The very wet spring we were blessed (or cursed, depending upon your point of view) with this year resulted in some vital updating in Rancho del Fifties.

A number of people in my neighborhood learned their basements weren't quite as watertight as they had assumed.

This year was one for the books. In fact, one particular day's rainfall shattered a nearly 100-year-old record.

I, happily, was one of the lucky ones. I got a little water in the basement bathroom, leaking in from a window well that, thanks to the 4-foot-deep eaves on my house, probably had never before been even damp. It would have survived this year, too, if that record-setter hadn't been accompanied by driving winds.

In any case, a mop quickly took care of the problem. Not all my neighbors were so lucky. Soggy carpeting was hauled away. Moldy drywall was ripped off walls and schlepped out to the curb. The same for warped stud walls, peeling floor tiles and moldy furnishings.

And that was the easy stuff, the stuff any fairly competent handyfolks could handle by themselves.

Elsewhere, professionals jack-hammered concrete, trenched along basement walls, laid drain tile and installed sump pumps.

One couple had holes drilled deep into their yard to bury giant plates connected underground by thick-threaded rods to matching plates held against basement walls. Gradually, over the months ahead, they will tighten the two against each other in hopes of keeping their slightly buckled walls from collapsing.

Then there were the folks with more dire foundation issues.

For a couple of late-summer weeks, one house sported a small mountain range in its front yard. That was the logical (read: convenient) place to store the clay gumbo that for the past 60 years had been pressing against its basement walls.

Finally, the walls could take no more, and that led to the neighborhood's biggest renovation project: replacing that basement's entire front wall and half of one end.

For my money, the most interesting (read: surprising) day of the project was the first, the day all the brick came down.

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A brick house is not actually made of brick. It's a regular wooden house covered with brick veneer siding, not so much different from clapboards or vinyl when you think about it. Of course, in the case of brick, the siding is about 3 inches thick and held together with mortar. Therein lies the problem.

When you remove the basement walls, there's nothing to hold the brick in place but a few thin metal bands nailed to the house and set into the mortar joints. So before you remove those basement walls, you peel off all that brick — something like 3 tons, they told me.

I really thought there would be a high-tech way to do that, maybe some kind of lightweight jackhammer with a wide chisel blade.

Not so. Turns out it's done by a burly fellow with an ordinary sledgehammer who bangs repeatedly on the brick until it falls to the ground.

It took a full day.

Only then could they trench around the house, remove the old concrete block walls and build new ones. And, of course, install new brick veneer.

(Send your questions to HouseWorks, P.O. Box 81609, Lincoln, Neb. 68501 or email