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Basement floor - clean area using 'cement tiles' ??  RSS feed

 
Dave Quinn
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Our house has a basement cellar with an earth floor about 10mx10m. This floor has been there for many years and is solid to walk on, you can break the surface with a sharp tool, but you don't make marks by walking/wheeling compressors or wheelbarrows etc over it. In other words it's pretty well settled and parts of it are ideal for a root cellar. If you go down in bare feet however you will get black feet

We would like to make part of it (about 4mx5m into a clean area. ie one where we can go down in bare feet or slippers without having to wipe feet before we come back upstairs. We would also like to be able to mop and brush the surface.

We have looked at concreting it, but all the advice is for 100mm minimum and the material costs are too much. It needs to be absolute minimum in terms of cost, but tbh we're not bothered if the occasional crack develops in future. Having said that I've built bases for woodstove and fire (50mm) thick and there doesn't seem any way that these would crack under the type of usage we envisage.

I realise the area means there are more stresses because of the weight of the floor itself, so wondered if this might be an idea.

If I lay floor in cement sections say 1m square to make tiles approx 25mm thick. Use thin ply for shuttering between 'tiles' and then grout between with lime cement whoch never fully sets.

We're not looking for building regs advice, we just want to make it a bit better than it is at the moment.

Thanks
 
tel jetson
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what about sealing the existing earthen floor? linseed oil and beeswax mixes are commonly used to seal floors. might be cheaper and would certainly be easier than concrete.
 
Dave Quinn
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Can you do that and what's the process? Seems like a good idea!
 
tel jetson
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never done it myself, but I believe the basic procedure is to apply a thinned mixture first (citrus solvent isn't entirely benign, but it's better than most) followed by less thinned mixtures and finally the straight dope. each coat should cure completely before the next is applied. warmer temperatures will allow wax to penetrate further.

a search for earthen floor sealing or earthen floor treatment or something along those lines might turn something up.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Dave, et al,

Well to start...stay away from concrete like the plague! It only creates more problems down the road (and now with a long list not worth going into...just don't do it.)

Before I can go into, "what might be best," tell me more about where you are, circa date of architecture, any moisture issues, etc. Then we can discuss pros and cons of options.

Regards,

j
 
Dave Quinn
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North West France - Atlantic climate. earth floor is firm, but a stiff brush will scrape it a bit. House was built in 1950's. It's got basement and up to waist height built with local stone. It's a bit damp, but not wet even in heavy rain. We've a well in one corner of the cellar which has a concrete lid and surround. The stone is very hard eats drill bits. The rest of the house is then a reinforced concrete frame with block infill and rendered. There is some damp on the cellar walls and was some mould which I've burned off with burner before whitewashing.

We're currently whitewashing (lime) the cellar for light and cleanliness and would like one corner about 4m by 5m at the bottom of the stairs as a clean area so we can walk down and avoid getting dirty feet. Not particularly bothered about how it looks. The soil is hard compacted, but not entirely level. We would prefer it level, but it's not a show stopper. Thanks.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hey Dave, et al,

Sounds like it very well could be a post WWII rebuild on a traditional site location (ergo the stone, well and earth floor.) These can be very challenging to live in, as many of the methods employed at the time was "ultra modern," not well thought out (or tested) and relied on getting everything "just right" like the foundation, the drainage, the OPC mix for the RC just right in the concrete (the list goes on.

Now for the floor, many options, all will take money and/or time. If you don't mind the "sweat equity," then you can have a great floor (aesthetics and expensive) yet relatively inexpensive because you did it. I have found that often the more money something costs, the less money is spent on materials and more on the talent of the labor.

1. You could pay to have the area "Limecreted" either as a slab or as large tiles. You can do this work yourself.

2. Lay down some stone dust (or related material) and do a nice "cobble mosaic
" which kids love helping with and one of the first "working crafts" I did with my mother.

