Crap in a gap
July 9, 2005 7:37 PM   Subscribe

Crap in a gap: how can I clean out a 6" wide and ~100' long space between two buildings?

Between my building and the one next door is a gap approximately six inches wide, running the length of both buildings--roughly 1/3 of a city block. The gap is accessible from both ends, but is covered with sheetmetal at the top where the two roofs meet. Beer cans, plastic bags, and all kinds of trash--including some furry, four-legged critters--have made the gap their home, and I need to clean all the crap out of there.

I first took two lengths of rope and tied each to one end of a 4x4 block of wood. I then climbed onto the roof and dropped the rope into the gap, so that I could drag the block back-and-forth from one end to another, shoving all the trash to where I could reach it--sort of like flossing between two gigantic teeth, but the block is getting stuck behind all the crap in there. Any ideas?
posted by fandango_matt to Home & Garden (29 answers total)
The title for this page was supposed to be "Rental Floss."
posted by fandango_matt at 7:42 PM on July 9, 2005

Interesting dilemma. One idea... at big hardware stores they have collapsible 25-foot poles for changing light bulbs. I would use one of these with something stout tied to the end and rake stuff out (stick it in, pull it out with downward pressure). The included bulb changer attachment would work fine as a makeshift rake. As you get stuff out it should get easier to do it other ways (including getting what's in the inner 50 ft).
posted by rolypolyman at 7:44 PM on July 9, 2005

Last time we cleaned out our gap (6 *feet* wide, and maybe 25' deep) we found a pile of dead squirrels. I would use gloves when moving some of that stuff out; you don't know what it has touched.
posted by michaelkuznet at 7:48 PM on July 9, 2005

Fire hose maybe?
posted by odinsdream at 7:51 PM on July 9, 2005

we found a pile of dead squirrels

Nothing like a free meal at the end of a hard day's work.


Would a power-washer work for this?
posted by wakko at 8:03 PM on July 9, 2005

(assuming you got all the 'big' crap out of there first)
posted by wakko at 8:04 PM on July 9, 2005

Pressure washer with an added 96" extension wand on it. Possibly rent one from your local paint store or hardware/tool rental place. Odinsdream was on the same line of thought. And wakko on preview.
posted by alteredcarbon at 8:08 PM on July 9, 2005

I'm not sure if the pressure-washer would work--they're great for point-blank range but after about 10' they're about as good as a garden hose--whatever I use has to get all the crap from the middle of the two buildings and push or pull it roughly 1/3 of a city block to the other end where I can reach it.
posted by fandango_matt at 8:30 PM on July 9, 2005

You can access the gap from above, right? A leaf blower might work to get the smaller crap.
posted by nathan_teske at 8:36 PM on July 9, 2005

Since you can get a rope through the gap, try pulling a chimney brush through it. You should be able to get a chimney sweeping kit at your local box store. There are square brushes as well as round ones, and they have an eye on them for fastening the rope. They're made of very stiff wire that still flexes enough to go past obstacles. You might want to tie a weight behind the brush so it will stay down at ground level and not just ride up over the crap. A kit would come with a multi-piece fiberglas pole that screws onto the brush. It might work to attach the pole to the brush and drag the whole contraption through; that would lend weight but probably not hang up on anything.

Then get the small stuff with a hose or pressure washer.
posted by bricoleur at 8:47 PM on July 9, 2005

Your floss idea sounds pretty good. I'd also get one of those telescoping tree-trimmers for dislodging chunks of natstiness. They have a long reach and that saw blade will hack through a pile of dead squirrels in no time. The barbs are also good for hooking stuff so as to drag it out.

You'll need to work this from both ends with a combination of techniques. A firehose might actually do some good but a power washer just won't go far enough. Bear in mind that if you're going to use shooting water, you have to always be shooting at the opposite end of the gap from where you're standing, otherwise you're just compacting shit from the ends toward the center. With a space 1/3 of a block long... you'd need serious pressure and volume.

A combination of techniques will eventually work. Keep at it.
posted by scarabic at 9:35 PM on July 9, 2005

If you've ever seen a big cornfield, you've seen those ginormous sprinkler systems. If you could get ahold of a few of those pipes, you could jury-rig a firehose to 'em. You'd then be able to start your flashflood at the centre of the crapgap and work your way out.

Better yet, a few of those extension pipes and above-gap access would work even better. Start in the dead center and flush it out in either direction, back and forth.

How about hiring a vacuum truck?

A small robot bulldozer?

A flamethrower? That oughtta slow the squirrels down.

A cement-pumping truck? You could forget about cleaning it out, and just fill the gap completely. As a bonus, it'll provide a heckuva mystery for future archaeologists.

A beefed-up Roomba?

A 6" x 24" x 48" iron wedge, a really beefy wire cable 1/3rd a block long, and a winch?

Compost starter microbes to accelerate the rot?

Start a rumour that thar's gold in them thar squirrels?
posted by five fresh fish at 10:17 PM on July 9, 2005

from the roof, how about using a hellacious magnet on a rope for the metal bits?

the winch idea is great

if you're going to make a rake-like device, how about using successive lengths of steel conduit for a handle?

hire an army of two-year olds to clean it out?
posted by billder at 10:34 PM on July 9, 2005

I was going to suggest a big-ass magnet on a cable.

I would take the "cable and wedge" idea further: Make a very sturdy grappling hook or something that's a combination between a 3-pronged grappling hook and a basket. Think about a basket with hooked teeth.

For a basic grappling hook, bend three nearly identical hooks out of rebar or barstock, making sure the finished product will fit in the gap, with the third hook being longer on the non-hooked end to loop into an "eye" for tying cable or rope to. Weld 'em together in a ninja grappling hook. Attach rope or cable. Yeah, you're going to need some heavy duty tools to make this, or take it to a welder/metalsmith.

Besides the light-bulb changing tools, they also make extremely long "third hands" with springloaded jaws for things like picking fruit, or simply grabbing stuff like this. You could also probably use one of those long-handled branch trimmers that's basically a cutter with a backstop, like a jaw.

Or consider simply a pole with a spike on it.

You'll probably have to use a combination of most/all of the above.

Watch out for water, especially pressurized or large volumes of concentrated water. You could seriously undermine the foundation and/or make easier places to burrow for furries.
posted by loquacious at 11:50 PM on July 9, 2005

How sweet to get the "city planner" who allowed buildings that close and have him clean the gap.
How high are the buildings?
posted by Cranberry at 12:19 AM on July 10, 2005

Don't use water, use air. Get 60 feet of PVC pipe with a "U" bend on one end. Blow some compressed air through the pipe. Start in the middle, pull towards you.

Warning: this will make a big mess, you will want some sort of face mask/shield, and a disposable Tyvek jumpsuit.

And you'll need a big compressor, the kind used at a construction site.
posted by Marky at 1:06 AM on July 10, 2005

Can you get a vehicle near either end? Hook your rope to a truck, tie a heavy angled steel chunk on the other end, and "pulldoze" the junk out.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 2:21 AM on July 10, 2005

I think you need to do it in more stages. Go in with some kind of net or bag. If you just drag the pile you are bound to bind on something, but if you drag the stuff along in a bag it should be easier...

Like a giant condom... as the tip fills up you unroll it a little to increase capacity...
posted by Chuckles at 3:48 AM on July 10, 2005

Hire or rent a Bobcat or something similar; that is how construction companies do it.
posted by TedW at 5:49 AM on July 10, 2005

what you were doing sounds fine but don't do it all at once - start with the block close to you and pull stuff out, then start again a bit further back.
you need a person each end of the rope so that you can lift it up and position the block.
or maybe you've already tried that?
posted by andrew cooke at 5:57 AM on July 10, 2005

As andrew cooke says, whatever you do, you should start from near the ends and move what is near the ends to the outside world; and then move a bit nearer the centre. Avoid clearing stuff directly from the centre, as that will further compacts what is already in there. Where stuff is *already* compacted, start dragging stuff off the top and gradually work your way down to ground level. Maybe whack some 6" nails at an angle into the bottom of the 4x4 so you can get a grip on stuff, and scrape those compacted piles down to ground level.

