Soggy bottom (floor)

File this post under: It could have been worse.

One day over the winter we walked into the basement to find moisture around the cracks in the basement floor. You might remember that before we moved in, we spent a few evenings sealing the walls of the basement. We didn’t touch the floors because there were no signs that water was an issue.

So what changed? We’re not really sure. Maybe the water table shifted? Maybe the manhole they filled in our alley caused water to back up. No matter the cause, we were getting more and more water in the basement each time it rained. Aaron set up a camera to confirm the source.


We needed help! A variety of quotes left us with a “for now” option at a few grand or a “make it right” option at several grand more than that.

Let me back up. I mentioned that we’re not tackling the kitchen as part of the first floor reno because of financing. The long story is that we always planned to refi the firehouse after 1 – 2 years to ditch the PMI and use the equity to overhaul the living space on the first floor (kitchen included.) Then we got totally screwed by our appraisal. Our mortgage guy said he’s never seen an appraisal that was so far off of expectations. And thanks to the mortgage crisis we had no recourse for getting a different opinion unless we wanted to wait 30 days (and risk interest rates increasing) then roll the dice with another appraiser AND pay for the new appraisal. The amount of money we could take out based on the (crappy) appraisal wouldn’t cover the kitchen reno, but it was more than we needed to cover the renovations of the rest of the space. It was an angsty night in the firehouse when we realized that our dream kitchen was further off than we planned.

After some thought (and maybe some wine), I pointed out that the thing holding us back from entertaining the way we want to isn’t the kitchen. The kitchen works. I can make some great food in that kitchen. What IS holding us back is the lack of a dining room and chillaxin space. So we decided to take all the money we could, focus on everything except the kitchen, and use any extra funds on a different project (maybe the wine cellar?!)

Fast forward to the water in our basement. The “make it right” quote equaled the extra funds we received from the refi. If that isn’t a “it happened for a reason” moment, I don’t know what is. While it will never be the way we WANT to spend money, it was a relief to know that we had the money to take care of the basement. We have way too many tools and bottles of wine going down there to worry about everything being ruined by water.

So, what I didn’t mention in the week from hell post, was that we also had a crew working to dig out the perimeter of the basement and install a weeping system that should keep us water free. It was one more thing during the week that had us a little on edge and kept Aaron super busy acting as a general contractor and new puppy warden. So many words! Let’s get to some pictures.

The crew started by jack hammering the perimeter of the basement and most of the landing. Then they dug two feet down to get past the footings.

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Weeping tile and corrugated drain pipe was added to direct any excess water to the sump pump. Then everything was covered with fresh concrete.

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So far, so good. There’s no water and we have a multi-year guarantee from the company that it will remain dry.

If you’ve been following closely, you’ll know that the basement workshop was supposed to be done over a year ago. Instead Aaron decided to surprise me with a living room makeover that took a bit more time and effort than he thought. That led straight into getting our fence and garage finished… which led into a vacation and prime wedding season… You get the picture. It kept getting put off. There have been many times I’ve walked through the construction zone that is the living/dining room and wished that the workshop was done. BUT I’m so glad that it fell down the list so none of that work had to be undone to fix the water problem. Now that the basement is sealed and the trailer is OH SO CLOSE, Aaron can (finally) turn his full attention to the workshop.

Powering the basement and starting the first floor reno

One advantage to living in a space before you make any changes is that you really get the chance to think about things and get input from other people. A big hurdle for the basement, in particular the workshop, is the lack of power. There is only one circuit down there, which, frankly, isn’t enough for all the power tools and lights that need to live in that space. Aaron was resigned to only using one tool at a time, when a conversation with my dad led to the revelation that adding a sub-panel would be remarkably easy.

It required running conduit from the panel in the living room, through the studio and down to the basement through the furnace room. Which worked out really well, because we already needed to reroute some electrical runs in the living room to account for two new windows we want to add.

Let’s take a look. The living room power ran from the panel, over the stairwell door and then down to provide outlets in the space.

