How to create and sustain basement life

Last week, we discussed the importance of ensuring your basement space is capable of remaining dry, essentially step one in the creation of a new living area.

Basically, your concrete walls will need to be impermeable to water and moisture entry, or minimally have some type of system in place to deal with water penetration should your foundation be susceptible to such occurrences. Without a dry environment, your basement is best to remain as storage space, and an area to hone one’s slap shot.

With step one secured, let’s move on to step two, making this space livable.

Besides some of the obvious necessities of life (oxygen, nutrition, beer fridge, and the such), living in a basement will be a whole lot more pleasant with two key features— them being headroom, and natural light.

Headroom is especially important, and can present quite the challenge if the original builder had no foresight of this area accommodating life for anybody other than those under the age of eight, or cats. With furnace ductwork and plumbing pipes travelling under the joist system, and/or support beams being spaced at 12- to 14-foot intervals, trying to locate a pool table, or even a safe walking area for those with the option of careers in basketball, can be a problem.

If budgetary constraints are nonexistent, then the answer to mechanical height issues can be simple, either dig the basement down two feet deeper, or raise the home two feet. However, this could cost you in the neighborhood of $100,000, which might be a little much if you’re simply looking for a spot to accommodate your stairmaster and a few dumbbells.

So, let’s look at re-routing the ductwork and plumbing. Our goal will be to remove it completely from the common living area, or minimally push these mechanical systems out towards the walls, creating ample headroom in the middle of the room.

These changes will require the insight of a professional heating/cooling specialist, and a plumber. Air can be pushed up, down, and around, so the re-routing of ductwork is usually possible. Poop and water, on the other hand, rely on gravity, and have to flow downward, at a specific slope, which might make the re-routing of your plumbing pipes a little more challenging.

Regardless, show the mechanical professionals where you’d like your living space to be, and have them work on a strategy.

Next, basements always seem a little less like basements when you have natural light. Plus, if people are going to be hanging out in your basement, or if you have teenagers in the home, who might be having friends over, maybe staying up past your 9:30 p.m. bedtime, and maybe sleeping over, then for all these reasons, and certainly if there’s a planned bedroom in the basement, you’re going to want a basement space that’s egress compliant.

Egress means ‘exit’, which in the case of a finished basement, is explained in the building code as an easy means of exiting a space in the case of emergency.

Most stairways leading up to the homes main floor inevitably direct you towards the kitchen, which unfortunately is the place where most home fires start. After first being awakened by a smoke alarm, then a whole lot of shouting, and while in a state of panic, the basement dweller’s first thoughts of survival should not involve covering themselves with a blanket, climbing up the stairs, making their way through smoke and fire, basically following a route to which only a trained firefighter could survive, until they reach the front door.

What they should be doing is racing towards the egress window, located only seconds away, flipping it up, and safely exiting the home.

Because older homes often have the sliding type of basement window, and are buried in window wells on the exterior that further impede the escape process, the minimum spacing for safe exiting is often not met.

Next week, creating a safe basement environment with proper egress windows.

Good building.

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

Step No. 1 to finish your basement

At some point in the life of homeowners the idea of turning an existing basement, which up to this point has served the home as little more than a giant closet for junk and seasonal apparel, into real living space, will cross the kitchen table.

Strategically, the finishing of a basement makes sense. You’re heating and cooling 1,200 square feet of area that’s presently housing maybe three key elements to the home: them being the furnace, freezer, and beer fridge, and not necessarily in that order.

Which leaves about 1,100 square feet dedicated to mostly junk, so we’re talking a pretty lousy return on your home investment.

As a result, it would make sense to turn such an existing storage space, or a portion thereof, into something of real living value, like an exercise area, big-screen TV room, an extra bedroom or two, or simply a play area for the kiddies.

However, and logistically, there may be challenges.

So, before ordering your Peloton exercise bike and investing in series five of the buns of steel fitness videos, let’s make sure your basement is ready to be finished.

First, has water ever infiltrated your basement in the form of moisture spots or pools of water on the floor, or even minor flooding? If the answer to this question is either sometimes, only in the spring or fall, or simply well, it’s happened once, then officially list this project as a non-starter.

Those persons finishing their basements must understand of all the frustrations you’re bound to face regarding the finishing of this basement, be it mechanical systems, the permit process, arguments regarding the location of your free-standing popcorn machine, and discussions as to whether or not your chaise-lounger should include the hot dog-warming option; none of these stresses will compare to the heartbreak of water infiltration, or worse, a flooding.

Until you do what it takes to ensure the status of your basement is officially regarded as bone dry, moving forward with this project would be extremely risky. Therefore, check the concrete basement walls for cracks, and any areas of previous water infiltration.

