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Thread: A new Darkroom!

  1. #1

    A new Darkroom!

    Since the weather has been too hot to do any work outside and my photography has outgrown my darkroom, I decided it was time to do something I have wanted to do since I bought this house in 1997 - setup a darkroom in the basement! Since my photography is now a side-line business, the costs are paid with tax-free money :-)

    The house dates from about 1920 and was moved to this location in 1975. Unfortunately, the fellow who did the move and put in the new foundation failed to consider the high groundwater levels in the spring and in times of heavy rain (like this year!). Instead of starting the basement floor at grade level, he went down a couple of feet, which means the basement is most always wet in the spring with water seeping in thru every crack.

    Someone (before me) decided to finish the basement, or at least to put a bedroom down there - DUMB! They made no provisions for the water on the floor and even used fiberglass insulation (which wicks the water!) The existing walls have to come out.

    You can see some of the water damage and rotten lumber as I started tearing out the existing walls:

    There will be some lumber that is salvagable but most of the sheeting is rotten along the bottom.

    The new darkroom will occupy part of the basement (which is already nearly light-tight):

    I haven't decided on the layout yet - I want to see the space with the existing walls removed - but I did discover I have one more basement window than I thought so that will become the exhaust vent!

    To accomodate the water, I plan to lay styrofoam (SM) strips along the floor (probably about 2"), leaving a space behind the strip for the water to move (1.5") Over that strip, I will lay another styrofoam strip 3.5" wide. The base of the walls will sit on top of the second styrofoam and will therefore not be exposed to the water while the water is free to run along the space underneath on its way to the sump.

    (I work in a large engineering office with many talented and resourceful designers but, even there, in the hydro-electric company, nobody has ever build wood walls to accomodate water movement so it will be interesting to see how this works out!)

    My sump is almost in the middle of the basement and that is where I dump my darkroom waste, so I haven't decided if I want to do a U-shaped layout, with the wet side ending at the sump, or to do an "in-line" layout along my long wall. (Scratches head . . .)

    In any event, it will be nice to move out of my 10x12 darkroom and into a MUCH larger space, a space where I have total freedom in the layout.

    I'll re-post to this thread as work progresses.

    On my way to the dump now with a whole truck load of trash from the basement . . .

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Jul 2000

    A new Darkroom!

    I would start by digging around the outside of the basement and installing a curtain drain (perforated pipe) and sealing the outside walls with the right sealer and plastic. Then backfill with gravel. Why not keep the water out instead of accommodating the water that comes in. Wet floors invite mold and mildew, high humidity and not a very good or healthy work environment. Constant water flow through your basement walls is inviting structural failure over time. Since these improvments are a tax write off why not fix it right? But that's just my opinion.

  3. #3
    Whatever David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2000
    Honolulu, Hawai'i

    A new Darkroom!

    10x12--such luxury, and you want more?!

    Okay, so do I. One thing to think about, if you've got lots of space is to keep the wet side far enough from the dry side to avoid contamination of the dry space, but not so far that you have a long walk from the enlarger to the developer tray.

  4. #4

    A new Darkroom!

    C'lam, (pardon the familiarity, but we all feel we know you),

    I'm with Robert on sealing out the moisture. Maybe get the guy from "This Old House" to plan it out. Put the project on TV.

    My DR is only 5x7. Have to step outside to change f stops. Thought it was big enough when I built it inside the garage. 10x12 would indeed be a luxury.

  5. #5

    A new Darkroom!

    Ms. CJ,

    Robert's comments sound pretty good to me. I had a similar problem a few years ago (previous house) with water getting into the crawl space under the house (we're in the south - no basements). A number of folks in that business told me to keep the water directed away from the house in the first place. I redirected roof runoff water by further extending flexible gutter pipes from the gutters out further into the yard. Then, as Robert said, I went down a few feet next to the foundation on the high side and installed the perforated pipe, backfilling with crushed stone.

    Robert's comments to seal, though, beforehand, are probably what is critical. Ground moisture, even with water directed away, will need to be prevented from getting through porous block.