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We decided to push all of this higher and add a run of conduit to power the basement subpanel. While this is well within Aaron’s capabilities, in the interest of time, we decided to get a few quotes for the work. The winning bid came out to just a few hundred dollars for labor (we considered parts a wash as we would need them no matter who did the work), which seemed well worth it! Over the span of a few days, the electrician added the new runs and removed the unnecessary conduit.



After (Don’t worry. We replaced the cover on the panel.)




After – The conduit is much higher! It’s touching a portion of the wall that the previous owner decided to paint (well… started painting) black. Because it’s always a good idea to make your ceiling feel lower than it is. (Sarcasm.) Eventually, this will all get painted (predictably) white.










This is a super functional update, but it paved the way for exciting things, like new windows (!!!) and FINALLY tackling the workshop. And maybe you already figured out from the tape that we’re going to add a fireplace! I’ll give you the full low down on the plans for the first floor in the next post.

New plans for the basement

When I showed you a few updates from our massive pre-Open House cleaning spree, I neglected to shoot the basement thanks to a burnt out light. It’s all good though, because you deserve a proper update on our nether regions (not THOSE nether regions…)


The basement isn’t looking too bad. Nearly all of the tools and construction equipment that was residing in the living room made its way downstairs.


It certainly isn’t perfect down here, but I don’t have to walk by it every day. So there’s that.


We put up some shelves in the corner by the water heater. They are holding miscellaneous photography business stuff, Christmas decorations and boxes of childhood memories that our parents forced upon us when we bought our first house. Apparently, they were done fondly remembering the years of our youth and wanted to make better use of their space…


Aaron also installed our new chest freezer!


And apparently the sump pump is collecting yard tools.


The real story down here is that we inadvertently lied to you. After we sealed the basement, I said “guess what’s coming next guys?!?!” and tossed down this not so subtle clue.


Even in our 6 month update, I perpetuated the now discarded layout.



So maybe “lying” is a bit harsh. There was no malicious intent. The notion of living in a space before you make changes is certainly a wise one. Things are a changing down here:


Still the same basic functions (workshop, wine cellar, and storage) but in a new and improved configuration. It might make more sense if we take a bird’s eye view.


The focus of the original plan was to send people straight into the heart of the wine cellar. Basically, everything else was secondary. And we even had a big chunk of space that was just going the be open. (Yeah, I’m confused looking at this too.) A few things prompted the layout change:

  • The wine cellar square footage really started to shrink once Aaron thought about how much clearance he would need for tools and furniture to come in out and out of the basement. Walking things straight in and out is a much easier path.
  • Moving the workshop also allowed for access to the two windows. These will provide much needed ventilation and some natural light. As part of the wine cellar they would stay boarded over and Aaron’s respiratory system could be in serious danger in the other corner of the room.
  • The arrangement actually allowed us to expand the footprints of the workshop and the wine cellar, which I’m sure we’ll put to good use.
  • The storage space is filling in the cracks a bit. The storage between the two will be narrow, but we’ll utilize all the space by building shelves between the pillars. Larger items can go near the water heater.

Still with all those changes we worried that we were losing some of the elegance of the original design. We really wanted to be able to send guests down to the wine cellar and not “past the workshop and around the water heater to the door with the wine behind it.” We settled on a longer path to the wine cellar, but one that was a bit more finished feeling. So the white space in the layout will be semi-finished with walls and doors covering all of the useful bits. It will make a bit more sense once we can implement some of our design aesthetic… which seems to be our mantra here. “Just wait. It will make sense… and then totally blow your mind.”

So that’s what’s going on in our down under. It took a little more thinking to get to a design that really maximizes the space. What’s your M.O. for tackling renovations? Do you dive right in or make a plan and let “living in the space” tweak it to perfection?

How many lockers is too many?

Upon reading the title of this post, if your first thought was “there’s no such thing,” then welcome. You have found kindred souls. Our love of lockers knows few bounds, so when we saw this Craigslist post (Apparently my proclamation that we don’t watch Craigslist prompted Aaron to do just that) we both had the same reaction: BUY THEM ALL! Really, where can you NOT use old lockers? The awesome bathroom and the workshop were clear candidates for rows of these cheap, metal beauties.


