Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Basement Update - There's a Lot of Living Space Down There!!!

Wow, thanks so much to all of you for ideas on what we should do with the Cozy Cottage basement.  I really appreciate it and you gave me a lot to think about!

Here's your feedback.  Looks like almost everyone likes the idea of finishing the basement. That certainly goes with my inclination as well.  With a small house, this is valuable square footage that can really be helpful for the new owners.  Here's a breakout of all the input:  

And after working through all the feedback, here are a couple of thoughts:

  • Lots of people suggested putting the laundry upstairs.  While I would love that, there simply isn't a place to put it, without compromising the kitchen or bath space. So we'll just have to make the basement laundry a nice one.
  • A bathroom is a great idea, we just need to determine where all the existing plumbing is under the slab, to see what we can practically tie into
  • Based on all the different ideas to use the space, it seems like final use will depend a lot on the age and interests of the future buyers. So I'll just finish the space generically and they can customize it to suit their needs. 
  • Light!!!  The space needs as much daylight as possible, so I'm trying to find a way to maximize it. 

With all that in mind, we got started with the first crucial step - getting a dry basement.  Dave from Concrete Prescriptions has helped us on a lot of basements and this one had the usual challenges.  For example, the original house had a drainage system, but in the last 55 years, the old terra cotta drain pipes had gotten clogged up and the water had no where to go.  So as he broke up the basement slab, it looked like we had a moat around the perimeter.  See all that concrete and dirt?  It's back breaking work, to carry it out, but it's a crucial first step.
Yeah.....that's a lot of water trapped down there!

But once he had the sump pit dug and new drainage lines installed (with lots of gravel, drainage pipe and a fabric membrane, to eliminate clogging in the future), the water level immediately receded.  And within 24 hours, the basement started feeling a whole lot nicer and drier.  What a huge difference it made!
The new drainage makes all the difference.  After a heavy rain, it's still nice and dry!
Dave had uncovered the plumbing lines under the slab, so we could start figuring out where a basement bathroom could go.  It's critical that the drain lines have the appropriate pitch, so we won't have any plumbing issues.  We discovered that locating the bathroom right in the middle of the room made the most sense.  Our plumber added all new drain lines and we got a thumbs up from the city inspector.  Then Dave could close up the floor with new concrete.  

With that key part of the design defined, it let me start planning the rest of the space.  And there were some key elements we had to consider.  The laundry room has similar drainage requirements as the bathroom, so the washer will be close to the bathroom.  The new boiler will need to use the existing chimney, so its location can't change much.  That defines the utility/storage space for the basement (and also houses stuff like the sump pit, water meter, oil tank, etc).

And thanks to all your suggestions and ideas, I realized the 'finished' space should really be a flex space, that the future owners can utilize to meet their needs.  So the rest of the basement will be one large room.  On one side, we'll have the egress exit, so that could be a future 3rd bedroom, if someone wanted it (that includes it's own lighting, thermostat, etc).  Otherwise, they could keep it as a big open room. Lots of flexibility for a family room, home office, playroom, etc!

Dave used a 'wet' chain saw to cut the concrete block
But I still want to get natural light in there.   That will make the space so much nicer!  After looking at the options, we decided to go with 3 different daylight sources.  1)  We increased the window size on one wall, where the exterior grade was lower 2) we're going to use a clear plexiglass type bulkhead egress door (more about that later) that will stream light into the room, and 3) we're adding a window in the stairwell.  All that light should make a difference!
The new window is a lot bigger than the original!
Look at all that light!!!

Next, we set about insulating the space.  While a basement tends to stay at a constant 55 degrees, it's important to insulate the walls to eliminate any condensation - particularly during the humid summer months.  The guys applied 2" rigid foam all around the perimeter.  This is over top of a vapor barrier that drains down into the perimeter drain, ensuring any moisture that comes through the walls is channeled directly to the drain.  This will make for a very comfortable space in any season.  The studs are added in front of the foam, so electrical and plumbing can all be accommodated. And later we'll have closed cell foam blown in at the sills, to really make this warm and tight!

