An 1880s Italianate Home in Albany, Oregon
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Allen House basement

Table of Contents


Two problems initially plagued the Allen house basement:

  • The Allen house sits on an above-ground basement constructed of bricks held together with poor quality mortar. So with son-in-law Chris Reiter's prompting, we decided to use steel tubing to strengthen the basement walls in case of an earthquake. This involved hiring a Paul Hightower, an engineer to prepare professional drawings and structural calculations so that the end result would meet current building codes ... along with a lot of hard work.
  • The heating and cooling system was grossly inadequate. Actually, the Sears gas forced air heater was OK, but the ductwork leaked like a sieve. This meant the basement initially got as warm or warmer than the upstairs. And the initial cooling system involved opening windows in the summertime. This worked poorly because the old double-hung wood windows generally either had storm windows or were painted shut. So we installed an air conditioning system. This allows us to keep the windows closed while maintaining a comfortable temperature inside.

2006-2007: Tile floor

December 2006: We decided the uneven floor needed improvement, so during Christmas break, I laid tiles on the floor. Here you see me playing ping pong with my father, Wes Sullivan, on the new floor. Note that I haven't yet finished the tiles on the floor's border.

July 2007: I still haven't cleaned out the grout joints and put mortar in the joints, but this shows all the tiles in place.

July 2005: Touch-up work

(Top) How the basement as it looked on the day we bought the house in 2003.

(Bottom) How it looked after finishing the foundation repair project.

(Top) How the basement looked in 2003. Note that the washer and dryer connections are in the basement -- not a convenient location for washing clothes.

(Middle and bottom) We've moved the washer and dryer connections to the second floor and replaced wooden beams with steel ones.

I thought a central vacuum system would be nice, so this shows how I decided to mount it on a steel beam.
The basement ceiling gets another layer of insulation.

Ken helps cut and install tongue-and-groove paneling between the existing beams.

(Top) How the basement as it looked on the day we bought the house in 2003.

(Bottom) How it looked as we are installing insulation and paneling in the ceiling.

Dave Helton helps build shelving behind the stairs.

July 2005: Pouring concrete

The entire strength of the foundation reinforcement project relies on having the steel beams tied securely to the ground. To make sure this would happen, we poured a 6-inch thick perimeter of concrete entirely around the house.
Throughout this perimeter, we installed rebar to strengthen everything.
I used a welder to tack weld all the rebar together into a solid unit that couldn't shift during the concrete pour.
Paul Hightower, the professional engineer who designed this project, required us to dig a massive hole under the central support in the middle of the basement. We loaded this hole with lots of rebar spaced half-way down the hole.

More shots showing how rebar and footings were placed.

Paul Hightower wanted the concrete chopped back from the existing footing for the chimney. So a lot more work went into to prepping the footings for this photo than most people would expect. We rented a jack hammer to try to remove the existing footing, and the progress was quite slow because the footing contained a wire mesh that held everything together. Metal and concrete make a very sturdy and hard to remove mixture.
We decided to pour concrete under the kitchen porch area at the same time as we poured everything else. This shows Dave Helton framing a temporary support to hold the porch while the concrete is being poured.

The kitchen porch area, ready for concrete.
We also decided to pour concrete under the back porch area where the air conditioning unit sits. One of our cats, Riley, is doing his best to participate.
As a last-minute addition, I decided to add another support in the basement next to the furnace. This wasn't on Paul Hightower's original plan, but it seemed like a good move to me.
The prep work is done, so Dave Helton and I take a break.

First the pumper truck arrives, then the concrete truck backs up.

Placing concrete in the forms. This part went very quickly compared to the  months of effort necessary to install the steel beams and organize the footings.
The massive footing in the center of the basement bring the floor back to its original level and hides all the rebar inside.
Dave Helton did a super job of troweling surfaces to look good.

The kitchen porch area gets concrete.

The back porch area gets concrete, and I do my best to trowel it flat.

June 2005: More welding and prepping for concrete

Getting the right fit was critical ... it made welding beams together much easier and resulted in stronger connections. These pictures show how the main beam through the central part of the basement attaches to supporting beams across the front of the house.

Wooden shims helped get beams aligned perfectly prior to final welding and lag bolting them to the house.
Getting beams into position wasn't easy. We used ladders to hold them temporarily as we jockeyed them into position. At the end of the project, these ladders had had their tops crushed by the weight of the beams.
We mostly worked from the front to the back of the house. This shows the back wall.

This sequence shows how we fitted beams into the wall just behind the home's front porch.
I needed to build up a sturdy method of tying everything together at the bottom of the stairs while routing the new beams around existing pipes.
Ken uses a chisel to cut pockets to accept so supports can slide under the home's existing wooden sill beams.
We tried to do as much welding and cutting as possible outside where it was easier to work. Here you can see a beam that has been fitted with supports to extend under the sill beams so that if all the bricks in the basement were removed, the house would still stand unchanged. You also can see lots of tabs that have been welded onto the beam to accept lag bolts. In an earthquake, those lag bolts will hold the house firmly to the steel beams.

This sequence shows how we fitted beams into the west wall (under the first-floor bedroom). This required a moderate amount of plumbing work to move copper pipes out of the way.

This sequence shows beams being installed down the east wall of the basement. Note that the uprights don't extend all the way to the floor. Since we will be pour concrete around the floor's perimeter, we left the uprights dangling in the air several inches short of the floor.
I should have carried boxes of Christmas decorations and other household junk upstairs much earlier to get it out of the way. Here you see me in typical welding garb.

