Rebuilding the Basement

A year ago this March, our basement flooded. As life experiences go, I don’t recommend it. It could have been a lot worse, because the water never got above a couple of inches deep, which meant that we didn’t lose furniture, electronics and so on. But it also could have been a lot better.

That Saturday being my morning to sleep in, Kate and Eleanor came downstairs to hang out in the playroom they had just reconfigured and discovered water. Everywhere. Very kindly, they let me continue to sleep because it didn’t appear to be getting actively worse, but when I woke up I had no idea I was going to spend the day first hauling water out manually with a shop-vac up the basement stairs and out the front door, then actually thinking the situation through and using a pump, only to give up and let the professionals take over on Sunday.

Professionals who had no more luck than I did, at first. Even with the addition of three more additional trucks over the course of the day, the water was flowing in faster than their professional gear could haul it out – so you can imagine how effective my little 14 gallon shop-vac was.

Fast forward a day and they discovered the cause, which was a frozen pipe in our perimeter drain system. Like a lot of houses built in the past twenty years, our house has a series of french / curtain drains around the perimeter of the house to ensure proper drainage. Little did we know that one of ours was either improperly installed, had become exposed over time or both, and frozen solid. With no way to exit the system, the water backed up and, with nowhere else to go, flowed back into our house.

Eventually someone – not me – figured out that might be the problem, and we called the guy who’d done the excavation for our generator and within ten minutes he’d found the drain pipes and punched a bunch of holes in the one that was frozen. That created a very small geyser in our backyard for maybe twenty minutes, and when the professionals came back they cleared the basement in maybe a half hour.

The lesson here? If you have perimeter drains, make sure they’re not frozen. Just trust me on this.

Anyway, I bring all of this up now because over the last week or so, we’ve finally completed – according to some definition of completed, anyway – the final repairs. Specifically, we re-paneled the basement hallway and beer room / pantry. We were lucky in that most of the basement, the entirety of which is finished, had wood paneling which warped a little but otherwise dried out eventually. The middle of the basement, however, was sheetrock, the bottom three feet of which had to be extracted by the same folks that (eventually) drained our basement.

For them to get at the sheetrock, however, we had to move our considerable beer collection into the downstairs shop, and move all of the shelving the beer used to be on into the middle of the room with all the drywall. This left both the shop and the beer room more or less unusable.

Until this week.

We decided, in large part because drywall is heavy and a pain in the ass to deal with, that rather than replace the missing three feet we’d simply drop in manufactured wainscoting panels. For a room that is in our basement and sees no traffic, our general feeling about the overall aesthetic was a shrugging emoji. What follows, then, is what happened and what we did.

Here’s the hallway with the water beginning to seep in (I have video of it sloshing around, but it’s too painful to watch).

And while it’s tough to see, here’s the water on the floor of the beer room. All of the dark on that carpet is water.

So here’s what the hallway looked like after they got done with it.

And here’s the beer room.

Again, and I can’t stress this enough, it could have been a lot worse. But if you’re used to having walls around, having half of them isn’t all that enjoyable. Now let’s fast forward nine months.

Still no walls.

Worse than no walls, we had more water. Which wasn’t my fault. Or entirely my fault.

When we had our furnace removed, I was told that part of that process would be draining the system. Which I presumed meant the baseboard pipes with water in them. Imagine my surprise, then, when I took a sawzall to one and water began aggressively spraying me in the face and all around the room.

My timing was unfortunate as well, because while Kate was out when the pipe was initially cut and thus didn’t hear me run around yelling, she came home to find me suspiciously wet and covered in damp drywall. I told her we’d had a bit of a minor problem, and she said, “Ok, just tell me it’s not water again.”

I wasn’t sure how to answer that question.

Anyway, let’s skip past all that and never speak of it again. Eventually the residual water in the system was drained – the shop-vac was much better draining the finite amount of water in a limited pipe system. And I was thus ready to go in putting the basement back together, so I moved a bunch of beer boxes from the shop, managed to dig out my brad nailer and I got to work.

As mentioned before, the old wood paneling and trim was warped, but more of less survived intact so I was able to salvage that. So that went in, and then the wainscoting panels on top it, topped by some obviously not stain-matched new pine trim (there was no top trim before).

If you’re looking at it from a distance, or if you did poor work quickly, at night, and you want to hide said poor work by being strategic about your camera angles, it’s passable. Ish. For a room in the basement, at least. I should note, however, that while I hold this opinion, it is by no means the consensus opinion in the household. My only hope is that no one – particularly another member of the household – takes a camera and looks more closely at that horrific trim transition, the trim being proud of the door jam, or the gap in the paneling.

To me at least, the thing we should really be focusing on is that we have walls again.

Next up was the beer room. And if you thought I’d take the time to paint the new trim where the old steam baseboard used to be to match the old trim in that room, you obviously weren’t paying a lot of attention to the quality control on the hallway. The best thing that can be said about the work in here is that it is better than having half a wall missing.


With the room more or less back in shape, it was time to focus on what was important: getting the beer room back online. Step one, the Allagash shelf.

Step two: the sour and dark beer shelves. Though I still need to find a storage mechanism that doesn’t hide them away in boxes, but also means that a bumped shelf doesn’t cost me irreplaceable aged beers.

With the most important task out of the way with the beer re-shelved, it’s time to start picking up the last pieces from the flood, and rebuilding and reorganizing the shop. Once that’s back up and running, after all, I can do a lot more poor quality carpentry.

Besides “don’t let your basement flood,” the only other takeaway I’ll leave you with, for the two of you that have read this far, is get a compressor and a brad nailer. Out of all the power tools in existence, it might be the most fun to use.


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