When Aaron got a hold of the seller, it turned out to be a Habitat for Humanity ReStore situation. The non-profit company strips items from old buildings and resells them. Aaron headed to the warehouse and snagged 12 towers for $290 thanks to an on-the-spot discount. Our locker loving hearts were heaven. The company even delivered them. Then, of course, we got busy and they sat in the studio for longer than I care to admit.


Craigslist struck again when Aaron found an X-ray viewing light box (the kind that hang in hospitals) for sale by the same company. When he ran out to pick it up he noticed that they had even MORE lockers. His practicality kicked in and he opted to leave the lockers, but mentioned to the owner that he loved them more than the ones we’ve been hoarding.

The next day, the owner called asking if Aaron would be up for a trade. He knew a woman who wanted the cubby-style lockers we had and was willing to trade his lockers +$50. Aaron negotiated the swap and smartly included the stipulation that the owner had to help carry the new lockers downstairs. That’s a double win – aweseomer lockers and cheap labor.


While not as plentiful, these lockers a better size and in fantastic condition! They will be perfect for containing tools and other workshop clutter.


For now they are just hanging out in the corner of the basement… which is way better than hanging out in the studio.




Is anyone else as infatuated with old lockers as we are? Truth be told these are not the only lockers waiting in the wings at the firehouse. We scored a set of old bowling alley lockers that will serve as vintage camera storage once we can dig them out and spray paint them (white, of course). Oh and we picked up ANOTHER stand alone vintage locker a few weeks ago because the price was just too good.

Ok, seriously – how many lockers is too many?

Sealed basement and a few plans

The basement of the firehouse is like bonus space. I know. We have 5,000+ square feet above grade and one of the first projects we tackled was in the roughly 1,500 square feet (of additional space) in the basement.  I’ll wait while you roll your eyes…

The basement doesn’t seem like a logical place to start, but we’re dealing with a forever home here, so we want to make sure things are done right. The basement doesn’t have any apparent leaks and the stone walls are in good condition, but we decided sealing it would give us extra piece of mind. Plus, we figured Aaron could bang out this job in a day thanks to the fancy new paint sprayer we bought.

Wrong! Turns out DryLok has to be brushed on… and in reality it’s more like massaging the plasticky sealer into all the cracks and crevices. But, wait, there’s more to this exciting adventure. It is recommended that you wear ventilators because many people get seriously sick from the fumes. AND it requires two coats. Good times.

Let’s take a look at the before shots:





Now let’s see what we got after two weekend days (plus a few hours one evening to finish up):


Bam! White walls. For some reason I assumed that the DryLok would be dark – black or gray. Turns out it’s super white. You may not know yet, but we L O V E white. It’s so clean and bright and awesome. I swear covering the drab walls in white fueled my drive to get this project done.


Once we were done, Aaron went the extra mile, attacking the floor with a shop vac and then a power washer. We probably have the cleanest basement in all of St Louis.



There’s just one minor hiccup with the sealing plan. An unused piece of electrical conduit that’s hiding behind these water pipes is totally leaking when it rains. Aaron is already working on a solution and as soon as that is solved we’ll be water free until at least 2023. (There’s a 10 year warranty on DryLok.) (Yes, I just rhymed on purpose.) (Yes, I realize I’m a nerd.)



A super dry basement is key to the firehouse dream home because we have serious plans for this space: storage, a workshop for Aaron and an oh-my-god-this-really-is-our-dream-house wine cellar. Eeeee! I can’t wait. Here’s a rough set up (shot from near the stairs.)


 You’ll walk down into the space, and if you keep going straight, right into the wine cellar. Step to the left and you can head back to the storage area or the workshop. The workshop is actually high on the list of projects. As soon as the studio is done, we’ll need a spot to store tools and supplies so we can reclaim the downstairs living and dining rooms.

So, that’s the current state of the basement (minus a picture of all the boxes the movers put down there.) Has anyone else given DryLok a spin? The process wasn’t too bad thanks to the ventilators and a little music.