Walking into our new home before it was ours for the first time was the most surreal moment I experienced in a long time. Just last night I was trying to describe the feeling to Tyler, failing terribly at what my heart was reminding me. We had looked at only one other house, many months prior to listing our own home for sale. That one was a doozie. It was a dump; literally. The basement was barely a crawlspace that had a crumbling stone foundation. The second story bedrooms smelled like cat urine. The kitchen was sloping towards sixteen different angles. Honest. It was awful. Our house needs were a 4- or 5-bedroom house with 2 to 3 bathrooms. To make this next house work for us, we need to add two Egress Windows for more bedrooms in the basement.
At that time, Tyler was working out of town and was not able to come see that house with us, so my parents joined the kids and me. We still laugh about that house. Back in 2019, houses were selling for top dollar within two days to a week resulting in the housing market being insane. Our realtor told us to not list our house until we were ready to start actively looking for one as we would have bought and sold in the same week. For some reason, God put such a fire under our butts to get our house finished as quick as we could. When the time finally came to list the house, there were a dozen viewings the first weekend.
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Published February 8, 2021
Updated March 3, 2022
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A look at the backyard
I remember the quiet, peaceful stillness of that street. No busy traffic, rushing ambulances, or helicopters. See, our current house was two blocks from a hospital and situated right between three busy roads. We heard ambulances, police cars, fire trucks, helicopters, car horns, screaming, and train horns ALL the time. It was honestly never ending and after 10 years became immune to the constant noise. When we had people over, they would mention the train, or the noises and it would all rush back.
Our realtor said this house was one of the first built as a spec house. For that reason, the backyard was like a forest. It had a whole backyard of trees. I remember the boys running around and I could picture warm summer nights sitting outside, roasting marshmallows around a firepit. Having friends over on the weekends. Despite the massive amount of work, we saw so much potential in that backyard. There were dead trees and dead leaves a foot deep, we fell in love with that back yard for the potential it held.
A peek inside the house
Walking through the front door, I felt a whoosh in my soul. Like a wave of a feeling, I can only describe as home. I froze because it hit me with such force I couldn’t breathe. In all of the 10 years at our current house, I never experienced that strong sense of home. It was just a house that we were living in, fixing up to sell and move on. My dad was behind me and literally shoved me into the entrance and told me to “go in”.
I remember the orange and brown. There was so much brown. The current owner had brown furniture, table, chairs, walls, carpet and woodwork. The original golden oak cabinets had since turned orange, and so had the trim and baseboards. Orange cabinets, doors and trim. The walls were a dingy and dirty greige. I remember the dust, cobwebs, and spiders.
But, despite the gross, I saw the massive amount of potential in this house. Walking through the kitchen, I saw the ability to reface the cabinets a different color, updating the 1990’s golden orange oak with brass everything to a crisp white or a navy blue or even a sumptuous teal with copper hardware. I imagined the solid wood doors, still in great shape, sanded and stained a deep chocolate brown with all of the trim and baseboards white. I saw the dirty greige walls cleaned and painted fresh. And even the spiders with their cobwebs and their massively long legs gone. My hands were itching for a vacuum! I have never walked into a house and wanted to vacuum spiders more in my life.
A Glorious basement
Walking to the basement sold me more on the house. It had eight-foot ceilings and was massive. Our dream house, if we could build one, would be 5 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms. We would have 2 bedrooms on the first floor and 3 in the basement for the kids. Crunching the numbers, our dream home in that market would cost upwards of $400,000 to build. There was no way we could afford that, let alone find land that incorporated that cost. With one income, our house budget was modestly half of what we needed to build. When we walked into the basement and saw the plumbing lines roughed out for a potential future third bathroom, and the massive openness… It was love. I could imagine putting two bedrooms in the basement and having enough space for a recreation space for the kids.
Adding bedrooms to a basement is no easy feat. It has been months of hard work. And not just saying “let’s add bedrooms” and snapping my fingers does not get the work done. Oh, how I wish to have that one magic gift! We bought this house with the intention of remodeling the basement to add finished space. Two bedrooms, one bathroom, move the laundry room down there, and finish the rest for a rec space. Poof. Is it done yet? Seriously, I wish that were possible. Planning, permits, inspections, tool rental, gravel, fires, big machines, over twenty trees cut down (I have lost count), chopping wood, noise, dust, dirt, mud, and now a pandemic. These last 8 months sure have been interesting!
Tyler got to work!
After our permit was issued, Tyler spent weeks figuring out materials that we needed. Between a concrete saw, gravel, dirt, 2 X 4s, insulation, steel studs, wire, windows, window wells and covers, and more. Oh my gosh the list was extensive. Tyler did a fantastic job figuring out all we needed for this project!
But that first dig, that first cut of the saw, was so refreshing and fulfilling! We decided to put in the largest 5-foot windows we could get, to let as much light from the west we could get into those rooms. The holes were huge, and we placed the windows in such a specific spot to ensure the current cracks would be gone. When digging out the holes next to the foundation, we found out the builders had removed all of the black dirt from next to the walls and backfilled it with clay.
Today, building a house, you need to use gravel to backfill a foundation to provide adequate water drainage. As the entire foundation had clay, it was forcing moisture towards the basement walls and causing them to push in and creating cracks. The walls are a poured solid concrete, and having cracks was not good. We were positive that by installing these two egress windows and then backfilling with gravel as it should be this problem would be solved.
Fun with a digger
The kids loved having the digger and helping Tyler dig out the holes. Let me tell you, it has saved us thousands, no- tens of thousands having Tyler know what he is doing. I am beyond blessed to have a handy husband! He might not feel blessed when he sees me planning the next remodel phase… I sure find it amazing how much that man knows, and how he can get a job done with such precision and skill. Tyler is a carpenter by trade, and grew up learning so much from his dad. I love how he is instilling those skill in our own kids. Even if they do not grow up and become carpenters, I know they will walk with skills that an amazing man taught them.
Digging Holes for the Egress Windows
Sam was put to work snipping tree roots out of the holes. As we had four trees cut down feet from the foundation, there were so many roots! We spent one entire weekend cutting 12 trees down in the backyard. Falling, cutting, trimming, splitting, hauling, and we even built a wood crib to store it all. Cutting down so many trees was such hard work! As the backyard was almost completely trees, with a majority of them dead, we had an almost blank canvas available to us.
Felling a Huge Hickory
One of the trees we needed to cut down, as it was leaning towards our neighbor’s house, was an 80-foot-tall hickory. This beauty made a massive mess and was so old! I believe Sam counted ninety-seven or more rings on the trunk. It was such a shame to have to cut, but an insurance claim would have been far worse! Along with cutting the trees down, we removed the wood deck in the back yard. Our dream for the house is to have a poured concrete patio. As Tyler can also work with concrete, he knows the process and we will be able to custom make a stamped concrete patio this spring after the gravel settles. Stay tuned for that fun adventure!
Egress Windows are in!
Egress Windows are in!
Once the Egress Window wells were in, we backfilled the holes with gravel to help with water drainage. On top of the gravel, we then dumped black dirt to keep the clay away from the foundation. We had to then buy two dump truck loads of black dirt and wheelbarrow it to the backyard as the trucks could not safely navigate the trees. It felt unending. All of the shoveling, hauling, dumping, digging, raking. But the end result will be magnificent when we plant grass in the backyard. As there was 99% moss and we removed over twenty trees, we are hoping to actually have the ability to grow grass and have a lawn. Stay tuned for an update later in 2022, with how the yard is coming!
We had so many times when the kids went out to play and ended up waist deep in mud. One time I literally hosed them off in the front yard.
