Friday, July 26, 2013

New House Lessons Learned & Landscaping 101

After purchasing our first home in January, we have already learned quite a few lessons. Primarily, that home inspections are a waste of money that should instead be used toward repairs - if you have any idea what a house should look like (ie/square and no water leaking) and have the patience to look over everything yourself, you will probably find out as much if not more than the home inspector will find - after all, you will probably look at the wall behind furniture.

Ok - rant over. The reason for it is that this spring, as soon as the snow started melting in force we had water coming into our basement. Their was not enough snow melting for me to consider that the previous owners would not have had water come into their basement in the spring as well - which means that they weren't honest on their disclaimer.

We brought in the inspector, who took a look at what was going on and declared that the water was coming in because the ground was still too frozen and the water wasn't making it down to the weeping tile.

Later in the spring when we had a deluge of rain, water started coming into the basement again.

We called the inspector in again, and this time he used his water detection tool, and told us that there was water coming in at the corner of our foundation, and that it was likely just seeping in - not a crack. Hmm...

Around the same time, my father-in-law came to the city, and was looking at the way that our lawn was sloping. Both the front of the house and the side that we were having the water problems on had a hump in the middle, and then sloped down to either side - to the street AND to the house! We knew when he pointed this out that we had to do something, otherwise we were going to continue to have the same problems.

Two weeks ago, the first set of changes occurred in our yard. I dug up all of my perennials along the front and side of the house (my poor flower beds) and moved them to other areas in the backyard. My father-in-law and mother-in-law came up, and we worked - oh did we work.

The project was planned to encompass an entire weekend, however Mother Nature had other plans for us - it rained all day Saturday, leaving us Sunday to work. Luckily clay drains fast.

My father-in-law began by starting to dig around the corner where the inspector claimed to have found water running inside the wall. Finding no crack however, he quickly decided that a decision would need to be made. Should we open up the wall on the inside?

Luckily we live in a bi-level, which means that the basement wall is a ponywall. In addition, the age of the house means that this ponywall is covered using faux wood panelling, which meant easy access. However, this was not our dilemma. If the wall had in fact been leaking every year for a long time, there would be a very good chance that we would be finding a great deal of mould inside the wall. Needless to say, this would open up a whole new can of worms and set of problems, as it would be difficult to open the wall without disturbing any spores present - the last thing we wanted was to make the house unlivable.

That said, in the end we decided to take the risk and open up the wall to avoid digging all day in vain. We went to the store and purchased all the supplies we would need. Luckily, our gamble paid off. Not only were we able to determine that there was no mould in the wall, we were able to find the crack and determine that the water was running down the inside of the crack and out at the floor, completely missing the insulation. Win! I did take lots of pictures at this point, but unfortunately took them with my phone which I then broke shortly after...

We went back to the outside of the house, and dug in the approximate location of the crack on the inside. Sure enough, there was a crack running down the foundation from the siding all the way down to the bottom of the foundation. It was hairline - very very thin and almost impossible to see if you didn't know where to look - but it was there.

My father-in-law and Gilles ran the campaign at this time, grinding out the crack to increase its width and allow sealant inside, filling it, and adding in the initial layers of clay. We were also able to determine that the weeping tile was still in good shape, which was great.

We filled clay all the way up to level with the current lawn. In the meantime, my mother-in-law had been removing the topsoil from my flower beds out front. We added this on top of the clay, at a slight angle downward so that any moisture would flow away from the house. We filled my flower beds out front with clay, using the same strategy.

Outside of the foundation issue, I also realized in the fall when we were looking at the house that the birch tree out front was afflicted with Birch Beetle - a rampant killer in our city. It became apparent this spring that it was progressing very fast - much faster than I anticipated - so I contacted SuperPro Tree Experts to find out whether it was early enough to save it by pruning off the afflicted branches.

The prognosis was dim - the birch beetles had already progressed well into the trunk of the tree. It could not be saved and would be completely dead within two years. We decided that the timing was fortuitous - we decided to have the tree removed so that we would better be able to progress with the rest of our landscaping. What was once a very tall weeping birch - 1.5x the height of our house, is now this:

The small pile of mulch to the right of the photo is where the tree was.

A wonderful pile of firewood is all that remains of the tree.
As part of their Beautify the City program we will be able to get a tree planted in our front yard at no charge, and the city will take care of it for the first few years, also at no charge. When we are done landscaping we plan to do so.
You may have also noticed that our lawn is quite... dying. This is intentional. Gilles has been spraying Round Up on it to prepare it for the fall's landscaping. We need the lawn to be completely dead. If there is any living grass when we return from Iceland we will add several more applications of Round Up. Then, we will be getting a landscaping company to come in and shave off the grass and the clay underneath (there is no topsoil to speak of under the lawn), so that it is following the same grade as the sidewalk. We will have to do the same with the side of the house on our own. This will allow us to add in some topsoil and still have the appropriate grade so that any water runs away from the house. We will plant a new lawn in time for it to just grow tall enough to be cut once before the snow flies, hopefully insulating it until spring. We are planning to replant our entire lawn (front and back) at the same time.
In the meantime, we have a couple other landscaping projects scheduled too. We will be building a new flower bed either this fall or in the spring - it will rest in the corner of the driveway and the sidewalk, and be surrounded in brick. It will be raised about 2ft from ground level. This will replace my two flower beds in front of the house, which we are planning to fill with white rock. We will also be removing the poplar tree from our backyard this fall - a preventative measure as it is leaning over the house and poplar trees aren't known for their strength. We will also be removing the tree from my garden, although that may come the following year if we run out of time.
Next summer we will rebuild the fence around our yard, so it would be best if the tree in my garden can be removed by then. I will be planting an apple tree in its place once the new fence is up.

There are no shortage of projects to keep us busy with the new house, and that doesn't even take into consider the regular maintenance that everything requires, or the fact that we aren't going to be home for the majority of summer, and have other obligations when we are home. I will never claim to be bored!