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Old 03/21/05, 04:20 PM
Join Date: Feb 2005
Posts: 214
is digging a basement by hand practical?

Hey folks im thinking about digging my basement by hand this summer the house im building is gonna be around 24 x 28.. the basement will be below ground by five or 6 feet... Would this be an impossible task or just an amazing amount of work? I dont think i would run into an problems with bedrock, or anything mostly just thick gravel... oh yeah the help of a tractor is also an option... i just dont want to pay anybody or let them know where i am building because its all being done without permits
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Old 03/21/05, 04:26 PM
Join Date: May 2002
Location: north central Pennsylvania
Posts: 3,733
was just thinking about years back a neighbor of ours dug by hand..yes, by hand a cellar out in their old already built house. It took him and his wife all winter to dig and bucket it out by hand. It turned out to be a fairly big basement if I recall. Know this has nothing to do with your question..Good Luck
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Old 03/21/05, 04:32 PM
milkstoolcowboy's Avatar
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: MN
Posts: 337

It's your time. Can it be done, yes, but I don't know how gravelly/rocky your soils are.

I helped my Dad and uncle build the house I live in today. It was during WW II, and we dug a full basement for the house (26' by 26' by 7' deep) with a dirt scoop on a 2N (borrowed the tractor from a neighbor) and then there were 4-5 of us digging the remainder and squaring up the sides. We did it in about a week if I recall, but the ground here is real mellow and easy digging.

What are planning to use for foundation?
"Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity." Gen. George S. Patton Jr.
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Old 03/21/05, 05:00 PM
Join Date: Feb 2005
Posts: 214
i plan on putting in a stone and cement foundation, with a dirt floor
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Old 03/21/05, 05:21 PM
birdie_poo's Avatar  
Join Date: May 2002
Posts: 2,308
Originally Posted by crwilson
i plan on putting in a stone and cement foundation, with a dirt floor
Under my house is a crawlspace, leading to the pipes inthe walls. There is actually a staircase, only 8 or so stairs, but, the rest of the floor is limestone. It digs pretty easy, so I have been toying with expanding it, and putting in you have to report this kind of activity, like as if you were adding on to the house?

Ever wonder why your pits don't smell until your near someone cute?
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Old 03/21/05, 05:45 PM
Join Date: Oct 2003
Location: Central New York
Posts: 530
Back in the late 50's when I was a kid, I worked for a contractor and we dug all the basements by hand. Yes, It's hard work. Hire a few kids with stong backs
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Old 03/21/05, 05:47 PM
Terri's Avatar
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Join Date: May 2002
Location: Kansas
Posts: 14,159
For the heck of it, you might want to find out what you would need to be legal.

I do NOT know if Canada allows vacation cabins or hunting cabins. Mind, with beaurocrats what you call it is the difference between being approved and being denied. It may be important to call it a vacation cabin.

For example, when my Father wanted to put in a kitchionette in the back of his house he called it a kitchionette and was instantly denied because he was zoned single family. It was intended as a separate apartment for my sister and her child, who had just been divorced. Of COURSE my sister was allowed to stay there by law, they cannot tell a man his child can not live with him. They just said she could not have a separate kitchion.

So, on the advice of a friend, he turned in the EXACT SAME PLANS but called it a wet bar, and it was approved! (A wet bar in this country is used for serving alcoholic drinks to guests. As a wet bar, he was allowed a sink, small refridgerator, and a stove. It made a perfect kitchionette.)

Of course, after it is legally constructed you may stay there as you like. And, you would not have to hide what you are doing. It would cost you nothing but an afternoon to find out if you could do it legally, anyways. I think. You are, after all, in another Country!
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Old 03/21/05, 05:49 PM
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In Remembrance
Join Date: May 2002
Location: In beautiful downtown Sticks, near Belleview, Fl.
Posts: 7,102
For those measurements dig 9 holes 8 feet deep and pour columes to the bottom, add a lot of extra re bar in the floor and in the columes, build the house and dig the basement whenever you feel like you have more back than brains!
If you can read this - thank a teacher. If you can read this in English - thank a veteran.

