Katy Elliott

A daily design journal about new england life, home decorating resources, and renovating a 257-year-old house in Marblehead, MA.

House Renovation: Field Stone Foundation Rebuild

Posted on | July 1, 2009 | 13 Comments

house renovation: wall almost done

Wall almost done.

We are still working on our patio project. A project that I thought would be simple as pie has turned into weeks of back breaking work. As we continued to dig out the garden Greg decided he wanted to dig all the way down to the sewer pipe to make sure all the roots were removed. He was having root nightmares and never wanted to clean roots out of our drain again! (see here).

Once we dug down to the pipe Greg sprinkled Root Killer to stop roots from ever forming near the pipe. While all this is going on I am having a silent temper tantrum. My head pounded as I thought over and over and my head, “Why can’t anything just be easy?” mixed with a few swear words I’ll leave out of the blog post. I left for work that afternoon in hopes that the dirt would be pushed back and done once I returned.

By 10 pm Greg is asleep on the sofa and mumbles something about the foundation caving in. I head outside in the pouring rain to see a huge hole in the side of the house. Seriously?? The whole side of the house was open and the rocks scattered around in a mud mess.

The next morning he explained the whole wall was poorly constructed and had to be fixed…”it just caved in when I pushed it with my feet!” I wonder why he was trying to push it in? I kept that thought to myself and just gave him a somber “whatever.”

For the past 3 nights we have been working on rebuilding the foundation with rocks. First we cemented a few layers in with larger rocks. I’m becoming quite the cement mixer! The top layer was mixed with mortar. He has a few more finishing touches but it’s getting pretty close to done. Maybe a patio by mid-July?

house renovation: greg digging in pation with pile of roots

Greg digging down to sewer pipe with a pile of roots in the foreground.

house renovation: all the bad rocks out

Greg cementing in larger rocks.

house renovation: greg placing rocks

Working our way up the wall.

house renovation: greg trying to find the perfect rock

All the rocks we found in the garden that we used to make the wall.

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13 Responses to “House Renovation: Field Stone Foundation Rebuild”

  1. Waxy
    July 1st, 2009 @ 10:25 am

    oh no – that sucks! At least he's smiling?


  2. Don
    July 1st, 2009 @ 10:42 am

    Greg… nice work. You deserve big kudos. We're looking forward to seeing the house again.


  3. Kristen Elliott Jones
    July 1st, 2009 @ 11:21 am

    I am so impressed! cannot wait to see it!


  4. Kristen
    July 1st, 2009 @ 11:43 am

    Good god! You guys are badasses for sure.


  5. CH
    July 1st, 2009 @ 12:48 pm

    Jesus buddy. Hang in there.


  6. GreG
    July 1st, 2009 @ 12:48 pm

    Thanks for encouragement. I find work like this extremely rewarding. It just takes a lot of patience. Katy is patient on some things and impatient about other things. I just think we are opposite when it comes to what those things are.


  7. GreG
    July 1st, 2009 @ 1:29 pm

    Field Stone Foundation Repair Recipe

    1/2 ton of rocks in various sizes
    9 80lbs. bags of concrete
    3 60lbs. bags of type-n mortar cement
    20 gallons of water

    Layout all your rocks. Combine concrete mix and water until consistency resembles yogurt. Make as much concrete you believe you can use in the next 60 minutes. Prepare the bed for the first course making sure its free of dirt and is moist to insure good bond with concrete. Lay 2 inches (more if necessary) in the center along the entire course. Fit your largest rocks on top of this while presenting a flat face for each side of the finished wall and the next course. If it becomes necessary to reshape a rock to fit, WEAR SAFETY GOGGLES!
    If you are working below grade it may be beneficial to lay a small dry-stack on the outside face below grade and fill the gap between the dry-stack and the finished wall with more concrete.
    Once you are above grade use a dryer mix. One resembling chocolate chip cookie dough will be easier to form above grade and won't run all over the place. Keep the rocks above grade very clean and soak them in a bucket of water before placing them in the wall. This helps get an immediate bond with the concrete.
    Let this rest for 24 hours then finish up by mixing your mortar cement. You want to achieve a consistency of bread dough but it will be wet to the touch. Having the proper tools to fill the joints can make your job easier but they are not necessary. A large soup spoon and a small desert spoon and a garden shovel will be all you need. (note. the spoons will probably be ruined) As you fill the joints between the rocks its important to push the mortar into the joint with the spoon starting at the bottom of the joint and working your way up. Over fill it then go back over smoothing the joint with the backside of the spoon in a short scraping motion starting from the top. You want to achieve a perfectly smooth joint. This will be water tight. Having a small spray bottle of water can help if the mortar gets to dry while you are working it. Don't move on until you finish the joints you just filled.
    Let this rest for a few hours and use a broom or scrub brush to clean up any ooze from the joints. Be careful to not brush to forcibly. If the rock faces are covered in mortar now is a good time to clean them with some water and a brush or sponge.


  8. Susanna
    July 1st, 2009 @ 4:10 pm

    Oh my goodness…this sounds like hell. You two are a major inspiration to me!


  9. Anonymous
    July 1st, 2009 @ 4:22 pm

    you guys are troopers!

    I am impressed by your restraint!
    I would have been throwing the damn rocks into traffic!

    When I first bought my house and it was falling apart around me I used to go on these really really long walks wishing that when i got back it had burned down.
    ha! try to keep your spirits up – or you could just start drinking heavily that helps too! ( you do work at a liquor store don't you?)


  10. agnes
    July 1st, 2009 @ 8:49 pm

    Reminds me of one time in JULY when sewage was backing up into our shower and Dan dug holes in the back yard for 8 hours with the sewage guy and his son (because we had TWO sewer lines but only one was marked on the site plan). Finally they located the line and found the culprit. I stood there mortified while the plumber waved a tampon in front of me, saying "you ladies…"


  11. katy elliott
    July 1st, 2009 @ 10:29 pm

    omg agnes that's hilarious!


  12. Jennifer
    July 2nd, 2009 @ 10:46 am

    oh bless your heart. this sounds like every outdoor project at our house! ugh.


  13. ennaneve
    July 6th, 2009 @ 2:31 pm

    may i just say… i. love. your. blog.

    keep up the good work!!


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