Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Basement Access

Our old basement door, the original left to us when we bought the house, had been apparently ripped apart so many times from those lovely independent copper entrepreneurs, that we really couldn't say we had any security whatsoever.

In fact, when our work lights were stolen (see previous post) we believe the basement was the access point for the little dirty b@stages. Well, no more.

First of all I want to say that we bought a Gordon Basement Door from Home Depot. We thought of getting a Bilko basement door, but they didn't have our awkward opening size, and their doors would have taken up more space in the walkway than we could afford. Our plan is to have a minimum of 36" clearance to move furniture past the door with a dolly.

We picked up the basement door from Home Depot after waiting 2 weeks for its arrival (had to place the order in advance and it cost $350) and were so excited to get it that we zipped it over to the house, unpacked it and found it horribly dented. This was more troubling than it sounds because the damn thing was VERY heavy and we had already lifted it over the fence... and bruised some toes in the process.

So we took it back to Home Depot.
We ordered another one. We waited 2 1/2 weeks.
When it arrived, we weren't taking any chances. We opened it on the spot.

It was damaged as well. Bent and crushed. I have to say that the Home Depot manager (Ron Peery) was very helpful. He came up with the idea of trying to piece together one working basement door out of 2 dented shipments, but to no avail. Nice thinking, though.

So we ordered another one. The third one.
We waited 2 weeks, got the call that the order was in from Home Depot and tiredly dragged our butts down to the Florence Home Depot to pick up what we had hoped would be the last basement door pickup.

Guess what?

Yeah, it was dented. The good news was that we were able to piece together one working door from three scratch and dent deliveries. We took FrankenDoor home, re-primed the scratched pieces, and set it in the basement hoping someone would steal it. Apparently the word is out on Gordon; no one wanted it.

Of course, the weather in January was relatively warm when we first placed our order for the door. We could have had the whole thing set up back in January if we hadn't had to wait another month for a working set of pieces. By the time we got the FrankenDoor home, it was too cold to have concrete set up properly. We had to wait months.

The moral of the story: Gordon basement doors suck. Buy a Bilko Door if you can, or seal the whole up with a ton of concrete, but avoid the Gordon Doors like the plague. If I even *meet* someone named Gordon, he'd better duck.

Ok, so FrankenDoor is sitting in the basement and we're waiting for good weather to build a base for the door. Hubby wanted a large 3-sided concrete slab to set it on and I most definately did not. (Say, when's the last time someone came across a mound of cement and said, 'Oooooh, that's Niiiiiice'?)

Then I saw a neighbor's basement door set on some old river stones. Some attractive river stones. I showed the setup to the Hubby, and we agreed it would work great. So We went to a Cincinnati Stone Center (in the rain) and picked up $60 worth of stone and a bag of cement and headed to the site.

$60 worth of rocks weighs quite a bit, you know?

We unloaded the rocks and set about the task of organizing them to fit under Frankie. The first thing I did was to create a frame of sorts out of 4- 2x4's cut to fit the base of the basement door frame and laid it out over the basement opening. Then, with a level, I determined the slope of the ground and determined the difference between the ground level at the house and the level at the end of the basement door to be 6". Since I needed the base under the door at the house to be strong enough to hold a swinging open door, we set the base height at approx. 4"at the house level. That meant the base at the farthest point from the house would be about 10" high, just about the height of the rest of the steps.

After I pulled out the rotten wood from the original base, I noticed a lot of bricks from the basement opening were loose. This of course, meant I pulled out the first 4 layers of brick on the wiggly side to reinforce it with concrete and restack them. That added another day to the project while that cement cured.

Then the arduous task of organizing the rocks. This took the most time of all. I'm glad we had as many rocks to choose from as we did. It wasn't easy finding the right heights, shapes and sizes to fit evenly. If you're planning on doing something like this get a brick hammer. Trust me on this.

Once we had the layout set and the 2x4 frame was level left and right as well as front and back, we realized that we had to take it all down in order to affix the concrete and actually build it. Ugh.

I took off the top layer of rock off of the preformed layout and set each one upside down on the side it came from, the top layer of rocks the farthest out. Then the second layer, upside down, but a little closer to the opening. This way I could try to reproduce the original layout with the concrete added, in reverse, starting with the first layer closest, just flipping them upside down and back into place.

It wasn't that easy to replicate, but the layout process definitely helped. Just keep that 3' level nearby. You'll need it.

I wore rubber gloves and just used my hands to sculpt the concrete mix into the stones, pushing the mix into any holes which would become the weakest parts of the structure. By the end of the second day, I had one side in place, set to cure overnight.

This is what it looked like from within the basement opening. I put the larger, squarer (is that a word?) stones on the corners, as that's where the holes to attach the door will be set.

I figured it would add to the heft of the structure.

You can also see more of the bricks I set into concrete to firm up the inside walls.

Once we had the base pretty much level, which included pulling up stones and adding concrete mix underneath some of the stones in order to get the stones to a level height, we let the concrete sit for about 45 minutes, then lightly washed off some of the loose concrete mix off of the stones until we could see mostly stone, less concrete.

Over the past few days, I'd been painting the FrankenDoor assembly a pale almond color, and letting it dry inside overnight. So when the base had cured overnight, we were finally ready to setup the door in place and check for plumb and final fit. We set on the frame, sans doors in place, and marked on the wall where the sidewalls should stand. Everything looked good.

We mixed the final bucket of concrete mix for the top setting, layered about 1" of mix along the top of the base for a good seal and set the frame where the lines indicated. We checked the diagonal measurements to make sure they matched for a good square fit, and pressed down on the assembly to squish out the excess cement. Scooping that up and smoothing out the rest took no time at all.

Then we put the doors on the hinges... well, ok we TRIED to. FrankenDoor's revenge: the sequel. On the left door there was a metal burr that stuck out, preventing me from putting the screw through the assembly and the door. We had to sand that off. On the right door, the frame of the door near the hinge was badly bent (gee, how'd we miss that?) and it wouldn't fit. We had to take it off and hammer it out. So much for the paint job.

Anyway, it fits now, it's in place and it works. I'll show a pic of the final after I get back from the site today. It was a pain in the arse, mostly due to Gorden Co. and the FrankenDoor fiasco, but I think it looks great.


Anonymous said...

Hey I had a project similar in Hamilton. I did get a Bilco and was pleased with the results. A few pieces of hardware missing, but Bilco sent it ASAP. A great company, but I did not get to name our door anything. Looks great. Moved to Raleigh and I am in the market to replace nother one. Good luck on future renovations I enjoyed reading this one.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, we looked at Bilco first, but they didn't have the size we needed.

Anonymous said...
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Greg Smith said...

Have used both Bilco and Gordon and find them both good products. The stone base is beautiful but may present future problems in areas where freeze cycles are prevalent. Moisture in the mortar joints freezes and cracks the joint and more water gets in and freezes... A concrete platform can be attractive if sized correctly for the door. I know this is a tail wags dog situation, but a uniform "border" around the door finished with an edger just looks like part of the door, especially if painted in with the door. Also you will need to counterflash the top lip, not easy with brick, but otherwise they leak.
Greg Smith, Syracuse, NY

Basement Doors said...

Seemed like you've gone through a lot, but you did great with the Frankendoor. LOL! Speaking of resourcefulness, you got it.

Anonymous said...

Seems like your problem was more of a shipping issue than a Gordon Cellar door issue as your finish product looks great. I've had only success using Gordon doors. They're better than bilcos and much more affordable!!