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Old 03/21/05, 06:19 PM
Join Date: Mar 2005
Location: Colorado
Posts: 2,339
I built a storm canning cellar, in 1999, and it was a hole about 25' X 16' x 8' deep, and there was a two Hr min on the back hoe, and he finished it in less time than the min.

I think the hole was less than $150, and figured that was cheap labor, considering on how long I would have spent trying to dig it out by hand,

IN my opinion it is not worth your time or money to not hire a machine to do the work, even check in to renting your own back hoe to do the work, (but hiring one with a skilled operator may be cheaper),

yes you can dig it by hand most were dug by hand not that many years ago,

Call a number of operators and tell them your size basement hole you need dug, and ask them for there best guess as to cost,(baring unseen problems), and go from there, normally the hole is dug at least 2' to 3' a side larger for room to work on the basement wall, (forms or to water proof the wall), so your finish size of hole is usually 4' to 6' larger than the size of basement.
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Old 03/21/05, 06:54 PM
Join Date: Jan 2005
Posts: 23
If ther is a tool rental place in your area you could rent a backhoe.

If the township people get wind of what you are doing they might make you tear it down and that could be a big loss. So if you are doing it without a permit you better not invest too much into it.

Buggs Bunny, who never gets a permit when he digs his home in Elmer's back forty.
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Old 03/21/05, 07:48 PM
Join Date: Mar 2004
Location: wyoming/ now tennessee
Posts: 559
When I buillt my addition on my house a couple years ago, I dug the foundation out with a John Deer rototiller. Made a couple passes with the tiller and got in there and dug out the turned dirt with a shovel. Be sure to keep your air breather clean in the tiller. It'll be close to the dirt and dust. This looked funny while digging, but I got down 32 inches needed to start the job. This was a 30 by 40 addition. shadowwalker
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Old 03/21/05, 08:02 PM
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Join Date: May 2002
Location: Kansas
Posts: 14,159
crwilson, you have been accustomed assigning a dollar value to your time. Working for yourself can be a little different.

You are about to enter a lifestyle where you take into account the work accomplished on your dollar, instead of hours of work for a set amount of pay.

Think about what you would like to get done this summer. Then decide how much more you could get done if you used a back hoe. THEN, decide if renting a backhoe for $250 is worth being able to build that animal shed this summer instead of next, or getting in that load of hay.

If you hire out too much work you will likely run out of money too soon, and have to stop to earn more.

If you DON'T hire out out the work, it will take you much longer to achieve your goals. And, unless you are staying with your folks, your grocery bills will continue.

It is not QUITE the same as figuring out how many hours you need to work in town to pay for something!
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Old 03/21/05, 08:34 PM
Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: NSW Australia
Posts: 88
I will give you my knowledge of how to do this after a brief discussion as to would I.

I wouldnt (again). Our neighbor would dig it with his backhoe mounted on a tractor for about $100 or a few cases of Beer if we asked him nicely.

Where are you? If you are in a rural area, chat to a neighbor, they have the tools and if you get on well with them this will be the least of the benefits to you (and them). Having freinds as neighbors is half the battle.

I am no stranger to diggin holes. But you will be cursing yourself after spending at least 2 weeks of full days digging that hole (I was) if you could see a backhoe do it in 2 hours (at most) and for a few hundred dollars.

Hey, if you want to give it a go, Im with you, its a source of pride in self sufficiency to do it yourself.

Advice on doing it yourself.

Have a sharp shovel and spade.
Pay the money for good gloves.

Dig it in two Benches (I mean dig a 3 foot layer then the second 3 foot layer). This is for safety purposes. If you dig a 6 foot hole, while it is small say 6x6x6 you can get trapped if a side collapses.