    Also, I was told in my own case, to incline the soil slightly downhill/away from the foundation wall.

    Here's a site with helpful information:

    By the way, sorry I was unable to get you the condensor from my 4x5 enlarger I was giving away. A guy from Florida drove up to visit his parents in Macon and swung by my town (I'm just south of Atlanta). He picked it up.

    FWIW, had he not surfaced as a viable recipient, I had decided to ship it to you.


  6. #6

    Join Date
    Apr 2000

    A new Darkroom!

    what's that about the condensor- I have a Beseler 4x5 lamphousing with condensors if you want it let me know it's for free, except shippingcosts from Calgary. It's dry.

  7. #7

    A new Darkroom!

    Robert: That was the first thing I thought of when I bought the house in 1997 - I have a crawler/loader and would have put in the weeping tile myself. However, I talked to a local hydraulic contractor (a fellow who does wells, septic fields, and weeping tiles) and lives on the same gravel ridge I do. His comment was "How much do you want to spend on electricity?" Apparently he runs continuously 3 horsepower in pumps to keep the ground water from flooding his sump. With so much gravel in the ground, one has to pull the water table down for miles around to get a dry basement.

    In this part of the country, on the gravel ridge, you either build on top of the ground, pay a fortune to run pumps (one isn't enough!), or put up with the water. My neighbours have just taken over their parents house (800 feet away) and have spend a small fortune and the whole summer raising the house 5 feet and filling in the bottom 4 feet of the basement to get above the water.

    If I were wealthy, I'd build a new house but I am not and I would rather spend what little money I have on my photography. That being the case, I have learned to live with the water.

    All other darkroom related suggestions are very welcome!

    (Splashing about in the soon-to-be darkroom.......)

  8. #8
    Donald Qualls's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2004
    North Carolina

    A new Darkroom!

    Okay, check me on something -- your sewage runs downhill to *somewhere* -- right? Perhaps just into a septic tank and drain field, and if so, there really might be no way out, but -- if there's a "down" to drain sewage, the same "down" should gravity drain the tile around the basement without paying for pumps 24/7.

    If that's not the case, the cheapest way to do it *right* might be to jack the whole house up enough to maintain headroom and install a raised floor in the basement -- gravel/sand underlay and a new concrete floor above the water table. Yes, you'd have to play some games with wiring and plumbing, but in the end you'd have the house where it should have been in the first place -- above grade.

    Nope, not volunteering. That's really a job for a specialty contractor, best done when you'll be out of town for a month. But it might be the only way to work in the basement with dry feet without acquring a permanent scoliosis.
    If a contact print at arm's length is too small to see, you need a bigger camera. :D

  9. #9
    Format Omnivore Brian C. Miller's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 1999
    Everett, WA

    A new Darkroom!

    Have you thought about building a boat hull?

    Seriously, you could buy woven roving cloth and build a hull inside your basement. Be sure to use marine-grade resins. That would seal out the water, and leave you dry. I recommend Tap Plastics based on personal experience.

    (Tap Plastics makes a filler called Tap 500. I had filled out a damaged right front body panel with it, smoothed it out, and it looked nice. Later the truck struck a deer. The panel bent a bit and there were some cracks, but the filler stayed on it with no problems. It was reinforced with Fiberglas drywall tape.)
    "It's the way to educate your eyes. Stare. Pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long." - Walker Evans

  10. #10

    A new Darkroom!

    Donald: The nearest "downhill" is about 1200 feet away - that's where the water in the gravel is headed anyway which is why the high water is not a continual problem under normal conditions and no, I am not going to lay 1200 feet of pipe - which would just cause errosion of the finer soils around the weeping tiles and cause MORE problems!

    I do not have the money to raise the house or turn the basement into a hull - which would require a whole new basement and if I was going to do that, I'd build above grade and wouldn't need it.

    The water "problem" in this area has been looked at by the best and brightest minds and the alternatives are stated above.

    This thread was supposed to be about building the idea dream darkroom!

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