A blog about the restoration, remodel and renovation of a 1929 Chicago-style brick bungalow

Can You Smell That Smell?

In addition to accomplishing most of the goals I set out to do this year, there are some things that come up over the course of the year that you may or may not have control over. For instance, we also demo’d the pool table, which wasn’t on the Goal List, as well as stripped, cleaned and painted the back door, which I decided to do on the spur of the moment one weekend.

Then there’s the basement closet. As you may already know, part of our basement was finished by the PO with a bead-board wainscoting. It’s not the real stuff, of course, but it’s fine for the basement and I have no plans to change it.

There is a fairly roomy closet that was created with the space directly below the front porch. I think back in the old days this space was used as a root cellar (or probably for hiding moonshine during the speakeasy days!).

In there, it was completely covered with the bead-board, wall-to-ceiling plus ceiling.

Everything was well and good for a few years, but eventually it started smelling musty down there and I just knew it was coming from the closet. One time Pete tried to get a peek at what’s going on and discovered that the bead-board was glued to plywood and had a difficult time just cutting a small hole in the wall. Sigh, really?!

Finally last month I think we were doing something with the fireplace and we went to the basement for some reason. It was smelling mustier than ever and next thing you know we started tearing the closet apart.

It wasn’t easy. In fact it totally sucked. Bead-board not only glued but also nailed to plywood, which in turn was also glued and screwed to the studs. It was not only impossible to tear off the bead-board, but the bead-board had to be torn off in order to find the screws holding the plywood to the studs.

Eventually, we prevailed. So, what was going on here?

Well, number one: paper-faced fiberglass batts. If it were me, I would NOT insulate a basement with fiberglass batts because of potential moisture issues, but instead go with rigid foam or spray foam insulation. You can see the paper on the left looks a bit damp and mildewy.


The next thing we found under the insulation was on the front wall and had us a bit perplexed.


WTH? It looks like some kind of valance, painted green on a thin piece of wood. We can only assume it was used as a shim for some reason? In any case, yes it was definitely moldy along with several of the studs.

The brick foundation looks to be in decent shape, and now that it has been over a month since we got rid of the offending parts it smells much, much better.


So now what? I always thought it’d be kinda fun to turn this closet into a wine cellar and I think it would look great leaving the brick exposed…but a) like I need another project; and b) like I need to stock up on wine?!

Leave a Comment