Dig down first ( opposed to dig up? :haha: )

No, I mean, By diggin down 3 feet and making a hole, you can then place your bucket / barrow on the floor and dig the dirt down into the bucket then heave it out.

Its easier to use gravity to help collpase the sides into the bucket than to fight against it and dig the dirt straight up and out. You will be sure that by the end you will be glad to have dug it this way as shovelling loosed and collapsed sides is soooo much easier than digging fresh ground. All I do is stand on top of the hole and use a steel bar to collapse the sides into the hole.

Your first 3 feet you can just heave the stuff out of the hole with a shovel but it will depend on your soil as to how you excavate the second bench.

I cant believe I just told someone how to dig a hole , but hey, those little tips might help you get it done with less pain.

Cheers and good luck
Raphael in Australia
Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind - Albert Einstein
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Old 03/21/05, 08:48 PM
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 752
Of course you can dig a cellar/basement by hand...all old houses were done by hand, has been for a long time. Even the biggest of houses' cellars were dug by hand, albeit with lots of hands digging.

I don't blame you for not using permits. I think the very idea of an inspector coming into your property to look (a.k.a. SEARCH) to be unconstitutional in this country, unless they get a search warrant that is! But, be careful. Many areas are spying on their citizens with aerial photography to catch people like, this isn't crazy tin foil stuff. This is very true. Lots of people have been caught in this manner.
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Old 03/21/05, 08:50 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Location: Northern Wisconsin
Posts: 799
No, it isn't practical to dig a basement by hand.

Can you do it? of course. This is commonly called the "False economy".

The work is tedious, boring and backbreaking. If you figure you labor at $1 an hour, it will make sense. Otherwise, you'll go nearly insane wondering why you're digging a basement by hand in a day & age of computers, space travel and modern medicine.

Maybe 70 years ago, when we were in a depression, land was $1.00 an acre, health insurance premiums were $1/month and property taxes were almost negligible, it MAY have made sense. Today, it is completely impractical.
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Old 03/21/05, 09:05 PM
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 752
That depends on the soil-heavy clay, yikes! Reasonably soft soil, go ahead. If you have the time, why waste money and fuel on complicated equipment?
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Old 03/21/05, 09:13 PM
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Ontario, Canada
Posts: 1,278
I have pulled up to many a job where the homowner tried to dig his own basement, waterproofing project or swimming pool.

I can do in an hour with the machine what it takes a week to do by hand.

Can't see that being worth it. Hiring kids to dig for you would end up costing way more then hiring a backhoe.

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Old 03/21/05, 09:20 PM
Border Ruffian
Join Date: Nov 2003
Location: MN
Posts: 444
I wouldn't dig a basement by hand, and I think Mitch has hit on an important question: Why is that you need a basement? I've helped build a couple cabins for hunting and such, none with a basement. If you're looking for a root cellar, that's a lot easier than digging a basement.

You could go with pillars or pilings as Mitch suggests, a pole type of construction.

I also think that if you're going to build it all by yourself by hand, 24' by 28' is going to be larger than is needed or practicable.
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Old 03/21/05, 09:51 PM
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Ontario, Canada
Posts: 1,278
Building on pillings in any climate that requires heat is foolish.

The basement gives you a climate controlled area under your main floor, providing a huge comfort and energy savings.

Look at the effort mobile home users go to to prevent wind from blowing under their home. Count me out on that idea.

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Old 03/21/05, 11:43 PM
Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: SC
Posts: 145
If you are wired and use steroids on a regular basis, it may be practical. Otherwise, I have a better suggestion. Buy a used backhoe, use it for all the earthmoving jobs such as the basement, septic, culverts, brush/stump clearing, driveway/yard leveling. It's also very handy for lifting heavy objects into/out of basements, or onto upper floors. Then, if you can part with the machine, sell it for what you paid for it, and you're home free.
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