01 March 2015

and so it begins. again.

well, we certainly had a bit of a break, didn't we?

not much has happened on the house front in quite some time but we're *finally* getting started with a huge project that we anticipated from day one: replacing the foundation of our very old house.

it's been a long time coming, and has involved years of sketches and planning and interviewing, but we've finally broken ground this week. for those of you most interested in interior design, new updates to this blog may be a bit of a bore. but for those of you who are interested in what it takes to replace a failing brick-and-mortar foundation set on a sandy ex-creek bed in the middle of a very busy city, well, stay tuned!

a bit of background... when we bought the building in 2009, g and i knew that we'd eventually have to get around to this work. it was obvious, inside and out, that we had a bit of a situation.

before getting started

from the outside, you could see that the bays, each two stories high and over 30 feet tall, were sagging away from the center of the house. on the inside, you can both see and feel the effect of the foundation sagging on both sides. g and i have both become accustomed to the unusual experience of sleeping with our toes above our heads due to the sag along the outer walls in both units.

so, when the time was right, we started working with a structural engineer on plans to replace the foundation - and to add a garage while we are at it. this took much longer than expected due to san francisco's tedious approval and permitting process (for example, they approved the removal of both concrete retaining walls but would not approve the removal of the ficus tree that grew on top of the one on the left?!) and because we had to make some concessions due to our proximity to the uphill neighbor's above-grade brick foundation (we won't be able to excavate to the property line and have a garage as big as the house's footprint).

when the dust settled on our plans, and permits were finally issued, we started with removing the trees from the front of the house. it is always a sad thing to see mature trees removed, especially in an urban environment which is already starved for them, but we had to do it. one would prevent us from accessing the site and the other was a risk to both the current and future foundations.

the (very sunny!) day after the trees came down

while it is was sad, i have to admit that it is quite nice to finally see all of the beautiful victorian features of the house without obstructions. i still love it very much and am excited that we get to care for this amazing place so it will last, hopefully, at least another 100+ years.

that being said, with the trees gone, the problem with the foundation is even more obvious when viewed dead-on. you can see in the photo above that the sag is particularly bad on the left. in the dining room, there is about a 5-inch slope from the interior wall to the outside wall. makes for interesting post-dinner moments when everyone feels they maybe had too-too much local wine to drink!

here's what we intend it to look like when finished.

plans for the exterior

the paper was a bit wobbly, so please try to imagine that everything is finally level! you'll note that both retaining walls are gone in the bottom/ "after" sketch, and that we'll have a carriage style garage door on the right. on the left, we'd planned on victorian style wrought iron railing but, with all of the wonderful sun we now get, we're leaning towards a low- or no-water garden that everyone can enjoy.

and now for the fun stuff: set-up and demolition. on tuesday morning, our awesome contractor (eugene of oak leaf construction) came by with some of his crew to get the prep work started. sadly, my favorite member of the oak leaf team, tipper, was unavailable that day...

our foreman, tipper, on another job

we started with taping construction paper down on all of our floors on the lower level of the building. this was a much bigger undertaking than i'd thought - it took over 4 hours just to finish up in my unit. as a reminder, our floors are gorgeous wide-plank old-growth douglas fir. the problem is that these are actually the original sub-floors for the house - at some point the oak floors that were installed above them were removed in favor of plywood and carpet.

floors and long-gone paint job, pendant

as we'll be excavating tons, literally, of sand from below the house, the likelihood of it blowing up through the floors is high. so here are our *fancy* new floors...

beautiful new pink paper floors

i also spent a while taping up the bottom bay window with a heavy plastic drop cloth to keep sand from blowing through my 100+ year old, no-longer-square sashes.

lovely new window coverings to match

and then we were ready to frame out the construction site on wednesday, and start the demo on thursday. here's a look...

framing the site so no one can access on off-hours

closed for the night!

after the site was secured, they removed the siding below the bay on the right and found a WONDERFUL surprise. there is no foundation at all under our enormous two-story bays. whomever build the house ran a brick foundation around some of the perimeter but decided to build the bays right on top of the sand with no actual support! the guys doing the work said they'd never seen anything like it - yay for us!? 

at least this is a good explanation for why we've seen so much settling, even in our short time here.

once they'd built a temporary support for the bay, they were able to start removing the concrete retaining wall. ah the dulcet sounds of a jackhammer at 8AM on a friday morning...

a slow and tough business

by the end of the day on friday, the guys had removed the front of the retaining wall and started trucking out the sand by hand. this has to be done with extreme care, especially at first, to make sure we don't destabilize our building or either of our neighbors'. just the excavation portion of the project is slated to take about 2 months. 

so, one week down, and SIX TO NINE MONTHS left to go! please keep your fingers crossed and wish us well!

the incomparable bill withers - he's been on repeat in my house of late


  1. yikes! when it's done, you will always know where you parked your car.:-)

  2. Wow wow and wow again. What a huge but much needed endevor. We will keep informed through your winderful blog!


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