How you know you’ve hit rock bottom

Rock bottom

Rock bottom

I’ve been (slowly) pouring a cement floor into the house with a dirt basement (Basement post, Flooring install).  I’ve now literally hit rock bottom.  You see, the basement in the house is typical of old homes – damp, musty and wet when it rains, so I wanted to add a sump pump.  I knew the basement was rocky as I had tried to dig out some flooring supports and kept hitting rock.

My plan was to remove the old, now abandoned sewer lines and put the sump pump in a hole dug under the old pipe.  First I removed the pipe – Grind through it with my grinder (noisy and dusty), remove the pipe and dig the hole.

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Next, I dug and dug and dug and cleaned the hole out.



Tried as I might, I realized I had hit rock bottom.

Rock bottom

Rock bottom

So I enlarged the hole and test fit the sump basin.  The basin is sitting a little high, but I’ll drill holes in the walls to allow water in which the pump can then push out.

The sump basin fits

The sump basin fits

I then had to place a $25 test plug in the old sewer line just in case there was a sewer backup, I didn’t want the basement flooding.  Nothing like spending $25 so I can bury it under cement.


I then drilled a hole into the side of the basin and placed a 2″ PVC pipe to allow for sub-slab water to find it’s way to the basin.  I placed stones, sand and gravel around the sump pit to allow water to flow into the basin.

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I jury rigged some forms around the slab to hold the concrete in place and filled the massive hole with gravel and large stones.

Next I mixed concrete (this is from a previous pad in the same basement):

My back is screaming at me again, but here’s the finished product:


Pouring a concrete floor in a dirt basement

Waste lines

The most recent house I’ve been working on has dirt basement.  I was excavating a portion of the basement to install a wall between the two units and had to cut out a tree root.  The long term plans for the house are to install a cement floor in the basement and convert the basement to a tall crawlspace.  My plumber still thinks the space would be great for a work space – I’m skeptical.

Anyway, I’m slowly adding portions to the floor (currently about 15SF installed…it’s a slow process).  There is no window into the basement, so I have to hand mix each of the 80lb bags of cement.  It’s heavy, slow work.  Here’s a quick set of pics of my work yesterday.

The plumber will be installing the new water lines this week so he needs a spot for the water heater.  The pile of junk on the dirt floor is exactly where the water heater will go.  Time to move the pile and prep the floor.


I moved the junk pile and spread some gravel then a 6mil vapor barrier.  The plastic is a little thin for my liking, but it’ll do.  The gravel is there to allow any water that gets into the basement to flow to a future sump pump.

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I cut and built some concrete forms for the 3’x3′ pad.  I cut the 2×4’s in half so I could insert the steel remesh for strength in the concrete.

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I then used some scrap to hold the top and bottom of the form together:

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Next the form was checked and leveled with small stones in the low corners:

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Then the mixing began.

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Bag by bag, the forms filled up.

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While it felt like a long day, the actual mixing only took about 30 minutes.  Setting and leveling the forms took almost an equal amount of time.

I need an official HBS shirt!

I need an official HBS shirt!

Finished concrete - a little soupy.

Finished concrete – a little soupy.

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Just something fun

I’ve been installing hardwood floors for the past week or so at the most recent UFUO.  I’ve now got all the hardwood installed and ready to be finished.  Then the trim (and painting and carpeting and toilet/bathroom and kitchen and…)  But I’m really nearly finished.

Anyway, I splurged and spent $1.99 to purchase a time lapse app for my phone and recorded the following:

I was feeling pretty great for myself.  I felt I set a good pace, was quick on the install, etc.  Then I found this video:

I got put in my place.

A Haunting

We’re working on our new townhouse.  It’s an old house that was let go into disrepair some years ago.  The adjacent townhouse has fallen into foreclosure and is now being prepared for sale by the bank.  A few tools have gone missing, which we attributed to some ‘handy’ subs that were working on the adjacent townhouse and got into ours. However, just this week, weird things began happening:

1) We left a bucket of slop water on the 2nd floor after finishing our tile work. The next morning, I got a call from my contractor to ask if I had returned the previous evening and knocked the bucket over because the tile slop and water were all over the 2nd floor.

