Subterranean odyssey, part 1

While I’m toiling away with endless plaster repair (or, alternatively, lolling in the Barcalounger ), I need to come up with something to entertain the five people who read my blog. Fortunately, the living room walls aren’t the only project around here. I’m making a mess upstairs, but Eric is in the dungeon—a.k.a. the basement—turning it into a functional shop. He’s doing such a great job, I asked him to write a few posts about it. Put on your hazmat suits, folks–Eric is taking this blog where it’s never been before!

Below decks

I feel a little bit like Billy in the Family Circus. D’Arcy is taking a short break from her blog as she works on our living room walls and I get to fill in for her. Patching and filling and sanding and painting a 103 year old room has its ups and downs (mostly on a ladder) so it takes a bit of time to get it all done.

So, what project in our house do I have to write about? Well, we have a small basement in our house. It used to contain the boiler and heating system for the home. Old pipes for the radiator system that used to be in the house are still present and capped off to provide a real plumber’s nightmare (especially when not all the pipes were capped off properly many decades ago).

Rusty old unused water pipes in basement

Not creepy at all

Piping for new-fangled items like washing machines made for interesting challenges for someone in the past. The drain for the basement sink (no longer functional) and sump pump go out through the foundation wall at about two feet up from the floor and come back in again at five-and-a-half feet. Oh yes, our washing machine drains into the sump. At first I thought that was a bad thing. Then I realized that during the long dry spells we have in the summer, using the washer actually runs the sump pump regularly to keep it working properly.

[Ed. note: I heard this was a common setup in older Midwest houses, but not many houses on the West Coast have basements, so it’s an oddity out here.]

Basement sump pump

Our faithful sump pump.

Old plumbing and grounds on basement wall

The white pipe (second from right) goes out, the black pipe (hard to see at the top) comes in.


Drain pipe on outside of foundation wall.

The strange out-and-in pipe on the outside of the house. We don’t know what the other pipe is for.

We live in the Green River valley. That means that the water table at our house is about two feet below the surface of the yard in wet weather. The basement floor is five feet below ground. When it really rains the sump pump is very active. With a 103-year-old cement floor, there are bound to be small cracks. There are patches upon patches on the floor. Water is always trying to seep in, but that is what the sump is for. I will have more on the sump and plumbing another time.

patched and cracked concrete basement floor

Kind of arty looking.

We have only a partial basement—under the kitchen and our bedroom, on the east end of our house. The bottoms of the floor joists sit about 65″ above the floor. Wiring, ducting, and piping go through and along the floor joists. There are few windows to the outside world from the basement. The furnace, the sump, and the water heater are on the north side of the basement. The stairs come down the middle. The north side is storage and is full of bicycles, cat carriers, and stuff from many decades. Well, the whole basement had a lot of stuff in it. That would include spiders. That would be why my wonderful wife doesn’t go down there.

Not to scale, but close enuf

Not to scale, but close enuf

So why bring all of this up? This is where I decided to create my workshop. There used to be a workshop there. Oh, by the way…I am 73″ tall.

Man standing with hhis head between floor joists in basement

A perfect fit.

The workspace that was in the basement when I moved into the house served a purpose for a former tenant. It did for me too, for a while. But then I decided to make a change so that it worked for me. Isn’t that what ALL guys do with projects, anyway?

Workbenched piled high with junk

Custom painted by a graffiti artist.

The original arrangement of the workshop was just an open space next to the stairs. The foundation walls had been spray painted in a colorful, but dark, jungle-like theme. The shelves were made from old floral bulb pallets (a clever reuse of materials). But they didn’t provide the best storage space for me. The countertops were sheets of heavy chip board. They sagged in a few places (as do many things that are older). There were a lot of extension cords hanging in the rafters to provide electricity and light. They all came off of the same outlet. As long as only one thing was plugged in at any time what could possibly go wrong?

Bags and boxes of old project pieces, leftover hardware, and hundreds of parts to something or other had been here on a shelf since the last century. And of course I only added stuff to the mess.

Messy workbench and ancient canning shelves

Everything in its place.

I somehow managed to build, from scratch, an entire set of kitchen cabinets, a king-sized headboard and footboard, and many other things in this environment. So why make any changes? I set down my trusty old Reed and Price screwdriver somewhere on one of the counters and I couldn’t find it anymore!!!! I need better storage! I need better lighting! I need better ventilation! I need more outlets! I need a real workbench! Phew, I need a nap.

My next post will show what I did at the start the project.

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it


16 thoughts on “Subterranean odyssey, part 1

  1. Angela M. de Grillet

    Oyyyyyy!!!! That plumbing truly looks awsome and full of mysteries about its intended use 😉 You are very brave indeed going in there! Almost like the knights who used to go after dragons 🙂 It looks like the kind of job you can be truly proud of, once it is done! I will be watching in awe…. just imagine what could be in there, hidden in some nook and cranny! and about the water, what can I say….good sailing, brother 😉

    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      Hi Angela–I actually WILL go down in the basement, despite what Eric says … but there is no power on Earth that could make me go into the crawl space!! I think I’ll feel better about the basement when he’s done. But, it’ll still be a basement!

  2. Connie in Hartwood

    All of this looks perfectly normal to me. Old house people totally recognize the evolution, as technology comes in and out through the years. We also recognize the ‘organization system’. I have yet to conquer the problem of putting down a tool and instantly losing track of it.

    The unknown pipe beside your foundation looks exactly like the vent for our underground heating oil tank. Do you have an underground tank?

    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      BINGO!! That’s it–the oil tank vent. Why didn’t I think of that? Thanks, Connie. I don’t think these photos will shock old-house owners, but I’m wicked enough to enjoy grossing out new-house people. 🙂

  3. Karen B.

    First, I’m so impressed with your technical, yet understandable, plumbing explanation. Second, how great is it that you are willing to write a blog post. I’m using you as an example to see if I can convince Mr. B. to provide me with a little break sometime!
    I’m eager to see how you’ve improved this space and to see what your solution will be for raising the ceiling. 🙂
    Happy Friday.
    P.S. I’m certain D’Arcy has hundreds of readers, not just 5. 🙂

    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      Haha–I think the only way to solve that problem is for Eric to have his legs shortened! But he’s working on other improvements. I just hope he doesn’t notch the joists! 🙂

  4. Barbara H.

    I’m looking forward to the progress. I have a couple of sheds to organize, hopefully before I’m too old to really use them.

  5. Jessica@CapeofDreams

    How fun to “hear” Eric’s voice in this piece. I enjoyed the pic of him with his head in the rafters and think that could become code for “he is in his workshop”. “Where is Eric?” “Oh, he got his head in the rafters again.”

    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      I like being a lazy blogger! Yeah, he comes upstairs bent over sometimes … and we have both cracked our skulls on the huge main beam that runs down the center of the basement. Don’t forget to duck!!

  6. Cathy Lee

    Excellent portrayal of all the interesting adventures that await you as you continue on the crazy journey through the basement, Eric. So glad D’ is sharing her space with another very captivating writer!

  7. Nine Dark Moons

    It was great fun to read Eric’s story! his photo captions made me LOL. you both are hilarious and entertaining writers! i can barely get hubby to comment on my blog more than once a year let alone write a whole post! maybe i need to work on him… looking forward to part 2!

    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      Thanks, Alison! Eric tells me he is ready to write part 2, so stay tuned! Meanwhile, I’m ripping more damaged plaster off the living room walls. I will use your Hawaii photos as a pretend vacation! 🙂


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