The topic of this month’s Small Family Homes Blogger assignment: Storage! I’m writing this in the nick of time, not planning to participate this month initially because we have an unfinished basement that’s the same size as our main floor — nearly 1,200 square feet. And what’s exciting or challenging about saying that you store your Christmas tree in the basement?
And yet. We’re currently undertaking an inconvenient, expensive, unplanned project on in our basement. It’s a draining one — on our savings account, our free time and our moods. There’s been more than one depressing conversation about selling the house, starting over in a strata, rental or, at the very least, a home that’s built slab-on-grade (no basement).
The project is seismic upgrades to the frame of our house. It started with a leaking hose bib at the SE corner of our house. When our water heater started leaking last fall, the contractor pointed out the other leak, which was hidden behind a chip board wall. Off came the chip board, out came the insulation (newer fibreglass in this area), the leak was fixed. But the damage had been done — years of that hose leaking behind the wall had completely rotted out the frame in that corner (above). If we lived anywhere else, that might not be a big deal, or it at least could have been left a little while longer while we caught our breath from the den renovation or having the entire exterior of our house scraped, primed and painted. (There is, after all, quite a bit more supporting the house than just that one corner.) But we live in a very active seismic area, which has recorded 45 small earthquakes since we moved in last May. We’re all waiting for the Big One to hit — hoping it doesn’t in our lifetimes — but practicing vigilance nonetheless.
That means not turning a blind eye to places where the frame of our house has turned rotten, or ignoring that there’s actually nothing holding our house, besides the weight of our house and possessions, to its foundation. We decided to repair the rotten area, beef up the stud bays all the way around the basement, and add anchor bolts between every stud, essentially screwing our house to its concrete foundation, re-insulate the entire basement and then add one-sided shear walls, the best we could do without re-siding our entire freshly-painted lower level (a proper shear wall is plywood added to both sides of your studs). In order to prepare for this job, we needed access to all our basement walls.
Which meant pulling all our stuff away from all the walls — the lawnmower and other gardening tools; the snow tires (used for one Ontario winter); the Christmas tree and decorations; the boxes of user manuals, tax documents, fabric remnants; the sewing machine and canning supplies and the good vacuum and the vacuum that’s quiet, but doesn’t really work; the artwork we are saving for the hallway renovation; the firesafe box; the stroller; the dining room table we moved all the way across the country but have no room for; the paper towels and extra cat litter; the bicycles and exercise equipment; the clothes Frankie has grown out of or has yet to grow into; the dehumidifier and the luggage; the pack ‘n’ play; the sleeping bag and cooler; the party plates and solo cups; the drying rack and the jackets we don’t wear often enough to warrant a place upstairs; the DVD player we haven’t hooked up or even missed. I haven’t mentioned the workbenches and the tools and the extra paint, but that’s all down there, too.
We don’t have a garage or a shed and, given the non-stop issues, I wish we didn’t have a basement. But I can’t argue with the fact that we’re using it to store so much stuff. Moving into this larger home last spring, I really hoped we would continue to live as minimally as possible. My strict shopping rules haven’t changed, but we’ve needed to acquire so many new and different tools just to maintain this property — a real lawnmower, not just the push mower we used in Toronto; so many pry bars and safety masks and drop cloths. And we’ve been so busy, frantic even, over the past year trying to stay on top of all the things that need our attention here, that it’s been pretty easy to let the snow tires, the push mower, the DVD player and the dining room table just sit down there, even though they’re of no use to us anymore. (Getting rid of an unused DVD player is, after all, not nearly as pressing as rebuilding the frame of your house.)
And does it even matter if there are a few extraneous things down here? In a 1,200 square foot basement used exclusively for storage? Is it still less than most Canadians have in their basements, garages and sheds? Probably. But I can’t deny all this stuff is seriously stressing me out, especially as we’re having to face it head on in order to deal with our structural issues. Or maybe it’s just the basement — of having storage space — that’s stressing me out. (This basement stresses you out, too, right?) I seriously wish we could build a cute shed for our tools and then backfill the entire basement. Goodbye storage! Goodbye issues! Goodbye any possibility of putting something in basement purgatory.
I know we’ll feel so much better when these structural issues have been dealt with. I can hardly begin to explain how nerve-wracking it’s been for me to live here with a toddler, mostly on my own, and know that if a big earthquake strikes, my 100-year-old house is basically going to slide into my backyard. Once everything has been buttoned up, I’m planning to sell/toss/donate as much stuff as I can before I move everything back to its place. My ideal basement is one that doesn’t exist. But if I have to have one (alas, I can’t actually backfill this one), I’d like for it to contain as little as possible — the Christmas tree, the luggage, the maybe baby things.