3. Do a cobb floor with oil and beeswax finish.

4. Lay down "flag stone."

5. What we do most commonly, is lay down 30 mm cracked stone to level, (you may not need this step), a radiant barrier if you can afford it (some will just cover with dry clay, then old newspaper wetted down with a boric acid solution then a borate solution) then rot resistant wood sleeper system wich "float" (not attached) to which you "joint" (no nails, screws or related) a wood floor. I often use a Korean wooden floor system called "Chengmaru (청마루)" which is both traditional, easy to do, uses mainly short lengths of wood, and is easy to service.

That should get you going and stimulate ideas and questions.

Regards,

j
 
Dave Quinn
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It was new-build in 1955, the style is very common locally even in new builds going up now. The basement or cave as they call it is normally earth floor, but many are now used as drive in garages and filly concreted dry lined etc.

Picture here Basement

Thanks for all your suggestions: In general I'd say they initially all seem like OTT for what we are trying to achieve. We would have to do the work ourselves as our budget is extremely limited by this I mean a couple of hundred euros. say $300.

1. You could pay to have the area "Limecreted" either as a slab or as large tiles. You can do this work yourself.

This seems similar to laying a normal slab floor but using lime instead of concrete. But the depths seem similar and hence the price would be way beyond what we are envisaging.

2. Lay down some stone dust (or related material) and do a nice "cobble mosaic" which kids love helping with and one of the first "working crafts" I did with my mother.

We bought one bag of cobbles for garden patterns and they cost about €10 and cover about 1m2 that would blow our budget just on the cobbles and I think we would prefer a flat surface.

3. Do a cobb floor with oil and beeswax finish.

Sounds like it might be worth a look.

4. Lay down "flag stone."

Looked at flags they seem too expensive round here.

5. What we do most commonly, is lay down 30 mm cracked stone to level, (you may not need this step), a radiant barrier if you can afford it (some will just cover with dry clay, then old newspaper wetted down with a boric acid solution then a borate solution) then rot resistant wood sleeper system wich "float" (not attached) to which you "joint" (no nails, screws or related) a wood floor. I often use a Korean wooden floor system called "Chengmaru (청마루)" which is both traditional, easy to do, uses mainly short lengths of wood, and is easy to service.

Again seems OTT for what we're aiming at.

If I clarify where I am coming from

I recently created two concrete slabs for wood burner and aga which are about 50mm thick and they are so strong there is no way I can see them cracking under the type of usage we are considering. I threw the leftover mix on the floor in the garage and flattened it out. I didn't really do anything else, it's less than an inch thick and it's not far off the type of finish that would suit us, but it's only a small patch.

Now I understand the problem with a large slab and the stresses caused by such a large area, and I did also see a process called dirtcrete which seemed to fit the bill, but when I looked at the cost it was prohibitive. The basic idea though is to break up the slab into smaller slabs or tiles and then use grout between them. Creating a sort of tile. that's integrated into the surface below. I suppose the edge of the 'tiles' creates natural breaks and so any cracks will happen there. A lime based grout which never fully sets is then used which allows a certain amount of settlement / movement. (This was used in a lot of buildings when I lived near sea where there was lots of settlement it stopped major cracks occurring.

I was thinking of maybe 'copying' the dirtcrete method but basically sort of constructing my own slabs in situ using sand and cement mixture (probably mainly lime cement but with a bit of white Portland to give it a bit more strength.)

The idea of just being able to 'seal' an earth floor is attractive to me if it can be done so it's moppable and brushable?

It's also got me thinking whether it might be possible to effectively whitewash the floor with a fairly thick wash to give a better colour. Then when cured seal it as you would the earth........ (however you do that).

Reminds me of that old song - There are more questions than answers, and the more I find out the less I know!



 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Dave,

Sounds like you have made up your mind already...

Limecrete is way different that OPC concrete, and the two materials have much different characteristics (not to mention the huge environmental impact of one (opc) compared to the other (lime))

If you do end up using concrete be aware that it can hold moisture, so I would recommend 500mm square tiles made in a mold 50 mm to 100 mm thick depending on loads, a good draining base material, and the time to make each tile. Also check your "cubic meter" cost for concrete then do the math.