April 2005: Installing the steel skeleton

I took this picture because it shows a part of the wall where the mortar has failed completely.
One of the first steps was to move all the electrical and plumbing connections out of the way. I needed to drill holes in the floor joists so I could thread wires and pipes out of sight.
We piled things in the center of the basement to provide better access to the walls.
This shows the base of the stairs prior to installing the steel. The white newel posts came from the front and kitchen porch. I removed them because of rot ... I will need to turn new identical posts and reinstall them.
Here we see the ductwork looking toward the front of the house.
The utility area was filled with storage and household junk. If I had the project to do over again, I would move all this stuff completely out of the basement right at the beginning. Instead, some of it was moved repeatedly from one location to another as the project proceeded.

Above: I used 4-by-4 posts with all-thread bolts on top to build temporary supports.

Below: The temporary supports rested on wood footings and shims.

Looking toward the back of the house, we see an unused chimney along with various shelves and the furnace. The chimney reached only to the first floor, but it provided structural support. So I wanted to remove it as part of this overall project.
By this time, I have removed the original beam and replaced it with temporary supports. You can see the brick pads which held up the original beam -- they were only about one square foot in size. Paul Hightower's structural plans called for much larger footings.
Perhaps the most interesting part of this image is the white 2-by-4 support that someone installed to support the first floor next to the window. It indicates the sad state of affairs I found prior to taking on this project.
The east wall prior to adding steel beams ...

To provide proper support for the house, each outside steel beam needed to have struts that would extend under the home's sill beam. This required Bill Cutler to remove bricks to create a pocket for each strut. He used a drill and chisels to remove bricks carefully. The goal was to create pockets that did not extend all the way through the wall, leaving the external appearance of the home unchanged.

We needed to use temporary supports to hold up the center of the house while old wooden supports were removed and the new steel beams were inserted.

Bill Cutler and I prepare the steel beams prior to moving them into the house. Each beam weighted 450 pounds, so they weren't easy to move. Here you see Bill grinding to get a clean surface where I would later weld on brackets.
Welding from above was a snap ... I am super confident about the strength of these welds.
The finished beam, ready to be moved inside.
Bill and I used PVC tubing to help roll the heavy beams into the basement.
Barb pretends to be lifting the beam into place. In actual fact, it took Bill and I several hours of hard work to slowly lift and shift each of these central beams into position.
A close-up view showing how each support bracket was welded into position. Each clip is attached with many more inches of weld than the formal specs from Paul Hightower required.

2004: HVAC (Heating and Cooling) work

December 23, 2004: It really helps to have two son-in-laws who have worked professionally with HVAC systems. Chris Reiter and Andrew Ramsey installed the majority of a new air conditioning system. This system came on-line at the end of the summer heat ... and it made a huge difference.
December 23, 2004: Andrew Ramsey also retrofitted the ductwork -- building new ducts, wrapping existing ones, and sealing leaks.

2003: Strengthening the foundation

December 13, 2003: Chris Reiter deserves the credit for talking us into using steel to support the basement.
October 18, 2003: I took the 4x4 posts to be sandblasted and what a difference that made! This shows them with a quick primer coat. Next will come a glossy black paint.
October 18, 2003: Initial plans for the foundation strengthening project as Visio saves them in a web page format.
October 9, 2003: So I went to Cherry City Metals to look for scrap tube steel. After spending roughly $1300, here is the pile of steel they dropped off at my house. Here is a detailed list of what I bought:





 Cost / Lb.




15 to 23 feet



 $    0.25

 Tube steel

Painted glossy white





 $    0.20

 Tube steel

Primed gray, plates w/2 holes on each end





 $    0.25

 Tube steel

Primed gray, will need a bit of clean up to remove brackets, plates on each end





 $    0.25

 Tube steel

for cross bracing, unpainted





 $    0.25

 Tube steel

for cross bracing, primed gray












 $    0.20

 Tube steel

East post has 11x11" base with four 5/8" holes,







has VERY sturdy 4.5"x4.5" jacketing for the first 2 feet,







and needs to be sandblasted and primed





 $    0.25

 angle bracket

bucket of joist clips, w/2 holes in each clip





 $    0.25

 plate steel

plates with four 5/8" holes in the corners

Total weight: 5300 lbs






October 9, 2003: This shows a close-up of the 4x4 posts, complete with base plate and lots of rust.
October 9, 2003: The 3x4 and 4x4 tube steel mostly has pieces of slotted steel that have been tacked onto the side. My guess is that these pieces were originally used for shelving in an industrial warehouse. It took a fair amount of grinding to remove and clean up this steel.
September 27, 2003: Placing temporary supports in the basement to prepare for steel supports.
September 27, 2003: This stub of the original chimney only went to the basement ceiling. A prior owner had removed most of the chimney. I decided to remove the rest and was surprised at how easily the bricks were removed. At times, I could grab bricks by hand and simply yank them from the chimney. This left me quite concerned about the mortar in the basement walls.
September 27, 2003: I tried scraping the mortar in the basement walls with my fingernail. I found it flaked off. Next, I examined how the first floor was attached to the basement walls, and I couldn't find any bolts or other method of attaching these two items. I concluded the house sits on top of the basement and is held there only by gravity.
(Note as of December 2005:
I now know the original builders chiseled mortise-and-tendon connections between each 2-by-4 in the walls and the sill beams. These connections were not initially visible because the pockets are on top of the sill beams. This super-strong system took A LOT of labor originally, but illustrates the sort of quality craftsmanship that went into building this home.)


The Allen-House.Com and websites are maintained by Dave and Barbara Sullivan who live in the N. H. Allen House at 208 6th Avenue SE, Albany, Oregon. Our home phone is 541-924-5983.