Building Our Upland Dream Home
(Part 8)

Dateline: 8 February 2017 a.d.

Late in 1990, Marlene was pregnant with our second child. Five years after moving in, our 868 square foot dream home, with a single small bedroom, was getting crowded. Winter was coming. I desperately needed to make the house larger.

Marlene had stopped working when our first baby came. It was important to us that she be a full-time mother and that she homeschool our kids. It was a commitment that I'm not sure our children will ever fully understand or appreciate. But we wouldn't hesitate to do it again.

Getting by on my sole income, working in the building trades, was tough. Those were the Hard Years. I was self-employed by then as a small-scale home remodeler, and I was consumed with all the aspects of running the business.

I had a business partner. His name was Steve. He and I were a remarkable team. I am amazed now when I look back and think about some of the jobs we took on (especially the light-commercial projects). And, in retrospect, I believe we did not fully appreciate the worth of what we did. Which is to say, we didn't charge enough to move beyond the point of always-struggling to get ahead. 

The picture above is surprisingly poignant to me these days. It is not the picture of Steve but the picture of the young child in red, bundled against the cold, watching. He is holding a little plastic hammer. That is my firstborn son. He is named after me (I am named after my grandfather). I feel a sadness that the little boy grew up so fast, and that I was in the midst of the Hard Years—so consumed with my work and with keeping the bills paid.

The addition was made possible in large part by an unexpected gift of $10,000 earlier in the year from my Grandmother Kimball. And, to our amazement, Marlene's dad gave us $1,000 to buy windows. That was totally out of character for Jay. He had no reservations about loaning money to family (and even to creditworthy people in the community) but for him to give us $1,000 was really something. 

I decided that the addition needed a basement. It would be a place to put a big water heater (we had a small one crammed in an upstairs closet) and a pump for the well. 

Steve's dad (Al Bossard) was in the earth-moving business, and he was good at it. Steve and I had one employee at the time. His name was Dan (Marlene and I actually bought our land from Dan's father years before). I was paying everyone to help me get the addition built as fast as possible.

But we ran into a big problem that none of us ever expected. After Al dug the hole for the basement, Steve and I started to build forms for a concrete footing. The soil was wet and sandy. As we walked around, our feet started sinking deeper and deeper into the wet sand. The sides of the excavated hole were sopping-wet sand. It was like pudding, and it gave way a little at a time. The ground was not solid enough to form a footing. We were in quicksand!

Fortunately, I knew Alfred Muscari. Al was a wealthy, longtime customer, and a retired engineer. He once told me he was the best subway builder in the world. If you have ever been in the Washington DC Metro subway, you have seen Alfred Muscari's work.

Al respected my skills and hired me to work on his historical and famous camp Fallbrook Point, on Skaneateles Lake every year I was in business (I had also worked for him with my previous two employers). I considered Al a friend. I called him right up and explained the situation. He told me exactly what to do.

Al Muscari told me to first dig a drain trench to the gully behind my house (picture above). Then he said to have Al Bossard scrape out all the loose wet sand he could at the bottom of the excavation. Then we put down a layer of heavy geotextile fabric. Steve's dad had the fabric (he used it a lot in his business). Then we had a stoneslinger come and lay down a foot of coarse stone. Then we formed the footings on that. The quicksand problem was solved, and it has never been a problem since.

This next picture shows the fabric, the stone, and the poured footing. Drains were also installed down the trench to the gully. 

In this next picture you can see me laying up the basement walls. It was a small basement but I used 10" concrete block. I laid the blocks up dry, parged both sides with Quickwall, and filled the cores with concrete.

The two piers that originally held up the 10' x 10' addition were removed and one wall of the basement provided support.

The addition on the bottom was not very big, as the picture below shows, but on the 2nd floor we would get one large bedroom, and that was what we needed most. 

In the next part of this series I will show you the addition that we framed up before the winter of 1990 set in.


CLICK HERE to go to Part 9—
the conclusion of this series.


If you have missed parts of this series, 
CLICK HERE to go back to the beginning.


  1. Elizabeth L. Johnson said,
    My husband has been general contracting since 1989 as Rapha(translation: The Lord My Healer) Construction. I've worked many a time on his job site over these years. He built our home with double-care for the high winds up here at nearly 1,500 ft. elevation, and for earthquake safety. Our ceilings reach 20 ft. high. I totally appreciate your descriptions of building your dream home and solving problems. I find it fascinating, considering I'm a contractor's wife, and marvel at engineering I do not understand, but am glad there are husband's out there that do!

    1. 20' high ceilings? You must live in a castle, Elizabeth! :-)

  2. wow... I'm exhausted just reading this! Do you feel like you've worked on your house all your life? Of course, houses always need upkeep.

    1. I hadn't thought of that, but I've been working on this little house (off and on) for well over half my life, and it still isn't done. :-(