July 31, 2012 by megmstephens

Those poor buckets have no idea what is in store for them.

This post is a story about Heartland House on the first weekend that I owned it. It’s not a pleasant story, so if your stomach is sensitive I would recommend you stop reading now. Really.

There were many reasons that Heartland House was so cheap. First, it’s in the rust belt of America, where manufacturing jobs were once plentiful but now barely exist. There are many abandoned houses in towns like this, to the point where the City owns quite a long list of properties. I didn’t buy Heartland House from the city, nor was it a tax sale. But it could have been, based on the condition of the house. The people who lived there before just up and left, including leaving behind furniture and other miscellaneous items that had never been cleaned out.

There was also the ankle-deep sewage waste in the basement that had been sitting and decomposing for 8 months. That might have been a small factor in the very low listed price of the house. Walking through the house for the first time there was a very strong smell, partially coming from the basement and partially from the left-behind furniture and carpets. The story the neighbors told me later confirmed that the sewer line had been broken and disconnected from the house for about 6 months, and the residents continued to live there and use the facilities. 

Some of the toys left behind in Heartland House.

Cleaning out the living spaces in the house was a pretty sad story. I found kid’s toys and bottles and school papers, meaning there were at least a few kids living in this place ranging from infant to probably middle school. I did find several papers and a business card from a Child Protective Services caseworker, so I am hoping that the kids were removed from this house and taken somewhere else with actual plumbing and facilities.

I was still left with a mess to clean up in the basement. I bought the house on a Friday, June 1, and on June 2 I tackled cleaning the house and getting supplies for cleaning the basement out. In the afternoon on June 3, I geared up in disposable coveralls, rainboots, double latex gloves, and descended into the basement pit:

The open pit on the outside of the house – the only access to the basement.

I took a shovel and a couple of 5-gallon buckets I found lying around the property down into the basement with me. I would fill a couple of buckets halfway and then lift them to the ledge halfway out of the basement. Then I would climb up next to them and out of the basement and haul the buckets out of the hole the rest of the way and dump them on a tarp. It was really hard work, and disgusting.

I was very lucky that Allison chose that day to be the first day she came over to help me at the house. I am not sure how long it would have taken without her help, and I don’t like to think about it! She was the up top person, grabbing the buckets from the halfway ledge and dumping them. I would take the empty buckets from her and fill them and set them on the ledge, meaning I didn’t have to climb in and out of the basement with every trip. It was a backsaver! And for some reason she still has come back to help, even after that first day’s experience.

Here’s a picture of the state of the basement before I got started cleaning it out.

The basement, in addition to being ankle deep with sewage, also had an interesting collection of random junk mixed in. There was a ladder, some bags of pink batt insulation, kids’ toys, a few more buckets, wooden steps, and lots of drink containers: beer, pop, Styrofoam cups from the gas station down the road, and even a coffee mug.

The wooden steps ended up being a help, too. I’m only 5′-3″, and the distance to the halfway ledge to get out of the basement was about at my waist. Once the steps were shoveled out and I figured out what they were I turned them over and set them by the ledge. That made cleaning out the basement easier too.

This was one of the better sections of plumbing work in the basement.

Another thing I had to contend with was the plumbing. It had been redone with PEX at some point, but nothing was supported. All the runs were just dangling from the main supply or the fixture they fed to, creating a spider web of PEX across the basement. It was creepy to take a step back and feel something brush my shoulder…

So eventually I ended up cutting it all down to get it out of the way. It was all going to get replaced anyway, so I thought I might as well get it out before I had a heart attack from being startled and I died in the basement with my shovel and poo-buckets.

The corners of the basement were the worst. It was piled up to my knees in a few of

Rotten post and the old cellar steps, piled with decomposing sewage around the base.

the corners, and the picture shows what the bottom of the cellar steps looked like. They still look very similar to this today, minus the piles of poo. Soon we will get to the point of making structural repairs, and these cellar steps will be history. I have another plan for what to do for basement access, and believe me when I say it will not involve ledges, poo-stairs, or cellar stairs like we have now.


8 thoughts on “Poo-buckets

  1. Frances says:

    I really enjoyed this post 🙂 And icky about so much poop! Wish I had friends like yours!

  2. After having the sewer line at my place back up, I can’t imagine living in a house where the sewage was just collecting. The smell is terrible. Ours went wrong in the middle of the night and it smelled so bad it woke up the kids. Thankfully, despite a crack and a root ball in the line from the house to the street, ours drained back out, but wow, what a mess to clean up. We had the line replaced with the super heavy duty pvc (?)pipe. It’s a good feeling to know the poo is travelling away from the house when we flush. That is something most people take for granted.

    You have nerves (and a stomach) of steel!

  3. kmccully says:

    You earned your $7000 purchase price with that task alone! Amazing! My hubby is gonna die when I show him this.

  4. kmccully says:

    My hubby brought up a good question – where did you dump them when you had the full buckets out?

    • megmstephens says:

      Great question! I dumped them on a few tarps. Unfortunately for my neighbors I left them to dry out a bit in the sun for a few days, which really helped with the smell and also cut down how much it all weighed. Then we had some removal guys come and haul away all of the trash – 30 or so large black bags from the house, multiple pieces of furniture, carpet, and the tarps. If I had a garden ready to go it would have been great compost – but there was no garden and there was NO WAY I was going to leave that pile sitting around in the backyard until next summer. The flies were atrocious in the yard even for a few days.

  5. 3rd Generation says:

    Did you take any special health precautions prior to handling all that well- seasoned raw shit-turd material in your basement ? Vaccinations, shots, ventilated-filtered fresh air, etc? I am facing a similar situation, although mine is not in a poorly ventilated space like yours was and wondered how you approached your task, from a health standpoint. Did the odor increase after you ‘stirred’ the material up and was there residual stink afterword or did it just filter away over time ? Did you ‘treat’ the area after fecal material removal for bugs, bacteria, creepies etc ? With what ?

    I too, was wondering what you did with the removal debris, but you answered that before in a previous post. That would have been a Big Problem for me and your simple common-sense method would have never worked for me as I live in wacko nut-job Liberal Land (Calif) and the greenies would have put me in prison in the same cell with Charles Manson hads I disposed of the debris ‘improperly’. . .

    Not everyone would take a task like that on and I salute you for completing it !

    • megmstephens says:

      Hi 3rd Generation-
      I’m laughing that you think my disposal method was common-sense. I just did the first thing that came to me! As I said in the post, if I had a garden I might have used some of it as compost. I’m not sure why my method would be considered “improper” in your state?
      As for health precautions, I did what made sense. I’m vaccinated, yes, but I didn’t get any special vaccinations for this task. I wore full disposable coveralls, from my neck to my wrists and ankles. I also wore waterproof shoes (rainboots in my case). And I wore 2 pairs of rubber gloves- the first pair was disposable latex, under the cuff of the coveralls, and the second pair were thicker kitchen/cleaning rubber gloves. I think this was probably overkill, really, but not being a professional at dealing with this kind of work I wanted to be on the safe side. I made sure not to touch my mouth, nose, or eyes with the gloves. And I scrubbed my hands all the way up to the elbow three times after I was done.
      It did get smellier as I was working and moving it around with my shovel. It had been sitting and decomposing for 8 months, so keep in mind it wasn’t raw sewage. The smell was more on the manure-like end of the spectrum than the port-a-potty side.
      Without power, I didn’t have the ability to have a fan, but it would have been nice to have. I took breaks every half hour or so to get out of the basement and breathe fresh air.
      After it was all gone the smell went away pretty quickly. Husband sprayed the walls down with a diluted bleach/water mix in a yard sprayer after it was done. We don’t have running water right now, but the plan is to pressure-wash the cellar walls when we do get water back on. The floor and walls of the cellar are concrete, so I think this contributed to the smell dissipating pretty fast. If there had been lots of wood or other porous material I think the smell would have lingered, especially in the heat of the summer.
      I hope this answers your questions!

      • 3rd Generation says:

        Thank you for your review. Your information was helpful to me. I think I will attack my situation pretty much the same way you did yours. I will have a little more material to dispose of I think, so maybe I’ll back my truck up onto my local San Francisco dim-bulb congreewomans’ driveways and make ‘campaign contributions’ (mmm, nah, just fantasizing), but after all, like The Book says ‘an eye for an eye…’

        I am enjoying your exploits and wish you all the success smart, honest, hard-working fearless people deserve.

        Keep ’em flying ! Best Regards.

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