The Basement Steps Project
The Basement Steps…it all started innocently enough. We’ve all been there.
A couple weeks ago I gave my 16-month-old cat a new toy. Actually, it was another of his FAVORITE toys, having lost or destroyed all the others. Being the energetic (read hyperactive) boy that he is, he batted it down the basements stairs. It’s one of his most fun things to do: bat something down the stairs and then go retrieve it, drop it at my feet so I can throw it, bat it back down the stairs… You get the picture.
Here’s a picture of him. He looks so sweet here. When I talk about him, I refer to him as either being a Bear or being a Honey. Little did I know when I named him that I would break the name to describe how he’s being that day.
So cute, right??? This is the same cat that started the kitchen on fire and took out the patio blinds less than 12 hours later a few weeks ago. I texted the vet and said, “within the span of a few hours he started the kitchen on fire and took out the patio blinds. I guess I’m ready for the drugs you suggested.” My daughter works at the clinic and that prompted a visit by the owner to her desk. “He started the kitchen on fire???” Yeah. It only took a week on the meds to calm him and set a new order in the house. He has been more Honey than Bear since. When he becomes a wild Bear now, I just crate him.
Anyway, I digress. The steps… That day the very first time he batted it down the steps he lost it. I mean LOST IT. I usually have a “find the missing toys” chore at least once a week when he runs out of toys. This time I knew where it went, so I hunted for it. And hunted. I moved totes. I did everything I normally do and still no toy. It had to be mixed in with the stuff WAY under the steps. There was actually a box of stuff under there from the previous owners and I didn’t even remember what was in that box (extra linoleum, tile, endcaps from the new counters…).
The basement needed cleaning anyway. I was in the process of taking down all the Christmas decorations so those totes were all upstairs anyway. So I decided that besides clothes, those totes took up the most space in my basement. It was time to clean – DEEP CLEAN. Empty every tote, every box, sort, discard, and give-away. It was (is, not done) a huge undertaking. I used to live in a 4,000 square foot house plus 2-1/2 car garage. Then a temporary 350 sq ft apartment with no garage… eventually this 950 sq ft condo with a little basement that sometimes floods. Things got mixed up, stuck places, and it was just a plain mess. I’m still not willing to give up all the stuff I had at the big house. Some day I wasnt a house where I can entertain again. But for today, a lot of it is boxed.
Back to the story at hand. When I got under those stairs I couldn’t believe how much cat hair, cat food, and even kitty litter tracked from the other side of the basement was under there. It was SO bad I had a major asthma attack – the first big one in 25 years and the worst I’ve ever had. E-V-E-R. It eventually sent me to urgent care and when I didn’t get better, back to the doctor a few days later. I knew better than to sweep all that, I was vacuuming it, but it still got me.
So I made the decision that I needed to close off the open stairs. I thought about stapling plastic on the underside, but then the debris would get trapped under the stairs in the plastic… A trip to the hardware store was in order. How much would it cost to add wood risers. They wouldn’t be true risers as the treads (part you step on) usually rest on top of the riser, but I was just adding it to keep stuff from falling through, not help hold up the tread. That was already accomplished with the stringers on each side. And on my budget, I needed it done for just a few dollars.
Before heading out I had measurements to take. First, count the steps. 12. I slide the rakes and shovels under that bottom step, so I didn’t need to do that step. How wide were the steps? Some were 33″ and some were about 35 inches. How much space was under the step, which would determine the width of the boards? Again, it wasn’t consistent, but just shy of 7 inches. And finally how long of a board could I actually get in my car? Six feet was the max.
Armed with my needs, I headed to the hardware store. At the hardware store, a nice young man showed me some 6 inch wide boards, 6 feet long and about 3/4″ thick. They weren’t prefinished, but they were buffed so they could be left as is or painted when the weather was nicer. And the price? $2 each. I’ll take 5 for $10 and use my store rebate check to pay for them. Score! That would do 10 steps with little pieces leftover.
After nearly 2 weeks of putzing with asthma and the secondary infection, I was ready to tackle the steps. I was amazed at how fast the project actually went. This blog is taking me longer to write than it took to do the project!
So, finally, the project. Here are my open stairs (and my older cat, KaraCheyden):
First I swept and washed down the existing steps really well. Next, I measured the width of the steps and the space from stringer to stringer. It was at this time I realized the top two steps we quite a bit different from the rest.
My measurement was 33″ from outside stringer edge to outside stringer edge. Although it looks a little funky if you stare at the finished project, it was the easiest measurement to use because it was consistent. Well, mostly. The top two steps had to be cut a shy less than that as we were wall to wall and it helped in the placement.
So, on to the measuring. I could get 2 risers out of a board. Except for the top two stairs, I would mark at 33″ and 66″ on each board.
Most my tools were stolen about 15 years ago. I have replaced some of them, but not all. I have a Jigsaw, but no longer have a circular saw. So I made sure to mark all the way across the boards so I could cut as straight as possible. They are under the treads of basement stairs. A small basement that’s just used for utilities and storage. There was no reason they needed to be perfectly straight. I used a square to make sure the lines were truly perpendicular and straight.
Next, I decided which blade to use in the jigsaw. The one for a smooth wood cut was just the ticket (I actually needed a 2nd. The 1st was used already once and started ripping up the boards part way through, time for a new blade).
Saftey meant goggles and a dust mask. Definitely a dust mask when I’m still having an issue with breathing.
Then I started cutting.
As I cut each board, I made sure to sand the edges right away. No splinters here!
When all the risers were done, it was time to install them. I have a neighbor who worked construction for over 40 years. While most of the construction leftovers were traditionally thrown in a dumpster, he brought home screws, nuts, and bolts over the years (remember, they would have been thrown in the dumpster or in the ground before the backfilling was done as that was the way they did things back then. He was not stealing). He has multiple 5-gallon pails of them. So when I need some I call him. First, determine what I need.
Measure the width of the board to be sure I remember right. Yup. 3/4 of an inch.
The stringers aren’t terribly old. They look like they were replaced probably when the basement walls were reinforced about 5 years before I got here. But still, that would make them 10 years old. I don’t want to go too deep and risk splitting the wood. But I also need to go deep enough to be sure they are secure. I decide 1-1/2 to 2-inch screws would work. I know my neighbor has nearly an entire 5-gallon bucket of 2-inch screws. I need 40. He happily complies and I get a delivery a few minutes later of 50 screws.
Now that I have the screws, I want to pre-drill some pilot holes. Most people would skip this, but I’m working against the wall on one side with not a lot of room. I want to be sure these are going in straight and I want them to be consistent from step to step. First I re-measure the width of the stringers so I know where to place the holes.
I want that screw in the middle of that stringer – on each side. Remember I cut most the boards the width of the stringer. I know I can measure in 3/4 of an inch on each side. I could have planned the height of the bottom screw better due to the size of the drill (using the screw tip to screw in the screws). But the measurement from the edges had to be 3/4 of an inch.
To make sure the screws were in the same place for EVERY step, I decided to drill through one board and into a second at the same time. Then I could drill through that partially drilled board that was placed on the top of the next board. When I got to the two shorter shelves, I just made sure to even up the edges on both sides to make sure I was 3/4 of an inch from each edge.
Next, I set the screws so they were just about to go through the board. Then I could easily attach them to the stringers using the drill with the screw bit in it.
Now the moment of truth… Attaching them to the stringers.
First one done. Looks good!
And they are all placed, but not all done. The drill needs a little recharging.
Again, I know there are spaces on the top. My choices were a 6-inch board or an 8 inch. I no longer have a way to rip down the boards. I guess I could have called on my neighbor. But the heights varied a little bit and each would have needed to be measured and remeasured. Had this been done when the stairs were first put in, the risers would have been placed first, then the tread. Easy peasy. My goal was to keep cat toys, hair, and other debris from falling between the steps. Mission accomplished.
But we aren’t done…
I have things that I bought when I first moved out of home over 40 years ago. I take care of the things I own. And tools should be cared for as well.
After using the jigsaw and while waiting for the screws, I cleaned the jigsaw. First I wiped the blade before returning it to the package.
Then I Brushed all the sawdust out of the jigsaw and gave it a quick wipe before coiling the cord and putting it back into its box.
The same was done for the drill (no pics).
And finally, I cleaned up the area where I was working when I was waiting for the drill to recharge. I don’t have a workbench here. (Oh, I miss a workbench!) So, as you saw, I was cutting on top the washer and dryer. There was a fair amount of sawdust and some wood chips. I don’t need to step on them and I sure don’t need HoneyBear to decide they are something he must try to see if it’s tasty. He’d do it, too! I remember the $350 vet visit when my daughter’s dog decided to snap up a carpet staple when we were removing carpets when I first moved in here. I don’t need a repeat of that!
I wiped the washer and dryer down with a dry rag, then vacuumed everything up so no spec was left behind.
So there you have it. Start to finish – including the wait on the screws and another time waiting for the drill to charge up a bit was about 2 hours. I already had the boards. Those I bought before I realized I was going to have an asthma attack of gargantuan proportions.
The cats both scattered upstairs when I started cutting. They haven’t seen the steps yet. I wonder what they will make of it. I can now resume cleaning the basement and placing things under there, knowing they won’t need to be covered with plastic as I did before to keep off the debris.
Oh, and the cat toy. I never found it. I have no idea where he batted it, but I never found it. Did he find it one night during the night and hide it somewhere else? Possible. But he loves those mylar corded wrapped mice and always asks me to play fetch with those. I might find it between cans of tuna or behind a bottle of blackstrap molasses someday – maybe even under a shelving unit as some of them have ventilated shelves – even though I stuck the vacuum between each vent hoping to pull it out if it was hiding. For right now it is MIA. He only has a couple left, so he better learn to take care of them. I have never seen them again. Only at a pet store that was going out of business. I snapped up a bagful and gave many as gifts before HoneyBear came along and decided they were the next best thing after playing with the squirrels through the window. Yes, they play. The squirrel taps on the window. If there isn’t food they like the will stand and beg. It’s SO cute. I guess I gotta show you.
I hope you enjoyed this blog. Not my usual, but I wanted to show how easy something like this can be.