

Like any self-respecting DIY television junkie, I reacted to the mildewy smell of the basement carpet by advocating for a complete gutting of our basement. When my husband suggested simply removing the carpet and putting down new flooring, I stuttered. “But what about the black mold that is probably spreading inside the walls slowly,” cough, “destroying our health.”

F-i-n-e, he agreed. We could remove the bottom of the sheetrock. Just to see.

Partial removal of sheetrock in basement.

“But think of the foundation,” I urged him (after several more internet searches). “What if there is a giant crack? What if water is gushing in, right now, as we speak?”

Basement after demo.

My husband has become very good at sighing. And demolition.

The good news is we did not find black mold, and there were only a couple teensie-weensie cracks in an otherwise fantabulous foundation. However, we would have never discovered the real mildew-spawning culprit had we not pulled all the sheetrock and framing down, which gave us a clear view of the waterfall originating from the basement window. You know, the one previously inside the wall.

How To Flood A Basement in 4 Easy Steps

Okay, perhaps flood is too strong a word. But these four simple steps will ensure a soggy, musty basement for posterity!

Step 1: Build Concrete poured in window well.a two-story deck and set the support posts on top of the existing concrete patio. This way, the patio will sink on the side next to the basement window, channeling rainfall into your basement window well.

Step 2: Fill said basement window well with concrete. Yup, concrete. In fact, do it twice to make sure the concrete prevents water from entering the drainage tile and instead funnels it through the window, thus creating a trickling indoor water feature. Throw in a few treasures to reward the poor saps who have to rent a jackhammer to get the concrete out!

Step 3: To ensure that the water is only discovered by the musty carpet smell rather than, oh, by sight, sheetrock over the half oPicture of wall over basement window.f the basement window that is held together with packing tape. This way, the rainwater will flow, uninterrupted down the INSIDE of the wall and around the low spots beneath the carpet.

Step 4: Wall-to-wall carpeting. In the basement.

Disclaimer: In all fairness to the flippers who sold us this house, I’m pretty sure only Steps 3 and 4 were their doing. Still…

A House Story

Like so many other house stories of the past decade, ours begins with a flip. Only in our case, we were not the flippers. Instead, we inherited a flipped house. When we bought it four years ago, we were pleased that it was move-in ready. Although we knew we would have the standard decorating and “someday” updates, the house was cozy and clean.

And then came the projects. No matter how simple they begin, almost all of them quickly morph into much, much bigger projects. I like to think of them as the “omg what WERE they thinking?” projects. The “they” being the flippers, of course.

We get to experience all those cost saving strategies and short cuts heralded on flipping shows – up close. There are the treasures in the walls (no, that doesn’t count as recycling), weird patches (yes, you do need to sand the patches), and missing duct work (no, that’s not what they mean by blown-in insulation).

Then there is our basement odyssey, which began like so many other projects, with a simple plan to change out one little thing. We are quickly learning that in the world of home improvement, there is no such thing as changing out one little thing!