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Bringing a finished basement to new heights

There is some serious headroom in this basement playroom.

There is some serious headroom in this basement playroom.

This is part 2 of a previous post. Read from the beginning here. The symbolism almost made it worth it. We just began digging when our first (and hopefully only) obstacle was unearthed in the form of a century-old, eight-inch sewer main right in our path.

Luckily I hang onto aces for this kind of thing. Upon first seeing the ancient behemoth, my go-to plumber shook his head: “You’ve got a major problem here.” I listened to him explain all the reasons nothing could be done, patiently waited during a few minutes of thoughtful silence, then came the nod and “OK, I got this.” I never had a doubt.

He used a camera snake to confirm that the size of pipe heading towards the house’s rear was no longer essential and served nothing but the yard drain. He then removed the terracotta pipe from one end of the basement to the other (which we had to pulverize with a sledgehammer to lift out in buckets) and attached new 4” cast iron. The difference in the pipe size, along with a considerably slighter pitch, gave us exactly the clearance needed to reach our desired floor depth.

Back came the diggers and masons. We formed the benching and underpinning sections in alternating sequence and filled them with concrete. Then came the all-important floor pour day, which went without a hitch (though I held my breath while watching the massive concrete truck delicately inch its chute into the tiny, street-level window opening).

Since we were designing the basement details on the fly, I worked with the framers to maximize every possible space available. We used a “Chicago grid” system for the ceiling, which suspends the metal framing a few inches away from any wires or pipes and allows for finished drywall. The plumber and electrician relocated any junction boxes and shut-off valves in the ceiling, and we made sure to allow plenty of future access to the various meters, panels, boxes and valves.

The new basement space is planned as a playroom, so we weren’t looking for a lot of bells and whistles – just a simple, cozy, spacious and safe spot for the little ones to give mommy and daddy a moment’s peace.