Cobbles are time consuming but beautiful, especially if you collect them yourself over time. They can render a very flat surface (but with a texture, that is granted.)

Wood is easy in my subjective opinion but it all depends on resources and skill sets.

Good luck,

j
 
bob day
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Location: Central Virginia USA
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Hi, interesting options that have been posted,, i use concrete a lot,, but less and less as time goes on,, and i remember reading about how the settlers used to wet broom their floors until they became as hard as concrete over time.

guessing this technique would depend on whether you have actual clay for a floor, or some sort of organic material mixed in

or is the black on your feet a mineral, or is it just dirty dust that comes in and accumulates

i've been playing with clay for the mass for a rocket stove and just love how easy it is to work, like concrete in a way, but infinitely more forgiving

 
Dave Quinn
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I haven't made up my mind at all, in fact I'm further away than ever at the moment. I seem to have given you the idea that I want to use concrete, this is not the case I use the term concrete quite loosely and would prefer limecrete or some other alternative. At the moment I sort of like the idea of sealing the floor as it seems easiest and cheapest, but not really sure how to proceed. Would prefer to use a material that's environmentally friendly but I'm uncertain whether limecrete 'tiles' on their own would be strong enough.

I think the cobbles are lovely, but gathering them over time would be very difficult. When I went to the beach recently my children collected some unusual pebbles to show there friends (a couple each) but were told to replace them.

I don't understand why you need 50mm to 100mm thick when concrete paving stones are only 35mm could someone explain. The usage in our cellar would be mainly barefoot or slippers with no heavy weights.

We basically want a clean surface with minimum effort and cost. If it becomes a flooring project it just won't happen. What did people do when they lived on earth floors? Suppose they just walked round with dirty feet.

The black is just the soil you walk on the bits like the stairs where it's finished don't seem to gather much dust / dirt.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Dave, et al,

Good to read that about the concrete (sorry if I projected that on you.)

Yes, that is what they did (i.e. dirty feet.) Humans have kind'a "thrown the baby out with the bath water," on this getting clean thing. Clean is great, and all that, but now we many have reduced immune systems for it.

If you are not going to role anything heavy (more than 300 kg) around often, you should be fine with 35 mm (50 mm is much better and safer to go with) if it is well set in the bedding medium, not tippy at all, and has fiber added to the tile matrix, whatever you choose.

You are (because of limited current skill sets) going to have to spend either time or money to get this where you want it (or at least as you describe it.) I will stick with you all along the way the best I can, so don't be afraid to jump into it. I (we) will always be here to give you any guidance we can. Permies is a great place for that. I guess the only other guidance I can give at this juncture (from a long teaching and facilitating history) is the following:

1. Don't think, what you ever thought, is going to be as easy as you though it would be in your head...sometimes it is even easier...sometimes it can seem much harder...You won't know anything until you try.

2. You will spend time or money (sometimes both) if it is going to have any durable quality...especially for your first efforts.

3. Plan, and measure 10 times before you do it for real...it save much aggravation. (Mistakes on paper are cheep...in real life they are always expensive either in time or money or both)

4. With all that said...don't be afraid to experiment.

From what I have read thus fare, I can share a few more stories that may help.

One was a young couple in New York with an old brick and stone house, (and no money.) They had a dirt floor basement (no walk out just an old coal shoot.) The took a rake and leveled it the best they could, sprayed the floor with boric acid and borate, set fans out to dry that, spread clay dust out, wetted that and dried it with the fans, (this was not cobb as it should have been but they did not want to work that hard) Then the laid down cardboard boxes cut flat all over the floor area til it was about 30 mm to 50 mm thick, then laid new paper on top of that, wetted and dried. This got treated with beeswax and flax oil (linseed oil and not the stuff with petroleum driers in it but food grade.)

The floor the kids loved as it was a bit "bouncy" and "sponge" (got a tad denser over time) and made a nice cozy family space that was dry (after they redid and cleaned out the foundation drains) and Lime Washed the stone walls accept on one end that the left natural dry laid stone with cobb mortar from the 1850's. Now this system was a bit of a "nightmare" to take out and redo ten years later, but they got a good run out of it until they had a bit more money (and skill sets) to do something a bit more durable. I think the system could have lasted 50 years easy as long as it stayed dry and only recieved "foot traffic."

A similar system, or individual limecrete tiles (NH5 limestone with fiber added) would seem best for you. I don't know if your current floor has enough (any?) clay in it to do a traditional dirt floor system. You would have to learn how to do a soil sample clay test, and check for proper clay type and quantity, then you would know.

Regards,

j
 
bob day
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I was just going to suggest that it sounds like there might be coal dust mixed in with the surface that is keeping your feet black,

might be as easy as digging a few inches, turning the soil over and then raking it out with water used to keep dust down and harden the surface

worst case might be to remove some of the surface material and then dig up and level what's left, and maybe top it with some clean sifted clay

a wet broom now and again and you would have a floor that doesn't turn your feet black

 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Great point, and observation Bob...

j
 
bob day
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thanks

it sounds like you have more experience with cement and concrete in all it's forms,

stuff on these forums really is mind expanding,, better than drugs
 
Dave Quinn
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I'm slowly getting to an action plan. Thanks for all your help, wouldn't mind any feedback and one bit missing though.

I'm going to try a small area first to see what it turns out like. This is what I'm thinking of doing.

Using a mix of 1:2:2 Lime cement: Sand : Gravel. This is all available from local suppliers/quarry pretty damn cheap. I would also like to add some fibre at this stage horse hair or something, thought about asking at dog grooming parlours or is this a stupid idea.

Tamp down the earth as flat as possible and then in a corner create a 1m 'tile. Initially starting at 35mm. Leave it to cure for about a week. Then jump about on top knock it about a bit and see how strong it is. If it seems OK then carry to build on side of first tile, but basically use a thin strip to separate the 'tiles', so there are no massive areas. Similar to laying flagstones, but it should be cheaper and I'll basically be using the tamped earth as the base layer.

The missing bit that I'm not sure about is the 'sealing of the surface. Any experience with lime cement has always had a dusty surface that I would like to avoid if possible.

I'm puzzled by the question about the soil. If I walk in the garden barefoot I get black feet. The earth floor of the cellar is cold and damp and dry material will draw water out of it. We have laid some old vinyl and carpet to store things on. The vinyl is fine, but the carpet drew water out of the soil. The soil doesn't seem inherently damp, because under the vinyl the floor is very similar to the uncovered part of the cellar. The carpet seemed to pull damp out via some kind of capillary effect. As for the comment about 'being as easy as digging a few inches' I struggled knocking an earth rod into the soil except in one particular point where there had been a leaking pipe for years.

Question about the cardboard floor. I use cardboard in the garden quite a lot and it rots PDQ. How come this didn't.

Thanks once again!

And anyone got any ideas to 'seal' lime based mortars


 
bob day
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sorry to confuse the issue,,when i walk around here i don't get much on my feet except sometimes brown mud if it's raining,, i didn't understand your soil is normally black, must make for good gardens

 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Using a mix of 1:2:2 Lime cement: Sand : Gravel. This is all available from local suppliers/quarry pretty damn cheap. I would also like to add some fibre at this stage horse hair or something, thought about asking at dog grooming parlours or is this a stupid idea.


Animal fiber use is pretty trich without "lipid treatment" of varring traditional types. I would use either 20mm glass fiber (they should have it) or some kind of plant fiber like cut up hemp rope.

Also ask for the "mix formula" of there "lime cement" I don't care for any OPC. If present then just go with NH5.

Tamp down the earth as flat as possible and then in a corner create a 1m 'tile. Initially starting at 35mm. Leave it to cure for about a week. Then jump about on top knock it about a bit and see how strong it is. If it seems OK then carry to build on side of first tile, but basically use a thin strip to separate the 'tiles', so there are no massive areas. Similar to laying flagstones, but it should be cheaper and I'll basically be using the tamped earth as the base layer.


What are you thinking of using for the thins strips between?

The missing bit that I'm not sure about is the 'sealing of the surface. Any experience with lime cement has always had a dusty surface that I would like to avoid if possible.


Take your pick...

Silicate paint, natural oils, or just wash it real good and see if that takes care of the "chalking."

I'm puzzled by the question about the soil. If I walk in the garden barefoot I get black feet. The earth floor of the cellar is cold and damp and dry material will draw water out of it. We have laid some old vinyl and carpet to store things on. The vinyl is fine, but the carpet drew water out of the soil. The soil doesn't seem inherently damp, because under the vinyl the floor is very similar to the uncovered part of the cellar. The carpet seemed to pull damp out via some kind of capillary effect. As for the comment about 'being as easy as digging a few inches' I struggled knocking an earth rod into the soil except in one particular point where there had been a leaking pipe for years.


Hard to say without being there...sounds like the carpet was "wicking" present moisture.

Question about the cardboard floor. I use cardboard in the garden quite a lot and it rots PDQ. How come this didn't.


You have to have "water" for things to "rot." Dry basement foundation area, sorbic acid and borate...ergo not rotting. Make sense? This is why extended overhangs are a good idea in most architecture, as you want the mositure as far away from the house as you can get.
 
Dave Quinn
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Thanks for getting back to me - for some reason my notification didn't work. Sorry for taking so long to reply.

Jay C. White Cloud wrote:

Using a mix of 1:2:2 Lime cement: Sand : Gravel. This is all available from local suppliers/quarry pretty damn cheap. I would also like to add some fibre at this stage horse hair or something, thought about asking at dog grooming parlours or is this a stupid idea.


Animal fiber use is pretty trich without "lipid treatment" of varring traditional types. I would use either 20mm glass fiber (they should have it) or some kind of plant fiber like cut up hemp rope.

Also ask for the "mix formula" of there "lime cement" I don't care for any OPC. If present then just go with NH5.

Don't know what OPC is, but lime cement is NHL5 which I think means it's more or less pure lime.


Tamp down the earth as flat as possible and then in a corner create a 1m 'tile. Initially starting at 35mm. Leave it to cure for about a week. Then jump about on top knock it about a bit and see how strong it is. If it seems OK then carry to build on side of first tile, but basically use a thin strip to separate the 'tiles', so there are no massive areas. Similar to laying flagstones, but it should be cheaper and I'll basically be using the tamped earth as the base layer.


What are you thinking of using for the thins strips between?

I was thinking of using some old plastic from damaged electrical trunking that I found. It should pull out when partially set. Alternatively I thought of using some thin ply and chiselling it out.

The missing bit that I'm not sure about is the 'sealing of the surface. Any experience with lime cement has always had a dusty surface that I would like to avoid if possible.


Take your pick...

Silicate paint, natural oils, or just wash it real good and see if that takes care of the "chalking.

Thanks. I think one of the issues with Chaux Blanc (lime) is that it will continually scuff and dust. When I've used it on walls it can always be rubbed off. Think I'll try oil, but although I know it will soak in, will it not rub off as well?

I'm puzzled by the question about the soil. If I walk in the garden barefoot I get black feet. The earth floor of the cellar is cold and damp and dry material will draw water out of it. We have laid some old vinyl and carpet to store things on. The vinyl is fine, but the carpet drew water out of the soil. The soil doesn't seem inherently damp, because under the vinyl the floor is very similar to the uncovered part of the cellar. The carpet seemed to pull damp out via some kind of capillary effect. As for the comment about 'being as easy as digging a few inches' I struggled knocking an earth rod into the soil except in one particular point where there had been a leaking pipe for years.


Hard to say without being there...sounds like the carpet was "wicking" present moisture.

That's correct, the carpet not very pleasant ATM.

Question about the cardboard floor. I use cardboard in the garden quite a lot and it rots PDQ. How come this didn't.


You have to have "water" for things to "rot." Dry basement foundation area, sorbic acid and borate...ergo not rotting. Make sense? This is why extended overhangs are a good idea in most architecture, as you want the mositure as far away from the house as you can get.
 
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