The best way to do this is to have to add a third line that runs up to the roof. The person on the roof lifts and places the block, while the people on each end of the rope at ground level pull as/when directed. Sounds like you'd need at least 100' of rope on each end of the block, plus the line to the roof.

If this does not work I'd also consider a compressor and an air line to loosen stuff up. I also second the idea of an industrial compressor (the kind that's on wheels and drives air hammers, etc.), not some puny DIY job. As it's a narrow gap the air blast should remain concentrated. Attach two ropes to the nozzle at the front and back, so you can control the pitch of the nozzle. Drop the line down the gap from the roof using the ropes, and so that it is facing so that it is blowing stuff out. Once stuff is loosened, go back to the block.

If that does notwork, it will have to be the army of robot squirrels.
posted by carter at 8:13 AM on July 10, 2005

Hire a 6 year old.

Or maybe a grappling hook. Just throw it in and drag out whatever you catch. Although, if the buildings have any kind of rough surface the hook would get caught.

Maybe a shop vac would help for the first 15 or 20 feet.

A fire hose would really be perfect if you could convince the fire company to help you, and if water in the gap isn't a problem. With a gap that narrow, crap would just rocket out the other side.

You might want to be careful about pulling things between the building with a great deal of force unless you are sure that there aren't any pipes or cables that might be hidden under the debris. Sometimes two buildings will be connected by a drain pipe right at ground level, or some other kind of piping that would be bad to pull on too hard.

How far up is it from the ground to the roof? If it's just one story you might be able to shop vac up smaller stuff to the roof.

After a bit of thought, I think that anyway you try to do it is probably going to be a multi-stage project, first trying to get rid of lighter stuff that is blocking the view of the heavier crap that is underneath.
posted by jefeweiss at 9:32 AM on July 10, 2005

Do you need to clean it? Maybe you can scare all the (live) animals out and then pour concrete over the gap and pave it over?
posted by EatenByAGrue at 11:35 AM on July 10, 2005

This sounds like a job for a firehose. If you have a volunteer department, why not give them a call and ask them if they'd do it for a donation?
posted by tommasz at 1:11 PM on July 10, 2005

This sounds like a job for a directed explosion! Build a heavy-duty metal box with an open front, 6"x24"x48". Load it with a lot of high explosives. Place into gap, open face forward. Ignite and run. The resulting explosion, contained by this fanciful box, will be directed through the gap, pushing or shredding everything in its path! Or use some nuclear device, and vapourise everything in the gap!

Mind you, you don't want to be doing this if you enjoy your buildings or freedom.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:22 PM on July 10, 2005

If it's not too simple, just duct tape a hoe to the end of a pole and hoe it out. You could use one inch PVC pipe and keep gluing on sections until you have a fifty foot pole.

It would help if you could shine in a light to see what you were doing in case there are wires or anything in there.

You can always use the fancier air, water, fire and high pressure plasma squirrel extraction methods if the hoe fails. I would be slow to use water. If it leaked into a building you'd have a new problem.
posted by Ken McE at 6:55 PM on July 10, 2005

This might be the best AskMe question ever.

There are many lovely solutions above. Just remember: the BattleBots that win always seem to incorporate some kind of wedgey ramp thing. You need to scrape and lift as you push or pull. I picture a ten-foot-high right-angled metal triangle attached to a long-ass pole. Failing that, you could just augment your flossing blocks with some aluminum ductwork or flashing molded into scoopy wedges. Cheap and shiny.

Can you please update this when you get it clean? I'm on tenterhooks.
posted by climalene at 7:28 PM on July 10, 2005

I think you should all get together at this guys place and put all your methods to the test :)

My money is on the fire hose.
posted by lemonfridge at 3:16 AM on July 11, 2005

Please ignore my earlier answer; I thought the original question said the gap was six feet. And no, I am not affiliated with Spinal Tap in any way.
posted by TedW at 9:11 AM on July 11, 2005

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