Do-it-yourself, crack-injection kits are available to solve minor fissure issues, while moisture-sealing paints, such as Zinser’s Watertight product, do well to solve concrete walls that feel moist, or that tend to condensate during certain periods of the year. Try these first-aid type products first, then wait a few weeks to gauge their success.

If you achieve dry, congratulations, you might be ready to move on.

If, on the other hand, there’s anything more serious than this going on, such as a very obvious wall crack, water infiltration at the point where the wall meets your concrete floor, or sump pump issues, then the hiring of an experienced professional will need to be your next call.

After having succeeded in creating a dry basement, the next step will involve strategizing the use of space. Invite a favourite contractor or home designer over to help you with this challenge. And, it will be a challenge.

Essentially, you’ll be attempting to compartmentalize your basement into four sections: them being living space, mechanical/furnace room, workshop area, and storage.

Getting rid of some of the junk, moving boxes and shelving out of the way, and a general clean-up, all in an effort to create floor space, will be helpful start to this evaluation. However, the real issues often lie in what’s above.

Some homes have the luxury of what’s referred to as an open-web joist design, which allows the plumbing, electrical, and furnace ductwork to travel basically unimpeded throughout the basement, while not affecting the headroom— now that’s smart building. Or, you can have a home similar to ours, where the original owner had all the foresight of a fruit fly, having all the mechanical and plumbing fixtures fly under the 2×10 joists, providing a basement space where I have to duck every 10 steps in order to avoid concussion.

Next week, basement planning.

Good building.

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

Notice of continuing suspension

The biggest single factor related to the effective finishing of a basement space is ceiling height.

Basically, and in most cases, there’s rarely enough of it.

So, other than spending $150,000, to have your home raised off its foundation, or conversely, hammering out your basement’s concrete floor, and gaining the headroom by digging down a few steps, the challenge to finishing a basement involves dealing with the many ceiling obstacles. Our goal is to install a suspended ceiling.

It’s a logical choice for a basement due to the vast series of ductwork, plumbing, and wiring that may on occasion require cleaning, repair, or adjustment. The dilemma?

In order for our ceiling tiles to be installed and removed (if necessary) with relative ease, the grid components will need to be four inches lower than the floor joists above. Or, four inches below whatever’s lower than the joists.

Basically, there are three things we shouldn’t touch in a basement, being the floor joists, which support the first floor components, the beam supporting the floor joists, and the jack posts supporting the beam. If you didn’t make the connection, “support” was the key word here.

So remember, you never touch something that is, or in any way could be, supporting something else.

Unless, of course, you’re willing to put down the big bucks for some re-engineering.

If we can’t touch the posts, or the beams, or the joists, then in order to get a reasonably high ceiling, let’s look to move some of the plumbing and ductwork that are cluttering our otherwise perfectly good ceiling. If the original homeowner, or builder, didn’t have a finished basement strategy in mind, then the tradespeople would have taken the simplest, most direct route when making the various plumbing and ductwork connections.

Now that we’re talking finished ceiling, it’s time to call the plumber and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) fellows back. Their goal will be to re-route the plumbing and mechanical venting, if possible, around what would be the future finished area. With a little imagination, and the help of some engineering mechanics or motorization, plumbing and ductwork can be directed through the utility, or storage areas of the basement.

If logistics dictate that certain plumbing lines or venting must pass through the finished area, then perhaps it can be relegated to the edges of the room. This way, the pipes and vents could be hidden by a false wall, or bulkhead, and go practically unnoticed.

As mentioned last week, we want to install the perimeter moldings first, then the main tees, placing them four feet apart, and perpendicular to the joists. With the room’s dimensions drawn to scale on a sheet of graph paper, outline where the four-foot and two-foot crosspieces will be placed.

The graph paper will allow you to more easily centre the tiles and avoid too narrow a border – less than six inches is too thin, and unattractive. Plus, it’ll strategically help you avoid obstructions such as beams and posts.

Inserting the cross pieces should not be left to guesswork, or trial and error. These components are stubborn to detach if you’ve inserted them in the wrong hole. So, avoid the hassle, and get things drawn on paper first. Having things on paper will also help you plan a lighting schedule.

Be sure to secure the help of your electrician when deciding how much recessed lighting will be necessary. What size of tile works best? The larger 2’x4’ tiles are easier and quicker to manipulate, while the 2’x2’ tiles, due to their softer, less etched surface, and recessed edge, generally look better.

If you’ve got a lot of border cutting to do, a recessed tile will require a lot of extra trimming. In this case, you may want to use a non-recessed tile for the border only, keeping the more decorative tiles for the center of the room.

Good building.

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