Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Egress Window- Do as we say, not as we do.

You may remember reading about the "Big Hole in the House" a few months back and wonder how that story ended. Note in the "after" picture to the left- there is a window! But for anyone out there thinking about putting in their own egress, read on...

We started the egress project on a warm Saturday in December. (Yes, thanks to global warming, even frigid Minnesota has warm Saturdays in December!)
Although we had never done this before, we had good instruction- (See How to Install an Egress Window) and we thought we could do it.
A simple summation of project tasks:
1) Cut a very large hole through a 100 year-old, 18 inch limestone foundation.
2) Frame in the window
3) Install the window
4) Seal the window
5) Attach the window well to the foundation

We thought it would be a two-day project: one day to cut the hole and another to put the window in and seal it (We already had dug and prepared the hole in the ground for the well).

We thought we had the right tools.

We thought we knew what we were doing.

And we were very wrong.

Day 1:
Our first cutting tool of choice was a 12 in. concrete saw, rented from our local tool rental shop. Our instructions recommended either calling a professional to come cut the hole, or renting chainsaw with a diamond blade.
Well, this was a do-it-yourself job, and we weren't calling anyone to simply cut the hole. And when we found out diamond blades cost about $400, we laughed, defied instruction, and proceeded to rent the normal blade to cut the hole ourselves.
Now, if you do the math, an 18 inch foundation and a 12 inch concrete saw don't quite match up, as 12 in. concrete saws only actually cut 5 inches in.)

Part of the problem, we discovered, is that limestone is such a soft stone and it crumbles very easily. So, with the vibration of the saw coupled with the not-so-smooth normal chainsaw blade, we ended up with a very jagged cut, and only partially through.

So, our second tool of choice was a hammer drill.

This is the part where you can laugh at us if you want. Please laugh at us. We deserve it.

We used the hammer drill to break through and chisel the hole. Result: We got the hole we needed. But again, a very very very jagged edge. Not so conducive to nailing a frame for a window. That was the end of Day 1. And we were not happy.

Day 2:
Brainstorming begins. We thought we could smooth out the sides of the window by mixing our own concrete to patch the jagged edges. We used a few creative options to try to get the wet concrete into the small crevices and up against a smooth surface to cure. That only "sort-of" (read: not really) worked to give us a good enough surface to nail into. We didn't know what to do next. So we cursed. End of Day 2.
And, oh yeah, the warm December weekend was about to turn really, really cold.
Cold and concrete don't mix. So, more cursing.

Day 3:
We called the "professionals"- ie, the people who really had the right tools. But even then, they had differing opinions on how best to handle the problem. It was clear that a couple of the guys we called were as stuck as we were about what to do next (not that it made our egos feel any better.) The guys that ended up helping us finish the job were true professionals. Having done about 2000 egress windows in old houses, they had come up against this challenge before.

They dug a bigger hole in the ground, smoothed out the edges of the hole in the wall, then framed, installed, and sealed the window, and attached the window well. A big bonus: their work comes with a warranty. So, if it leaks, they come fix it. It did cost us a little more than we had planned, but in the end, we are confident that we have a job done right. And, considering the things that can go wrong when you put a big hole in the foundation of your house, we are pretty happy it ended up this way.

Moral of the story: Call the pros, or rent the diamond blade. They weren't kidding.


Ranty said...

Oh no-no-no.... you cannot leave people hanging like this - it's just plain wrong!

You must tell how much it COST to have the professionals fix it up!

(And please note that I totally would have done the same thing as you... I already made similar mistakes when attempting to do my own glass-block windows in a previous basement. In hindsight I can't believe how dumb I was... and it looked like crap.)

Nadja and Sean said...

Ah, the magic number- it's not really a secret- It cost us $1800 for them to finish the job. We got estimates for the entire job that ranged from $3000-$5000, so we figured we saved about half doing some of the work ourselves (even if we did screw it up.)

andrea said...


Do you have the contact info for the people who did your egress?

I'm looking for someone to install one in my very, very old house.