Thursday, January 17, 2013

Easy Steps to Create Your Very Own Moat™

Part II - Summer 2005

For the uninitiated, I posted about our foundation woes in what was supposed to become a three-part series, covering the three summers it took Eric to restore our1850's field-stone foundation.

Somehow, in the midst of our on-going and never-ending renovations, the CD with photographic evidence was misplaced, a common occurrence in our somewhat disheveled environs.

Alas, said CD was found and duly loaded onto my laptop for several months now.  (Who am I kidding?  It's probably been over a year.  I'm time-challenged because I need to be. It's a survival skill I've carefully developed to keep my sanity in check).   From there, the photos have been mocking me, begging me to finally complete the mini-series that the foundation repairs became in our lives.  It's not a place I return to happily, but if this helps but one soul, my post is worth my time and effort.

Given the amount of people who find this blog by searching "french drain" and "how do I repair my field-stone foundation?", I thought it would be best to put a bit of effort into completing my little tome, lest I let any delusional and like-minded soul down.  For what it's worth, I pity and admire you, rolled into one happy emotion, the kind that makes you shudder and smile at the same time.  You poor, poor fool.

So, pull up a chair (hell, pour yourself a drink), read Part I from 2008 (no, I don't procrastinate much, why do you ask?), and hang on for the rest of the ride:

During the summer of 2004, Eric brazenly and optimistically excavated two of three sides of our summer kitchen, as well as the 32' that make up the back-side of our house.  We dug, we drained, we repaired, we waterproofed and we insulated.  It was back-breaking, never-ending and thankless.  When everything was back-filled, you couldn't even tell what we accomplished.

I use the "Royal We" throughout, but it was Eric, of course, who bore the brunt of the work, and I simply as chronicler, and hose-wielder, and gofer and tool-washer and convivial cohort who knew just when to bring out another glass of water, before Eric slid into a dehydration-induced stupor from wearing the fishing pants above.

When summer 2005 rolled around, Eric excavated the third side of the summer kitchen, as well as the western side of the house.
The summer kitchen had been excavated and repaired, probably in the mid-80's.  The job was OK, if you're into half-measures.  The work didn't include proper drainage, which we correctly assumed we needed to keep the foundation from heaving during the long winter months.  Eric excavated, repaired the glaringly large holes that remained, and we insulated, water-proofed and added proper french drains.   It all sounds so easy, doesn't it?
How to go from the above, to the below, I'd qualify as a threesome between art, perseverance and skill.

In the above photo, you can make out the (formerly) black plastic container that served first to mix mortar, and then later, to collect what we came to refer to as "pet rocks" that Eric would use to fill holes shown above.  I'd be in charge of collecting "pet rocks" from several places around our property, such as the water-hole in front of the barn, and the large pile of field-stones on the back-side of the barn, surrounded by raspberry canes and other man-eating weeds.  At some point in time, Eric would hold up a rock, and say, "I need something bigger/smaller/pointier/flatter", and it would be up to me to procure the exact specimen.

I never thought that being a rock-fetcher could provide me with hours and hours of entertainment like it did.  I'd run back to Eric like a hyper Labrador bringing back a stick during a rousing game of fetch.  If my rock didn't meet regulatory approval, I'd hang my head, dejected, and go and look for a better one.  If on my third try I came up empty, it would be at this point my pout would turn to anger, and epithets like "go find your own @#$|%&* rock" would be hurled in Eric's general direction.  I'm congenial and patient like that.

Eric developed a patented wash-and-rinse method of removing the old crumbling mortar and loose rocks with a garden hose.  This method proved effective but messy.  It's also the reason the fishing pants were necessary, and scenes like below part of our routine scenery for months on end:
Eric submerged a sump-pump in the plastic pail to get rid of the run-off, and the plastic sheet served to guide the water to the pit.  Old plywood and particle-board sheets prevented the sun from hitting the foundation and drying the mortar too quickly, and the old Molson Dry umbrella served to protect Eric from the beating summer sun.  When the work was finally complete, I was ecstatic to pitch that umbrella out.  Things looked white-trash enough without the additional logo-representation of beer, no less.

