Recovering the potential in your cold storage

There are two strategies to dealing with a cold storage.

Either you close it off from the rest of your finished basement with a steel insulated door, or you embrace it as an area of great potential.

Now, you may question the great potential designation given to a room that was – up to this point – the go-to storage area for beets and potatoes. I understand the skepticism.

However, if you own a fridge and don’t have to hitch up the team of horses and wagon in preparation for your weekly ride into Dodge for supplies, then it’s probably safe to decommission this former storage site.

Where’s the potential? Well, the room most likely has four concrete walls and a concrete ceiling, creating the perfect soundproof environment for an office. Or, if space will permit, this could be a terrific theater, or fitness area.

Now, how do we make this room livable?

First, we’ve got to solve the outdoor issue. Cold storage areas are usually located under a poured concrete slab, which serves as a porch or landing, leading to the main entrance. To prevent moisture from seeping into our future living space, the porch surface will need to be sealed, or better yet, covered with a roof extended over it. Then, before we insulate, you’ll need to call your heating and cooling contractor, an electrician – and a plumber, if the room is to be served by a sink, shower, or some type of water supply.

The room will minimally need a little lighting and a few plug outlets. If the room is large enough, it will most likely need its own warm/cool air supply and cold-air return.

So, with this impending ductwork and electrical wiring to come, you’ll need a mechanical plan so that the ceiling joist can be framed in a manner that will least effect the floor-to-ceiling height. With a mechanical plan completed, we can insulate the exterior walls and ceiling.

It was common practice to put a couple of round, four-inch vents in the cold-storage wall. Because the air temperature and quality in this former cold storage area will now be serviced by your furnace, you won’t be needing this outside air source anymore. So, block them up with a pre-mixed sand/concrete product.

Next, and like any other concrete basement wall, we install a Johns Manville polyiso, ridged foam board, directly onto the concrete. With the reflective side of the foam board facing the interior, the Johns Manville polyiso can be fastened to the concrete with PL premium glue. Choose at least the one-inch thick foam sheathing, which offers R-6 of thermal value. A 1.5-inch thick foam sheathing is better, with a two-inch polyiso, offering R-12 of thermal resistance, being the best option. Seal the concrete ceiling of the cold storage with this same polyiso product.

Normally you wouldn’t need to insulate the ceiling area of a basement, because usually there’s a heated home over top. In the case of a cold storage, all you’ve got overtop is about eight inches of concrete. As a result, this cold storage ceiling is basically an extension of the foundation wall, and should be treated as such.

With the polyiso sheathing glued to the walls and ceiling – Tapcon screws with washers will help with the gravity issue – frame a 2×4 stud wall directly over the foam board. The existing cold storage height will determine whether 2×4 framing will be possible on the ceiling.

Added insulation, light fixtures, and ductwork, will all be easier to install if the ceiling can accommodate 2×4 or 2×6 framing. Otherwise, the ceiling will need at least to be strapped with 1×3 spruce.

Once the wiring is complete, fill the 2×4 cavity of both wall and ceiling with R-14 fiberglass pink insulation. Next, install a six-mm clear plastic over the insulation, then cover the wall and ceiling with a 0.5-inch, mold tough type drywall.

Enjoy your new found space.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Accepting your stone foundation

Old stone homes are beautiful. They're also pretty cold, especially in the basement. Our Handyman Hint solution? Accept it for what it is, unless you're willing to pour a lot of money into it.
Old stone homes are beautiful. They’re also pretty cold, especially in the basement. Our Handyman Hint solution? Accept it for what it is, unless you’re willing to pour a lot of money into it.

We owned a century home with a stone foundation once. Once!

As a result, when it comes to giving advice to those persons looking to invest in a home built before the invention of the automobile, and who have further ideas of transforming this stone foundation into useable storage space, I can only offer the following, “may the strength and courage of your faith guide you accordingly”.

My faith guided me right back up the stairs to our kitchen table, where within 45 minutes I had completed a drawing and structural details to our future garden shed. That’s my recommendation to those persons looking to use a stone basement for anything other than keeping a few bottles of wine slightly chilled — build the more convenient and certainly more practical alternative, that being a shed.

Should all stone foundations be judged so harshly? Absolutely.

However, the guidelines as to how user friendly a stone basement is, lies entirely on the reparation work done by the previous owner. In our case, the previous tenants were farmers and retired crafters.

So, the basement was left relatively unchanged since its modest beginnings in 1825. Which, meant whitewashed stone walls, an uneven ground floor, along with the standard “be prepared to duck” floor to ceiling beam height of about 5-1/2 feet.

Plus, two inches of floodwater would appear like clockwork every first day of spring. As a result, considering this basement area for storage space (provided it was off the floor) was slim, with any thoughts of potential living area being created out of this dungeon about as likely as a Stanley Cup parade down Yonge Street.

Needless to say, we continued the trend of ignoring the basement issue, and chose to instead direct our home renewal funds towards a new kitchen and subsequent pool.

However, what an engineer, or more structurally inclined fellow would have done, is address the basement.

How? By steadying the home with a new series of joists and strategically placed hydraulic jacks, the basement floor would be dug down a further three feet.

Next, with a new footing installed, and poured concrete knee-wall supporting the existing stone structure, we would lay the lines to our internal weeping tile system and sump pump well.

Finally, a concrete floor would be spread and levelled overtop. That’s a previous owner who would have done us one heck of a favor, regardless of the cost.

Moral of the story, for best results, buy a home formerly owned by an engineer. Otherwise, most stone foundations are caught somewhere in between their original state and complete renewal, having been subject to the usual piecemeal grout repairs.
Should a future home buyer be concerned about investing in a home with a stone foundation? Absolutely not.

We loved our stone home, and could we have logistically moved it to our new property without the aid of four Sea King helicopters, we probably would have.

Like everything else in this world, if you love most of what you see, you’re going to accept some of the weaknesses.

Is a stone foundation a concern? Stone foundations are energy losers. Solid rock is a poor insulator, while the mortar joints are responsible for continual air and moisture infiltration.

Now, combine that scenario with a ground floor, or concrete floor that may be cracked or in disrepair, and we’re talking one heck of an influx of dampness.

Remedy? If you’ve got 200 thousand bucks to spend, you re-do the basement in the aforementioned manner. Otherwise, your goal will be controlling the water, which can be accomplished by addressing the sloping landscape and eavestrough systems outside, with the possible help of a weeping tile line and sump pump unit inside.

With a strategy in place to handle the rain and ground water, a proper concrete floor, complete with ridged foam board and vapor barrier, would be the next step, solving most of the moisture issues, while at least providing you with a somewhat useable storage space.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard