Parging cement walls

In the late winter of 2010, a young and naive couple stripped their basement of everything it had. It was a glorious time of destruction and promise. Alas, focus turned to spring and what could be had out of doors. The basement sat abandoned and alone, until the following winter rains forced the happy couple back inside.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, what is this some sort of fairy tale? Not in the least. This is reality and when those rains came, we were forced back to earth, with a loud and unforgiving thud. We stood up, wiped the dust off our pants and gave the basement, among other places, a solid look. It’s now or never, honey.

Starting with those concrete walls. You might remember that when we removed the framed walls of the former, ahem, apartment, we found a good foot or so of dust which had crumbled from the surface of our 90-year old foundation. Multiple contractors had assured us this was purely cosmetic, that the parge coat had simply flaked off over time, as they are inclined to do. If it bothered us, we could resurface the walls ourselves. By the way, we feel confident that the foundation is indeed intact. We get no water down here, even with these heavy rains. Phew!

Of course, the pimply, moon-like surface of our walls did bother us. Especially since this basement is going to be Mike’s studio. Maybe you haven’t heard, but my husband lives in his studio, day and night. Even in our tiniest apartment, he holed up in that closet of a studio like a little hermit crab. I would like him to like it down there. This basement also houses our new, awesome laundry room (to be revealed at a later date, it is not ready for its closeup). So I would also like to like it down here.

Let’s begin. I started my research of how-to with the internet, which of course made it look SO EASY, little did we know.

Supplies and tools
Quickrete’s Quikwall Surface Bonding Cement, bags and bags
Water for mixing
Water bottle for keeping walls wet
Mixing tub
Various trowels
Cardboard to protect the floor

Being pregnant, I wasn’t allowed downstairs during this dusty process. So really, Mike should probably be writing this. But through all the cussing, I think I managed to decipher the gist of resurfacing the moon, I mean, our basement walls. First off, it’s messy! Second, finding the perfect consistency for the mixture takes some trial and error. And third, application takes longer than you think and is really hard on your wrists, which may require a massage once complete.

{The sludge all ready to go.}
The process is pretty much what you might imagine. Spray walls with water as you go, to aid adhesion. Load up trowel with mixture and push into wall, being sure to fill all crevices, then attempt to spread and smooth. Do this 8 million times until complete. Don’t start a wall you can’t finish that day, work all the way to a corner before you stop. This is also for adhesion. Adhesion is number one! Keep wall moist by spritzing frequently and allow to dry slowly, over quite a few days. We did this by spraying water on it every day and lucking out that we are in a basement that gets no sun. If the wall dries too quickly, it will crack and crumble making all this hard work null and void.


{West wall before. Yes, that is our tankless water heater that we LOVE.}
{West wall during}
 {West wall after. Oh look, it’s Roosevelt! That explains the dusty pawprints…}

Now take a good look at this after. See the ledge and how it’s wavy? This is nearly unavoidable, kids. Mike is a tedious, detail-oriented worker and he struggled to get even this amount of a straight line. Of course, he is currently being driven to madness due to this imperfection, there MUST be a solution! I happen to think the walls look amazing.

{South wall detail}
{South wall almost complete!}
I do apologize for the dark photos. As you can imagine, it’s hard to get a decent shot with that kind of lighting. And um, don’t mind about all those wires you see hanging everywhere! We are on it, electrician starts right after the holidays, permits and all. Once all the walls were smooth and allowed to dry over a week or so, Mike gave everything a coat of Drylock, for the heck of it really. That was followed by some nice, white, no-VOC, satin paint. We are far from finished down here, but this is quite the improvement. I think it calls for victory!

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