2) Two days later, I was working on the 1st floor and heard something moving in the basement. I announced my presence (not that it wouldn’t have been known with all the noise I was making), and promptly left the house, settling where I could see the two exits from the house to see if anyone would leave. No one did and the noises stopped for the remainder of the time I worked there.

3) Yesterday, my brother and I were hanging sheetrock and we heard a crash, like scaffolding had fallen over; again, nothing and no one. My brother left for lunch and I was precutting sheets for when he returned. After he had been gone a reasonable length of time, I was upstairs and heard a crash from the room in which we were hanging drywall. I figured he had returned and had tripped over something – except his car wasn’t back. I went downstairs and nothing had fallen or was out of place.

4) I was completing the hanging of drywall and as I walked into the room to be hung, a cold wind hit me in the face and I felt like I was walking underwater. No windows were open, no vents were open, and it’s a boiler system.

My wife tells me I need to let the occupant of the house know all we are doing is trying to restore it to it’s former beauty.

Project updates

An angel investor gave me a sizable chunk of change to take to the upcoming tax sale; I decided to celebrate by stopping in to Starbucks for a grande chai.  My angel investor not only gave me money to invest, but he also offered to help in any way in the future.

I misunderstood the definition of ‘busy as a bee’, until this past month.  Because a family unexpectedly moved out, my time has been spent either working on HBS (usually during daylight hours), 2-hrs of family life daily (usually dinner and after dinner story time – Wilson Podpie the Pileated Woodpecker anyone?), and 3+ hours of school work between the hours of 8.30pm and 11pm and again from 5am until 8am.  The beautiful weekends have helped keep everything perspective.

In addition to the kitchen renovation, our recent purchase is being reconstructed.  The demolition is mostly complete and new parts are being added.

Kitchen pictures:

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Contractor Rehab (footer for the new wall):


Update from the trenches

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I had a family move out in relatively quick fashion last week.  I was informed (via phone call) of a musty smell in the house.  That day (a Saturday), I installed a dehumidifier in the basement.  Two days later, I received another call to inform me that a much more significant problem must be present.  I called a local mold mitigation contractor (who immediately informed me they would simply bill my insurance company…scam much?)

The local contractor did actually visit the house, but refused to provide a fixed quote.  They simply said “we’ll let you know how much it will be when we’re finished”.  Unfortunately, I’m not in a position to accept a contract on those terms, so I decided to handle the kitchen remodel myself.

I have a list of ‘must be remodeled at some point’ projects and this kitchen is a part of that list.  The kitchen will be finished by Thanksgiving, hopefully before.  While tearing into the walls, I found original newspaper articles the construction of the house.  Most dated from 1890 and 1891!  Philipsburg had great sarsaparilla, some sort of ‘Indian loans'(?) and an active corset market.

Needless to say, I found very little mold, except a little under the kitchen sink.  I will be fixing the sources of water (leaky pipes) and reinstalling a kitchen.  I’ve decided to go for some San Francisco charm and rather than install $600+ upper cabinets, I will use some black iron pipe:

Black Iron Pipe shelving

Let’s hope the final product looks half as awesome.

New Beginnings



Excitement is brewing here at HBS.  Over the past two weeks, some investments have been made which will allow us to continue HBS’s expansion.  I will continue to explore possible future employment with “the man”, but I would rather be “the man”.

So, with part of that investment, I closed on another UFUO on Friday.  I didn’t take any interior pictures, but will do so and will post them shortly.  This property needs a new kitchen, bathroom, carpeting, front & back doors, and paint.  Once the property is rehabbed and rented, I will refinance the loan to pull out my equity to redeploy on additional properties.

Also, check out our new Facebook page:



This is the first day in a long time that can be described as ‘excellent’.  I wish I had the energy to get my thoughts and feelings written, but it’s past midnight and I ‘slept in’ until 5.20am yesterday.  I’m tired, but I’ve had a good day.  I won’t be divulging everything yet, but this dusty corner of the Internet will become more active in the future.


The only clue I will give is the following: Security and Freedom are at opposite ends of the same linear scale and I am walking with confidence towards the Freedom end.  It’s scary but exciting.

Sorry for the late night blast

I’m supposed to be doing “Strategic Financial Management” right now.  Yep, sounds about as interesting as you would expect (OK, I’m a nerd…it is kind of fun).


However, I decided to pull up some of my old posts and reflect on what I had to say a little over 12 months ago.  This blog actually had a few good things to say.  I’ll post some updates here shortly.


It’s another busy semester.

Home Mystery #1, a more perfect answer

We have lived in our house for the past ten years and over those ten years, as we have renovated the house, some mysteries come to light.  The biggest mystery we have had to endure is the actual date of construction.  The title to our house states 1943 as the date of construction.  Unfortunately for the title, the methods of construction in the house (hand hewn log beams, single plank construction, horse-hair plaster and square cut nails suggest a much earlier time period for construction.

When we renovated our bathroom, we removed a drum trap from the bathroom floor.  Drum traps were created for ease of access for cleaning.  Imagine a coffee can that someone has drilled two holes into.  The first hole is low on the can and the second hole is high on the can.  Now, two pipes are inserted into those holes.  The lower hole is the inlet and the higher hole is the outlet.  At the top of the can is a screw-top lid to allow access to the can.  This is essentially a drum trap.

A drum trap may sound great: ease of access through the screw-top to clean any clogs within the trap.  In practice, however, the trap does not work as planned.  Imagine what happens when the trap gets clogged and someone needs to clean it.  Because the trap is not a single pipe there is no way to snake any clogs out.  The only way to remove a clog is to open the trap, thereby allowing any of the water stuck behind a clog out onto your floor.

Drum traps were banned in 1945.  Because of this bit of information, I believe that my bathroom was added in 1943 (outhouse prior to 1943).

I decided to  research construction methods for the 19th century.  The square cut nails gave me a clue as to the age of the house.  All of the original nails in the wood lath and plaster as well as the few remaining supporting columns were square cut nails.  The round nails we are familiar with today only became prevalent in the 1890’s.  I now knew that my house was built prior to 1890, but I still didn’t know exactly when or by who.

For another personal project, I was researching deeds and found that each deed lists not only the prior owner of the property, but usually two owners prior.  Using this information, I realized that I could ‘go back in time’ to learn who owned the land my house was on and try to discern when the house was built.

Our county has online access to all deeds back to when lands were originally purchased from the state (mine was originally part of a 400 acre tract purchased by John Irwin in 1794).


Using this database, I was able to find one reference which reads: “…having thereon erected a frame dwelling house and log stable,…”.  The only question which remains is this: The Sarah P Biddle/Lois M Gates deed, which includes the reference to the frame dwelling does not state who built the house, just that Elizabeth Booth died and that Sarah P Biddle, Mary E Wilson, Bella J Zimmerman, Lois M Gates and Phoebe A Smith were all owners and ownership was transferring to Lois M Gates (whose husband was also the attorney representing Lois during these negotiations).

A quick read of the deed above may suggest that Sarah P Biddle built the house between 1879 when she acquired the property, and 1907 when she sold the property.  However, after some additional research, Elizabeth Booth owned two pieces of land, one part of which was sold to Sarah Biddle.  The larger property that Elizabeth bought was purchased from Hiram Hendrixson in August of 1865 for $500.  This is the land where my house now sits.


Given the age of my house and Elizabeth’s need for housing, it is my assumption that my house was built between August 1865 and September 1879, when Sarah Biddle acquired the property.  During the late 1860s and the 1870s, Elizabeth would have owned approximately seven acres on which to farm or otherwise make a living.   Our house is situated about three miles from downtown State College and about two and a half miles to the old town of Scotia (now a ghost town).

If I find anything more, I’ll update the post.