Future laundry room!
We still need electrical, the rest of the plumbing, walls and more.  So it will be awhile before I can show you finished space - but it's already such a huge improvement from our starting point.  And most importantly, we're doing the necessary infrastructure work to make it a bright, comfortable and dry space. Great progress!!  

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  1. I like it...and the flexibility it gives to the next owner.

    1. Flexibility seemed to make the most sense! Empty nesters don't need a playroom! An single woman probably doesn't want a man cave!!! This way the new owners can do whatever makes the most sense for them!!

  2. Each week I enjoy seeing the work you have accomplished. This week is no exception. It is going to be a fabalous space when you are one.

    1. Thanks Linda! It feels like we're suddenly making progress! Can't wait to keep the updates coming!!

  3. Flexibility is a good thing. I do wonder why you decided not to put in a shower in the bath. The laundry is quite large and an expanded bathroom could take up part of that space, and the door arrangement through the laundry to the powder room seems a bit awkward, and the space around the toilet is so tight it could be a knee knocker for a tall person.

    1. Hi Kathy - thanks so much for studying the design! Let me see if I can answer your questions.

      There is a lot going on in that laundry room that's required to make us building code compliant, that didn't get shown in the drawings. For example, the sewer cleanout for the house is between the washer and the powder room (we'll build a cabinet around it so it will look nicer and can still be accessible). And at the other end is the electrical panel, which needs to have 30" x 30" of space clear all around it (and it can't be in a closet or cabinet). We also couldn't make the powder room wider on the backside, or we would be crowding the boiler. So there were lots of constraints. As it is, in a small house, a half bath is a bonus!

      And the toilet position in the drawing is wrong. It actually runs the long way in the 3.5' x 7' room - plenty of space! It also has a pocket door (my CAD system didn't have a way to show that), so there won't be doors bumping into one another.

      Hope that helps explain our design layout!

  4. To rub a little balm on having the LR in the basement, could you work in a laundry chute? Then the laundry gets schlepped in only one direction!

    1. I love that idea and have tried to figure out how we could do it.....and it's certainly possible. But the chute would have to run through the foyer closet, eliminating space at the bottom for important things like boots. We have a lot of boots here in Maine!! So I'm not sure that's a workable solution.

      In this neighborhood, I'd guess 90% of the houses have the laundry in the basement (usually in an unfinished section), so its not unusual to have the basement in the laundry. And if ultimately someone had to have it on the first floor, it could be done, but they'd have to sacrifice bathroom or closet space (which in my experience, people really want a nice bath and closet, more than the laundry room).

    2. I live in Canada, so we have similar weather (tons of boots!!) and so I totally understand needing to keep that closet reserved for gear. I currently have a teeny laundry room on my main floor and would gladly trade it out for a tricked-out laundry room in our basement. In fact, when we built our home, I told my builder that... but he really pushed us into having it on the main floor (for resale value). Considering we have lived in this home for almost 20 years and have no plans to move anytime soon, I wish I had stuck to my guns!

    3. Ha ha - yes you do know boots!!! I'm hoping a pretty laundry room in the basement will make someone feel like it's worth going up and down the steps :-) For this house, it's really the smartest solution.

  5. Hi Laurel,
    I love your blog. I own a Cape Cod similar to many of the ones you work on and you've given me wonderful ideas. I have a basement very similar to this one. It has a sump pump and although mostly a dry basement (it remained water free even during Hurricane Sandy) on the few occasions it's been raining for many days, I get some water through the foundation (and always on the opposite side of the sump pump) I'd given up hope of ever refinishing it. I will be following this job for ideas. The divisions are exactly what I need, a storage/utility area, a laundry room, half a bath and living space.

    1. I'm so glad we've helped you with a bit of inspiration!!! Thanks for following along with our journey!


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