Gravel Heaven in the Backyard
In addition to installing two Egress Windows, we also added a load of gravel in the backyard. Tyler designed this double radius concrete pad that we will work on next summer. We cannot pour the concrete this year, as the gravel actually needs to settle down through the winter. If you were to pour concrete too soon, the result will crack finished concrete. Alas, I must be patient for next year. However, you can read all about our amazing concrete patio by clicking the link below. As of fall 2021, this was completely done!!!
Raking the dirt, placing the gravel pad, and leveling the backyard took the better part of two days. It completely transformed our backyard! Removing a dozen trees was a hard choice, but so worth it when we are able to sit around the makeshift firepit and hang out with our kids.
We have been looking at this Outdoor wood burning fire pit for when our concrete pads are done. It would be perfect to grill, move around the backyard, and have friends over to hang out. Check it out on Amazon as prices constantly change and shipping is quick and free.
As an impatient woman, doing the yard before the bedrooms was such a painful process. I know that while the weather was nice, doing the yard was the smart thing to do. In the winter getting the basement done will be best. I know this. I am still impatient for the rooms to be done. But now, as we sit in freezing cold literally feels like -35 with the wind chill, Tyler is hard at work in the basement.
So far, we had to paint a waterproof membrane on the walls (let me tell you that was MESSY!), place two layers of 1-inch insulation with 1 X 4 backer boards for studs for the drywall, build walls, rough in electrical, cut 4-inch angle iron to brace the windows, spray foam insulation in cracks, place duct work for heat and returns, and decide where lights and outlets will go in both rooms. As all of that is done now, we should be able to start drywall soon!
A view of the backyard
Below is a picture of our backyard, after the wood deck was removed. We ended up having these massive pieces that Tyler and my dad used to make our kids a tree fort. They also used them as the floorboards to a wood crib so we could finally organize our ever-growing wood stack.
Tree Forts and a Wood Crib
Our kids were ecstatic to have a tree fort to play in! Reusing materials is so important to Tyler and me. These boards were still in really great shape, and we could not see just throwing them in the dump.
Egress Windows and all the Work
Once the Egress Windows were installed, we then added two layers of foam insulation on the walls. This would be not only for warmth, but also to help build up the framing so we can stud out the rooms.
Tyler then had to drill holes through the insulation and foundation so he could screw these 1 X 4s on the walls. These boards are what we later installed the drywall to.
Our oldest, Samuel, and my dad helped so much! Without my dad’s help, we would have been stuck without a lot of work being completed. He came to help with insulation, steel studs, wiring and more. These Egress Windows did not put themselves in!
Walls are going up
As the lumber prices skyrocketed, Tyler decided it was in our best interest to financially decide to use steel studs. This change, from wood studs, did not change much of anything in terms of structure to the rooms.
Egress Windows with Corners of Steel
Tyler did have to add steel corner beams to the sides of the concrete on each of the Egress Windows. This not only would help the windows stay, but aid in foundation issues and help support the windows. There may be a lot of other reasons, but all I remember is trying to hold these steel pieces steady on the floor while simultaneously dripping oil under the drill bit for Tyler to drill the holes into. It was loud and messy work. But I do know that the walls, the windows and the ceiling above will not go anywhere while those steel beams are there.
Not only did Tyler have to add these steel beams after the walls were installed, but he had to find a way to stud around the Egress Windows so we could then drywall and hide them. What a guy! Seriously, he found a way to hide the steel beam, insulate on top of it yet, and we were still given the opportunity to drywall tight to the ceiling in front of the Egress windows.
All in all, adding two Egress Windows was not an easy task. It took literally a few weeks of hard work between digging holes, cutting concrete, installing windows and making them as moisture-proof as possible. Tyler, all along, had the idea to drywall the ceilings and not use as much drop ceiling as possible to maintain the high ceiling heights. I cannot wait to start the next step! We now have two windows installed in our basement which had none before!
Stay tuned for drywall updates as this impatient woman is excited to share with you the joys of adding two Egress windows and bedrooms to the basement.