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  #1  
Old 03/21/05, 03:20 PM
 
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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
thanks

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  #2  
Old 03/21/05, 03:26 PM
 
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Location: north central Pennsylvania
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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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  #3  
Old 03/21/05, 03:32 PM
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CR,

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?

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  #4  
Old 03/21/05, 04:00 PM
 
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i plan on putting in a stone and cement foundation, with a dirt floor

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  #5  
Old 03/21/05, 04:21 PM
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Quote:
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 cement...do you have to report this kind of activity, like as if you were adding on to the house?
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  #6  
Old 03/21/05, 04:45 PM
 
Join Date: Oct 2003
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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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  #7  
Old 03/21/05, 04:47 PM
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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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  #8  
Old 03/21/05, 04:49 PM
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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!

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  #9  
Old 03/21/05, 05:19 PM
 
Join Date: Mar 2005
Location: Colorado
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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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  #10  
Old 03/21/05, 05:54 PM
 
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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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  #11  
Old 03/21/05, 06:48 PM
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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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  #12  
Old 03/21/05, 07:02 PM
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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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  #13  
Old 03/21/05, 07:34 PM
 
Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: NSW Australia
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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 (surely....as 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

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  #14  
Old 03/21/05, 07:48 PM
 
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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 you....no, this isn't crazy tin foil stuff. This is very true. Lots of people have been caught in this manner.

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  #15  
Old 03/21/05, 07:50 PM
 
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Location: Northern Wisconsin
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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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  #16  
Old 03/21/05, 08:05 PM
 
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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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  #17  
Old 03/21/05, 08:13 PM
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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.

Pete

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  #18  
Old 03/21/05, 08:20 PM
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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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  #19  
Old 03/21/05, 08:51 PM
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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.

Pete

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  #20  
Old 03/21/05, 10:43 PM
 
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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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  #21  
Old 03/22/05, 06:46 AM
 
Join Date: Dec 2004
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Quote:
Originally Posted by crwilson
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
thanks
My dad dug a basement by hand when I was a child. I remember him bringing up buckets of dirt and dumping them. He also laid cement block walls ans a cement floor. All the cement was mixed in a trough with a hoe. It took him a whole summer to do the work. The basement was under part of the house and was about 12 feet by 24 feet.


Where I live in Nova Scotia cabins, cottages and houses all need building permitts and have stringent building codes. Now a law has been passed that says if you want to call it a cottage you must have another primary residence. And all cottages and camps must have alot with road frontage or a driveway fronting on a road. No more building in the woods where no one can find you here. It might work hiding unless you bhave kids that go to school. Good luck.
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  #22  
Old 03/22/05, 07:10 AM
 
Join Date: Mar 2005
Location: eastern Iowa
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Practical, by todays standards probably not. The more work you perform the more ownership youll feel you have in your home. Performing work outside of regulations (no permits) can sometimes be a problem. Someone may turn you in. I think it jealousy. good luck with your building.

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  #23  
Old 03/22/05, 07:13 AM
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On hireing kids, this is a old saying.
One boy is a boy.
Two boy's is a half a boy.
Three boy's is no boy at all!
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  #24  
Old 03/22/05, 08:19 AM
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Don't just assign a set value to your time and base the decision on that. Consider the value of the money versus your time. Say it will cost you $300 to have the basement dug out. Figure you will need a month of work to dig it yourself. Which is more valuable to YOU? $300 or a month of your time? It may be that you have an abundance of time, but not an abundance of $$$. In that case, the month of your time is worth much less than $300 and it is cheaper all around to hand dig it. Just because it can be done by putting out some quick cash does not necessarily mean it is better to have someone else do it.

The bigger question is do you have the time and means to dig it by hand? If you can wait a month or 2 for the basement to be dug, and you are physically capable of doing it, I'd say go for it. Worst case is you break down and hire the backhoe. Best case is you save the money, get in better shape and have the pride of accomplishing something few have tried. What else would you be doing with that time?

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  #25  
Old 03/22/05, 09:49 AM
 
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No, you just enclose it into a crawlspace when you're done. You can use PT wood, exterior grade plywood, masonry, or whatever. The house will not be difficult to heat.

Building on piers makes a lot of sense for owner-builders. It's the only foundation that one or two people can build (in a reasonable amount of time by today's standards) without any heavy equipment or specialized tools.

Don't get me wrong - basements have their advantages. The plusses of basements make them a winner when you are talking about a contractor-built home. But owner-built homes involve a whole different metric for decided what materials and labor are smart choices. In most cases basements are a supreme waste of time, money and energy for an owner-builder who is doing all the work by hand on a low budget.

Instructions on a basic pier foundation can be found here: http://countryplans.com/foundation/index.html

-Jack



Quote:
Originally Posted by RedneckPete
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.

Pete
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Last edited by jack_c-ville; 03/22/05 at 09:51 AM.
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  #26  
Old 03/22/05, 10:09 AM
 
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Sounds like WAY too much Work to me. Can you say backhoe?

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  #27  
Old 03/22/05, 11:37 AM
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I use to dig holes all the time in good soil,6' deep,4' wide,8' long.Took 8 hours.

big rockpile

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  #28  
Old 03/22/05, 12:30 PM
 
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When I was a child I had an elderly neighbor woman tell my family that when she was young she and her small children dug the cellar out under their home using sand buckets and tea cups. Took them about a year, but it can be done.

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  #29  
Old 03/22/05, 07:43 PM
 
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Quote:
i plan on putting in a stone and cement foundation, with a dirt floor
If you go with a dirt floor, do yourself a favor and get a couple loads of pea gravel and spread that over the floor. Try to put as much as you can over some sand if possible. We have friends who have dirt floor basements, and they all have problems when we get heavy rains or in the spring when the snow melts. Dirt floors turn to mud floors, and then if you have to get into the basement for anything, you track mud all through your house, plus you have to spend time cleaning out your boots/shoes, and it's pretty much out of the question to go down there barefoot. And if you have to do any work in the basement while it's muddy (like thawing pipes, etc.--been there done that this year), you end up covered in mud. Spreading the pea gravel isn't a difficult job, and could definitely be accomplished within a weekend. I don't think it would be that expensive either for the amount you would need. Save yourself the hassle of a plain dirt floor.
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