Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Tale of Our Multi-Year, Live-in Kitchen Renovation (Episode 2--fixing the brick column)

The kitchen layout between episodes 1 and 2

Between episodes 1 and 2 of the kitchen story, several years elapsed.

In the meantime, we

  • Decided to restore the layout of the house to something close to its original floorplan

  • Built a fully temperature and humidity controlled wine cellar (there’s no accounting for some people’s priorities)

  • Had extensive hardscaping done outside—new front porch steps, brick path, brick lined driveway, huge swinging gates, new fence, new crushed gravel paths etc.

  • Planted many trees and boxwood hedge on the property

  • Had all the asbestos insulation safely removed from the hot water pipes in the basement by a licenced asbestos abatement company

  • Removed the fluorescing and crumbling parging from the basement walls and had the whole thing painted

  • Began the master bathroom renovation, (still ongoing) which involved adding a new sewer stack to the house

  • Laid the groundwork for a hydronic radiant floor heat system throughout the entire house

  • Insulated several exterior walls with spray foam insulation

  • Re-fitted the laundry room with front loading washer and dryer, counter and storage cupboard

(some of these other projects will get their own blog entries later on)

When we finally turned our attention back to the kitchen we were determined to tackle the crumbling brick wall that we’d faced every day for years. Finally, N had a plan. After much thought and consideration of various solutions, N settled on concrete as the answer to neaten up the broken brick edge and provide structural support for the laminated beam holding up the second floor above the kitchen.

The process required

  • 8 bags of concrete
  • a rental cement mixer
  • custom bent rebar, and lots of additional rebar tied into a grid,
  • modular forms (made from some melamine coated ½” particle board sheets we'd had lying around for ages)
  • a noisy hand sander to produce a lot of vibration
  • a spray bottle to wet down the bricks and the form
  • spray foam to fill the gaps where the form met the rough wall to prevent the concrete from pouring out and compromising the forms
  • many power and hand tools and
  • a lot of effort

Concrete forms usually need to be coated in some kind of releasing agent so they don’t stick. Outdoors, there are all kinds of unpleasant and messy agents to choose from, but indoors, the choices are limited. The melamine particle board proved to be an ideal solution. The melamine itself was slick enough that we didn’t need any additional coating.

The process itself was involved, and proceeded in stages. It went something like this: we tied and secured rebar to the brick wall;

A blurry close-up of the tied rebar

we built the initial form from three pieces of precisely cut melamine board screwed together and attached to the wall with screws and spray foam insulation at the base of the wall;

The melamine forms secured to the wall

mixed cement,

N and my dad mastering the art of late-night cement mixing in the backyard--or how to lose friends and alienate neighbours

poured and troweled the cement into the form, tamped it down and used the hand sander to vibrate the form to get rid of any voids. Then we added to the form and repeated the process up the wall.

The prepped wall showing the rebar and the form about halfway up

Of course things became much more difficult as we approached the ceiling and ran out of room to pour the cement and get a tamper in from above.

Tamping down the concrete

I think we mixed and poured cement four times in total. After the concrete had a little time to set up, we removed the forms, misted the surface of the concrete with water to keep it from curing too quickly, and replaced the forms. We repeated this step several times while the concrete cured. When we finally removed the forms, the result was fantastic.

The brick wall that had disgraced our home for so long had a new perfectly square, concrete edge, dead straight and smooth. The heartbreak is that we’ll be covering it all up when we finish the kitchen.

The finished concrete column

The concrete column looks beautiful and would be perfect in a modern space or a loft conversion, but it’s pretty incongruous in our old Victorian. Still, I’ll enjoy it while I can (which, given our track record, may be longer than I want to).