Eric also developed a technique of ensuring the mortar reached its intended rock.  You have to understand that our foundation is about 4 to 5' or well over one metre in depth.  The best way Eric managed to get the mortar to fill the gaps between his pet rocks was by forming a baseball-sized ball of mortar in his hands, winding up, and throwing a fast-ball into the hole.  While I'm sure the stone-masons among you shudder, this technique proved to be the most effective way.  He build up layer of rock and mortar this way, restoring things to their original state.  Unorthodox, but it worked.

Once the field stone foundation was repaired, we set about insulating everything with polystyrene held in place with polyurethane foam.  I cut a vein in my leg with an X-acto and have the scar to prove it.  It also happened at the exact moment Eric's company called and asked where he was.  Sometimes, "seize heures" in french (16:00) can be confused with "six heures" ( 6 o'clock or 18:00), if you're speaking in a language that is not your mother tongue, and not using a 24-hour clock.

Eric works in a profession where time is money - lots of money.  This is how I found myself, clutching my leg, furtively packing Eric's suitcase while Eric ran into the shower, and (gasp) driving with him to the airport to save him the time it would take him to park his car.  (The things I do for this man, you have no clue).  I still remember trying to staunch the impressive flow of blood as I had my leg up on the dashboard, and the looks of by-standers as Eric jumped out at the terminal, me taking his place behind the wheel, all the while looking like a major-crime victim in my blood-soaked jeans.  One of those star-studded Moments in Home Renovation that simply leaves you shaking your head in recollection.


We created a level base for the french drain:
Added the french drain which we wrapped in landscape fabric:
And yes, it's a necessary evil if you're on a clay base, for all of those Googlers who ask.  From there, we waterproofed and back-filled the whole schmeer, and excavated the western side of the house.

It's at this juncture that I realise I don't have any photos to show exactly how we finished insulating or waterproofing this part of the foundation.  It's also the point where I realize unless a day held 30 hours, (like I believe they do), this post is going to be part of a multi-multi-part series.  If that weren't enough, Blogger is giving me fits tonight and not allowing me to save my work at regular intervals.

Lest my work get lost in the shuffle, I'm posting this now for internet posterity, and promise to come up with part 2-B in under 4 years.



Miriam said...

I am gobsmacked. I am speechless. I am forever cured of any romantic notions I ever had about buying and restoring an old farmhouse. You both deserve medals! (Which I was prepared to bestow upon you even before you got to the blood soaked part...)

Ron said...

Foundation work is so thankless... all that hard work, and then you bury it... it's good you took pictures and wrote about the process, so people can appreciate the [hidden] work you've put into your place.

Shim Farm said...

Miriam, I would never, ever undertake a project like this again, EVER! (That said and done, I trawl MLS all the time for new "projects").

It's been a lot of hard work, and we're not close to being done, but mud like that? We're out of those trenches, thankfully! Eric is a real trooper. He deserves the medal.

Ron, yes, it is thankless. However, we proved our point. In our zone, the insulation needs to be on the OUTSIDE of the foundation, not the inside like most contractors/renovators believe. Our house doesn't move one bit during winter. All of our doors and windows open perfectly during winter, which wasn't the case before, and most definitely isn't the case with new construction. The key is truly preventing frost and water from coming anywhere near your foundation. It's doing it that's hard!

We're happy we'll never have to go there again, though. And we can still laugh at those photos, and say to each other, "remember when?" and break out into gales of laughter. Still...those were our "Twilight Zone" years LOL!

Robin said...

Yikes, I shudder just looking at those pictures. You couldn't pay me to take on another old house. Character and charm they have in abundance, but the issues that comes with them (if the house hasn't been taken care of) is a nightmare.

Shim Farm said...

Hi Robin. I'd love to build a "new" house, one from scratch, without having to deal with tearing down and repairing everything first. Just for the challenge, ya know? But first, we need to get through this mess, and then we'll see where things take us. But I have to say, that foundation was one of the bigger, messier challenges we've faced.

Dr. Juicebox said...

I bet your heating costs are lower now...

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