Friday, March 5, 2010

Tiling the Basement: Part 1 (And Other Household DIY Tasks)

A couple of weeks ago at Chateau Papillon, we had a bit of a plumbing snafu.  Earlier that afternoon, I'd unclogged the master bathroom toilet, then gone into the hall lav to take a bath.  Beth, meanwhile, was doing some laundry in the basement.  A few minutes later, Beth came rushing upstairs: the downstairs shower, toilet, and the floor drain in the laundry room were all backed up, flooding incredibly nasty water into the basement.

If you recall, last time we had a drain issue in the basement, I'd been able to solve it by use of a pressure attachment for the garden hose.  Beth and I tried that again on both the laundry room floor drain and the downstairs shower to no avail; the clog was bad enough that even the high-pressure jet simply forced water out of the other fixtures.  Getting the drains fixed took a couple of visits by our plumbers, plus a subcontractor (Sparkle Drain Cleaners) who used a powered, bladed auger snaked into the main vent stack from the roof to clean out the entire line to the county sewer system.  You'd be amazed what they found in the main line: coins, nails and screws (none from our work--some were likely as old as the house itself), and even a socket wrench head, which was simply too large to have fallen through any of the drains (maybe via a toilet?).  But that whole experience is a bit tangential to the story at hand, if necessary set-up nonetheless.

Despite quick work with the carpet cleaner, we knew the basement carpet simply had to go.  Within a day, the entire basement began to smell like urine, and despite running the dehumidifier unseasonably and at a brisk pace, the laundry room in particular stayed damp--an increasing risk of mold, to be sure.  We'd planned to redo the basement, anyway--as you may recall, both Beth and I hate carpet (and who ever heard of carpeting a laundry room?)--but the flooding moved our schedule up a bit.

Taking out the carpet was a cinch; unlike the main downstairs carpet (in the "jungle room," no relation to Elvis and Graceland), not that much glue had been used to install it, and the water took care of what adhesive there was.  Quick work with a utility knife and some twine to bind up the rolled strips of pee-reeking carpet and we were done.

Sort of.

The water had gotten underneath some of the 1980s-era vinyl tiles in the basement, too, and where they'd come loose, I lifted those tiles up and away, expecting adhesive-stained concrete beneath.  Unfortunately, I found more tile underneath the vinyl, and not just any tile.  9"x9" black asphalt tile, probably original to the house from the 1960s.  There's one real problem with that sort of tile: it's laden with asbestos, up to 85% or more by weight.  (Some vinyl tiles up until the late 70s/early 80s also contained some asbestos, but what we've got post-dates that, luckily.)

The problem with asbestos arises--pun intended--when it gets airborne, and when microscopic fibers of it travel deep into one's lungs.  A few decades later, and your grieving relatives might be calling one of those ambulance-chasing law firms advertising on television, looking to cash in on your mesothelioma.  So long as it's undisturbed and sealed up, though, asbestos is fine--and likely lurking in the floors, walls, and possibly attics of tens of millions of homes across the United States.  What this meant, though, is that we had to entomb up that exposed asbestos tile ASAP.

The past week, we've been troweling in floor patch and sealant compound, building up to level where any vinyl tiles came up, and sealing all the way to the edges over the asbestos tiles.  It's still not quite level enough to do a good tile installation, so next up is a "self-leveling" compound, which we'll pour onto the floor and let settle to even out the edges and rough spots.  (Yes, I do plan to remove the baseboard, and re-seal the block walls along the bottoms where there's some inevitable water seepage, which you can see in the photo above if you look really carefully.)

A lot of the work has involved wearing my double-cartridge respirator, which I originally got for attic work (and which has now seen service in sanding down wall compound, cutting holes in the ceilings, attic work, and  basement asbestos remediation).  Obviously, we've avoided any scraping or removal of the asbestos tiles--just leave those suckers be, and seal them up; that's the way it's done.  And the one good thing about all that plumbing backup: wet tiles are much less likely to be "friable" and to flake off airborne asbestos particles.

While waiting for the last coats of floor patch to dry, I went ahead and installed a couple of lights in what will eventually be a basement hallway.  We'll be walling off the laundry and storage room area (which Beth calls the "water closet" now), so the hallway thus created leading from the "jungle room" (the main basement living space) to the wine bistro, downstairs bath, and around to the guest bedroom needs light.

Beth picked out some inexpensive sconces which ended up being very easy to install--as I mounted them on the wall around our furnace and utility closet, which was only finished on the outside, and the drop ceiling in the back half of the basement made for easy routing of the wiring.  I intend to move the lights over to another circuit once I relocate the larger fixture which currently sits over the laundry area; I discovered last week that the same circuit serves my office, the laundry room lights, and one set of living room lights upstairs.  When we pulled out the electric range, that freed up room for several small (15A) circuits in the main breaker box, and it will be a simple matter to tie into one of the unused 15 amp breakers and split these lights off of the other circuits.

Much more to do; I hope we can lay most of the tile itself tomorrow.  We won't have time to finish the hallway walls before going to Europe for a short vacation in a few days, but we'll at least be well on the way to having the "water closet" redone.

No comments: