Monday, February 7, 2011

Destruct-o-thon (and the well, dammit)

In addition to taking down the cisterns recently, we've also been working on taking down the two (connected) sheds that were right next to the cisterns. One of them housed the (defunct) well, so it was probably built around when the house was built, and the other one was sort of a gardening shed. Both had been termite snacks at one time or another, and I joked that the only thing holding them together was the paint. Turns out I wasn't far from wrong.

The front of the sheds, pre-destruction (cisterns in the background on the right).

The lumpy bit on the far left is covering the well head. This is important for later. Notice the back of the sheds is teal instead of yellowish-beige. Attractive, no?

The estimate I got to tear down the sheds was $700 for both of them, including tearing out the concrete slabs, one of which was cracked. Not too bad, but... I like to save money any way I can. Just to see what would happen, I posted the sheds on Craigslist and offered them as scrap metal. HOLY COW! In 28 minutes I had almost 20 responses of people offering to come tear them down. HELL YEAH! So I arranged for a couple of guys to come out, and five hours later, just the wood framing was left.

As it turns out, I wasn't far off in my assessment that only the paint was holding the sheds together, although it turned out that the metal was holding them together. As soon as the roof and siding came off the shed on the left, the whole thing collapsed. Neato!

Saturday, we tore down the shed on the left and hauled the lumber off to the dump (none of the lumber was salvageable, even as firewood. We tried!). Then it took only a few whacks with a sledgehammer and a good push to knock down the other shed.


And then the guys went to town ripping it apart. We hauled that lumber off to the dump too.

If you look carefully in the bottom left corner of the previous picture, you'll see that the slab on the left is cracked pretty significantly. If you look at the picture above, you'll notice another crack and you'll also see that the two sheds were on separate slabs - this is important for later.

The shed slabs were poured pretty much exactly even with where we want the front of the barn. Concrete is EXPENSIVE to pour, so we thought we might be able to salvage the slab on the right, which was solid, and pour around/over it with some reinforcements. However, we knew we'd have to break up the broken slab on the left. Our neighbor across the street volunteered to come over with his bobcat with the jackhammer attachment (long story, but DAMN those things are awesome!), and so the destruction commenced.

The hubby and I watched as he hammered out the first piece of concrete, and then watched in horror as the chunk of slab... disappeared into the ground. Apparently, there was a hole underneath the cracked slab... and the more we dug, the more it became apparent that the problem was actually under BOTH slabs. We ended up jackhammering both of them out to determine the extent of the problem, and this is what we found:

This is the hole that was under the slabs. The capped well is at the bottom of the picture (I'm standing where the back wall of the sheds used to be), and the darker line of the ground at the top of the picture is where the front wall of the shed used to be. The hole runs from the front of the shed all the way to the well pipe.

I took this picture crouched down inside the hole. It's about 3 feet deep - I'm at eyeball level with the ground. The thing in front of me at ground level is the well cap. You'll notice two darker spots near the bottom of the picture - those appear to be continuations of the hole that go all the way to the well borehole. We need to dig those out further to determine the extent of the problem.

At this point, we're still removing concrete chunks so we can get a clear picture of the issue. That should be done tomorrow. Obviously we need to fill the hole in with something so we can pour new slab for the barn on it, but we're not sure exactly what needs to be done before we fill in the hole. I think we need to figure out what caused the problem in the first place and address that - obviously, the hole wasn't there when they poured the slabs.

Our best guess is that a tree root found the well pipe and compromised the well (the well hasn't worked since at least 2001). One the well was compromised, it's possible that rainwater began to flow into the well pipe, and as time went on, eroded out the dirt from under the slabs as water poured into the well. If this is the scenario, then we need to plug the hole in the well to stop the erosion, but we won't know for sure until we clear out the dirt to the well pipe itself. We'd like to keep the well as intact as possible so we can refurbish it later if we choose to, but it probably depends on how much damage has been done. Of course, if anybody else has any other ideas, or has seen this sort of thing before, I'd love to hear your suggestions!

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