Monday, January 26, 2009
Digging out your basement to add new space
By Ann Robinson and Annie Schwemmer
When you are thinking of ways to use the existing space in your home, don't forget to look in the basement.
A basement remodel can be a less-expensive, less-invasive alternative to a home addition. It doesn't require changing the exterior of your home or encroaching into your yard.
A remodeled basement can give you the additional space your family needs. But what if your basement is hardly a basement? Can your shelf basement with low ceilings and small windows ever become more than just storage space?
With the help of an architect and a good excavation crew, even shelf basements can be turned into extra bedrooms, a family room or your dream home theater.
Digging out a basement involves tearing out the existing concrete floor (and shelf, if there is one), excavating the dirt for the additional space you want to capture, then pouring a new lower section of concrete foundation and a new concrete floor. It is possible to create space with 8-, 9- or even 10-foot ceilings.
A basement excavation might be an option for you if:
1. You have a shallow, partial or shelf basement
2. You need a larger home but you really don't want to move.
3. You have a small lot or for some other reason don't want to encroach into your yard with an addition. Besides a good architect to help you lay out your new basement plan in the most advantageous way, this project requires the services of a structural engineer and a good contractor who knows how to tackle this work while protecting the structural integrity of your home.
The excavation can be done by manual labor or with machinery. Manual labor requires muscles, shovels and a conveyor belt. The dirt is loaded onto the conveyor, which moves it up and out of the basement, usually through an opening made by removing a window. This method is the most environmentally friendly approach, but it costs more in time and money than using machinery.
The machinery approach requires digging down somewhere in your yard to expose the foundation wall. An opening is then made that is large enough to accommodate a small Bobcat or excavator. The Bobcat is driven into the basement and makes quick work of the removal of the soil.
Though this method is faster, it comes with a fair amount of noise and fumes and leaves your landscape in need of restoration and repair.
However, if the design is well thought out and coordinated with your contractor, you can actually turn that "hole" into an entry into your basement or an oversize window well — increasing the basement's safety and the amount of natural light it receives.
Lowering a basement floor is usually done in conjunction with a total basement remodel, so existing walls, plumbing, etc. are removed before the excavation begins. Additional expenses you'll need to consider include the extension of existing staircases to meet the new lower floor, the construction of new interior walls, lowering plumbing lines and dealing with how they intersect with the existing sewer line, and enlarging the windows of any bedrooms to meet egress (exiting) codes.
Building codes require that each basement bedroom have a window whose lower ledge is not more than 44 inches from the floor and has at least 5.7 square-feet of clear opening space.)
With a creative plan and a good architect, even your dark and dingy basement can be remodeled into a bright and spacious part of your home, ready to help you meet the growing and changing needs of your family. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.