Tag Archives: deconstruction

Terminating the temporary

I mentioned the old grease trap in the back porch. It was a hot mess back in 2010 when I cleaned it up. The intent at the time was to temporarily re-purpose it as a sump pit.




Back then, I connected the interior perimeter drains to it. We also terminated and stubbed the new sewer lines, which allowed me to install and connect a sump pump.

This temporary band-aid has lasted long enough. With the old back porch being torn down sometime soon, I had a sense of urgency to demo the old grease trap. Before I could do that, I had to install a new and proper sump pit. And before I got to that, I had to rip out the old concrete floor.

That put me back into recycling mode. We threw the concrete chunks into the back of my truck and hauled them to the recycling company down the street at Kedzie and I55.

Next step: Getting the excavator and starting to dig.

Related posts:

The back porch project

Grease trap cleaning

Nail biter

Perimeter drain installation

Finished sewer

Where did all the concrete go

Kitchen island installation

We found the right pair of used base cabinets for the kitchen island, and we need to set them up.

The fronts of the cabinets look nice with their oak finish. The sides and back, however, are made of not quite as appealing particle board. To convert the cabinets into an island, the side and back would require some paneling. We have just the right salvaged material for this kind of job.

I am talking about old growth lumber which we saved and de-nailed during the deconstruction process.

I learned at seminars and The ReBuilding Exchange that old growth lumber is very popular with furniture makers. We thought we would give it a try too and ripped some of the shorter old growth studs into thin strips on the table saw– but only after I double checked again that all nails and screws were removed.

The thickness of the strips was ½ inch and 1 inch. I mounted them in an alternating paneling fashion to the back and side of the cabinet.

Before I got to the paneling, I had to set up the cabinets, attach them to each other and extend an electrical conduit to the end of the island for a light switch and outlet.
Although the ripped old growth itself looks very nice, I have to admit that I was (and somewhat still am) a little on the fence about the overall appearance of the paneling. The resemblance to an old, tacky, musky and 1960s style cabin bothers me a little – just a little…

Scavenging for framing materials

Our friend Drew and I are warmed up after preparing and installing the window bucks, followed by the doors. We considered starting with framing work in the basement, but first need to organize some 2 by 4s.

I am proud to say that the only lumber that I bought at a regular home improvement store or lumber yard to date was the treated material for the bucks and a couple of plywood pieces way back when. The remaining 95% of material has all been salvaged and reclaimed lumber.

Not only does it help with our resource efficiency goal, it also assists with our rehab budget. I have been fortunate enough to find salvaged and reclaimed framing lumber for the fraction of the cost of new lumber.

It gets even better, because of the material we got for free! We salvaged a good quantity of old growth and nominal framing lumber during the deconstruction of the basement and 1st and 2nd floor. We de-nailed it, cut of the bad areas and split ends and then organized it by length so it was ready to be reused for the new basement framing.

Although this will keep us going for a while, my count showed that the stack was not enough to finish the job. It was time to make another trip to the ReBuilding Exchange, where I found more framing material for the basement job.

Earlier this year, the ReBuilding Exchange was overflowing with construction lumber. This time around, the lumber section looked somewhat empty and I learned that a lot of the salvaged lumber was bought up by various community gardens for their raised beds. I am glad to see that the reuse market is growing!

I loaded up enough 2 by 4s to finish the basement job, brought them home and slipped them through a front window into the basement. Now we are almost ready to go.

Despite all my bragging about the salvaged materials, I still have to make one trip to the lumber yard. I decided I need to buy a handful of cedar studs for the bottom plates on the concrete floor.

We are going to great lengths to manage and control moisture in the basement. That said, if there are any moisture issues (such as a spill) they would first show at floor level. Thus our proactive interest in using moisture resistant material, i.e. the cedar studs at the concrete floor to bottom plate interface.

Shocked – almost literally

Cathy started to salvage the trim and baseboards on the second floor while I am still pottering around in the basement.

She suddenly pays me a visit, looking for the electrical current tester. She thinks she has found a hot wire while hammering away at a conduit that was in front of a baseboard. I laughed at her because I had all wires disconnected from the electrical panels last year. We only have a temporary outlet in the basement and on the first floor, but nothing connected to the second floor.

She went back upstairs, put the ends of two wires in question together and got a big old firework. I wasn’t laughing anymore but was grateful that she was still alive.


So what is going on? I checked the panels in the basement and again, nothing is feeding the second floor – nothing! Back upstairs, we follow the conduit through the house, leading us to a junction box in the back porch.


We checked and the wires were hot indeed. I disconnected them right away, but still had to trace them to the outside to find the source of the current.

My jaw dropped once I realized that the wires were directly connected to the incoming 200 amp service. No circuit breaker, no nothing! I was shocked (no pun intended) and then hopping mad. Not only could someone have gotten electrocuted, but this was also a serious fire hazard!


The previous owner of the building claimed to be a licensed electrician. All I wanted to know is what may have possessed him to install something this reckless, if he was indeed responsible for this?
Cathy pointed out that the wiring fed an outlet directly under the bedroom window.


They must have used the outlet for a big old air conditioner window unit. Because they suck a lot of electricity, the outlet was directly connected to the incoming 200 amp service, bypassing the electrical meter. This way no one had to pay the electricity bill for air conditioning – but someone could have gotten killed.

I am still hopping mad!

Old sewer stack

We were very hopeful that we could reuse the existing cast iron sewer stack.


The more we got to work deconstructing the walls and gaining access to the stack, the more flaws and breaches we discovered.

sewer-stack-002 sewer-stack-003

Initially I thought we can fix those flaws. But after showing the stack to some experts and discussing the repairs, it became apparent that we would be better off in the long term if we replace it now.

Take for instance the floor joists that have been reduced to near nailers with the water closet branch cutting right through it.


A new stack will allow us to replace the joist with a structurally intact unit and route the water closet branch around the new joist.

Another unintended but welcome advantage is that we now have more flexibility with the bathroom layout. With the existing stack, the toilet was right next to the bathroom door.


Rather than falling onto the toilet seat upon entering the bathroom, Cathy and I prefer to move it to the other end of the bathroom.


All right then, the old stack has to go. It now dawned on me that we are talking about 30 vertical feet of heavy cast iron pipe that has to be removed.


I have to say, it instilled a lot of respect, if not fear. I had to promise Cathy not to remove it by myself. A very easy promise to make!

I solicited the help of Robert, who lives in the neighborhood and knows cast iron plumbing inside out. He asked for a sledge hammer and pounded away at the gaskets, starting at the top while I was holding the stack. With each broken gasket the two of us were able to carefully lift each section of pipe and remove it from the stack.

Within 20 minutes the stack was down. Really sort of anticlimactic, particularly once I saw the impressive 30 feet of stack reduced to a small pile of cast iron pipes on the floor.