Adding More Livable Space with a Basement Renovation

Adding More Livable Space with a Basement Renovation

Adding More Livable Space with a Basement Renovation

The yellow hardhat that Darcy put on when he went into his basement was not a fashion statement. It actually served a purpose.

Darcy is tall. At 63, he is tall enough so that the steel beam that runs across the middle of his basement was a real safety concern. The hard hat set on top of the railing leading down to the basement acted as his reminder to pay attention when he stepped down those stairs. The largely unfinished basement was used for laundry and storage, but he also had a sizable workshop that he used regularly. Paying attention was a must!

When Darcy and his wife Marsha decided to keep their North Toronto Cricket Club Area home, they contacted us at Walden Homes. We came up with plans to make their house work long-term for the family of five. Over the winter, we worked on a plan with them to completely rethink the basement of their home. With permits in hand, the project got started in early spring.

After consulting with our Structural Engineer, we proposed a plan to renovate the basement that included structural underpinning. We were able to add 16 inches to the ceiling height. Along with the underpinning, the houses basement drains were replaced, with a back-flow preventer installed. This prevents the city drain backup from flooding the basement, which has been an issue in areas of the city lately with the heavy rains. An interior waterproofing system was installed to keep the basement 100% dry. We installed in-floor radiant heating in its own zone so controlling the temperature year round is now an easy task.

The basement includes an office for Darcy because he works from home two days per week. A luxury washroom provides the family of five with a much needed second washroom. There is a small guest bedroom that doubles as a piano room. The largest space is the entertainment room. The side door leads down to a mudroom area that organizes all the kids stuff. There is also a small shop that Darcy uses. Prior to the renovation, they lived on the main and 2nd floor, which works out to 1,800 square feet. Now that the basement is beautifully finished, they added another 850 square feet to their living space.

We considered the option of adding a 3rd floor instead of finishing the basement, but dollar for dollar the basement worked out to more space and more upgrades to the overall house for less money spent.

We gave Darcy some extra head room by underpinning the basement.

Underpinning Your Basement

What is underpinning? This is a process that involves excavating below and reinforcing the foundation of an existing structure, like your home. It is often done in order to deepen the basement to create a full-height space. Underpinning a basement requires drawings by a Structural Engineer, soil testing by a Soil Engineer, and building permits from the city. Underpinning work should only be performed by qualified contractors working within the guidelines set out by the drawings & engineering specifications.

Low basement headroom is an issue in many older homes in Toronto. When these homes were originally built, the basement was not considered living space. So a ceiling height of 6 feet, more or less, was typical.

Besides the lower ceiling heights there are other elements that make head room even tighter. These include:

- Steel beams that support the joists of the upper floor.

- Heating and cooling ducts are often situated below the floor joist

- Radiator pipes supplying hot water to heat the house.

Basements in homes built in the earlier 1920s — 1950s were generally not designed for living. They were used more as cellars than as living space. Creating a comfortable living environment requires some core elements:

A good use of space. Small chopped up rooms are hard to use. A good layout for the basement often includes a recreation or family room, a guest bedroom, washroom, laundry room, storage, and utility. Larger basements can incorporate other elements such as a home office, gym, wine cellar, hobby room, etc.

Ceiling height: Generally, minimum ceiling height in a basement would be 7 feet. Eight feet is more comfortable (and ideal in an underpinning situation) and 9 feet a luxury that is achievable in new basements.

Dry: The basement needs to feel dry. A damp, mildew, moldy environment is never going to be comfortable, and can present health issues. There are a number of methods to assure that your basement is dry year round. With the change in weather we are experiencing, older foundations are being put to a test year round. Heavy rains and melting snow are putting pressure on systems that were not designed to handle the heavy loads. There are both interior and exterior methods that are effective and guaranteed to provide full protection. If you are considering either option, contact us at to see which option is best suited for your particular situation.

Temperature: Temperature is a key element for a basement renovation. Basements are often damp and cool, so controlling temperature is important. There are a number of ways of achieving a well-controlled temperature environment.

Some options include:

-In-floor radiant heating working off of an existing radiant heating system.

-Adding a new domestic hot water tank that combines as a boiler to supply in-floor radiant heating.

Adding More Livable Space with a Basement Renovation

-Incorporating hot water radiators or adding a zone for the basement into a forced air system that enables an owner to set the desired temperature in the basement.

Light. Lighting considerations are another critical element. Source of natural light should be maximized where possible. This is going to be dependent on the basement height relative to the outside grade of the house. Window wells can be added on the exterior for homes that do not have much space available for windows.

Doing the Math: Gaining more headroom in your basement makes sense.

You dont have to be 63 like Darcy to enjoy the benefits of more headroom in your basement. The added height will make your basement feel bigger and add comfort and functionality. When you consider the cost of a home in the city, the basement may be the least expensive square footage you can add to your home.

Lets say your home is worth $1.5 million and it was 1,800 square feet combined on the main and second floor. This works out to a cost per square foot for livable space of $833 per square foot. That is $833 x 1,800. This is the cost per foot for your livable space. If you could add another 900 square feet of livable space to your basement by adding head room, and making it more comfortable — how much would that be worth?

If you are an accountant or number cruncher, theoretically you could say that anything less than $833 would make sense.

Lets say that adding 900 square feet in the basement cost you $80,000. That works out to $88 per square foot, or roughly 10% of the cost of the rest of the square foot cost in your home. How far does $80,000 go when renovating your basement? Underpinning details, waterproofing, insulation specs, as well as the level of finishes will all factor into the cost.

Contact us to get more information about renovating your basement and getting a better understanding of the possible costs associated.

There are two approaches to gaining more ceiling height:

You can lower the basement floor. In order to lower the floor, you will have to remove the basement slab and excavate. This requires either underpinning the footings or doing a bench footing to support the existing foundation walls. Both options are possible. There are advantages to each of these alternatives. Basement lowering can be done while a homeowner is living in the house. Structural engineering and city permits are required.

Your other option is to raise the ceiling height. This option will also raise the main floor height. In more extensive full house renovations, certain cases allow for the option to raise the main floor. Lifting the floor of the main level add ceiling height to the lower level. This option is viable if ceiling heights on the main or second floor are high enough, or if the house is a bungalow and a second floor is added.

There are advantages to each of these approaches. If you would like more information about either of these options, contact us for more details.

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