By Ann Robinson and Annie Vernon
Greg and Nadia Letey bought their Sugar House home for sentimental reasons. “Nadia’s grandparents were the first owners of the home and raised Nadia’s mother here,” explains Greg. The Leteys also loved the location and appearance of the 1930s Tudor.
The Letey family made their shallow basement usable by excavating it. (See this basement excavation)
But there were drawbacks, including the fact that the home’s 1,700 square feet of living space seemed cramped for the Leteys’ growing family and two large dogs. Because of the couple’s emotional ties to the home and location, they ruled out moving. And because they wanted to limit changes to the exterior appearance of their classic home, they also opted out of a major addition. Finally, finishing their shallow basement hardly seemed viable because its ceiling was only 6 1/2 feet high — barely enough clearance space for Greg’s 6-foot frame.
The solution? The Leteys decided to excavate their basement. Though excavating adds to the total cost of converting a basement into living space, it can be well worth it. Excavating can turn shelf or partial basements into large, quality living areas and give formerly shallow basements 9-foot ceilings, creating the feel of a newer home. Excavating is also a way to expand a home’s square footage without taking up yard space or overbuilding in a classic neighborhood.
The Leteys are adding about 2 1/2 feet to their basement’s height and digging out additional living space under the current breezeway of their home. When the project is completed, they will have a large laundry room, a bathroom, a large play room, two bedrooms, and a family room with kitchenette in their previously small basement, nearly doubling the square footage of the original home.
The Letey family wanted more living space but didn’t want to move from their Sugar House Tudor home or change the exterior with a large addition. (See this basement excavation)
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, and (3) you don’t want to make an addition that would change your home’s exterior appearance and/or encroach into your yard.
Digging out a basement involves tearing out the existing concrete floor (and shelf, if there is one), excavating the dirt from the additional space you want to capture, then pouring a new concrete foundation and floor.
This can be done by manual labor, which makes no impact on the exterior of your home and yard but costs more. You can do it yourself using rental equipment — your local heavy equipment rental will likely offer backhoe rentals, bobcat rentals, mini excavators, and other equipment that can be driven into the basement. If you are making a main floor addition, this equipment can be driven through the space where the addition will be built. If not, you will need to cut an entry into the lower side of your house for the construction equipment to enter. But we’ve heard stories about homes collapsing when novices try excavating on their own so the safest bet is to hire an experienced excavating contractor to do the job.
This might sound a little scary, but you can actually turn that “hole” into a ground-level entry into your basement—increasing your basement’s safety and the amount of natural light it receives.
Additional expenses you’ll need to consider are the rebuilding of a staircase and any existing interior walls of your basement, lowering plumbing and possibly the main sewer if you are lowering the floors of your basement, and enlarging windows to code of any bedrooms you plan on adding to the basement (see last week’s column on basement remodeling design). As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.