With the cost of housing increasing each year in Toronto and the GTA area, buyers are always looking for the most value for their money. Smart homeowners recognize that they can add house value through bathroom and kitchen remodeling, basement waterproofing or increasing square footage with basement lowering.
Utilitarian basements are no longer sufficient for today’s family needs, and older floor plans are typically considered old fashioned and impractical unless improvements have been made. Even with basement remodel costs added in, you’ll get top dollar and a great return on investment when selling your home if it includes a trendy entertainment room, office space, kitchenette or basement apartment. Let’s explore how basement lowering can help.
What is Basement Lowering?
Basement lowering refers to the process of reinforcing an existing, unstable foundation or lowering the basement floor to increase the overall ceiling height. In both cases, the basement floor and soil underneath is excavated out and replaced at a lower level.
Today’s basement lowering methods have remained very similar to those done a hundred years ago. The uses and benefits, however, are very different.
What is Required?
The main purpose for basement lowering is either to strengthen the existing foundation or to vertically extend it. Either way, you’ll need to determine the reason for the work. In both cases, you’ll increase your property’s value. A crumbling or unstable foundation will need to be repaired before selling the home; and by adding more usable living space in the basement, potential buyers are more likely to pay a higher price.
Depending on the purpose of the project, basement lowering is usually done in 2 ways:
- Basement Underpinning: “Underpinning” the existing foundation footing to allow for the new basement height, this method maximizes the space of your basement and is completed directly under the existing foundation. Underpinning is done in sections in a staged sequence, the typical underpinning project has stages 1 to 3 . Sections usually span 3 to 4 ft wide, with a depth of 2 to 3 ft. This varies based on soil conditions – such as compaction and the type of aggregate material your house was built on, and the existing foundation of your home. A staged approach (usually 3 stages) is used since the existing foundation wall is still carrying load and it is normally only acceptable to undermine a short section of foundation wall at a time. Note that It is vitally important to leave undisturbed sections of soil between each stage to ensure the continued support of the foundation wall during this construction process. By following the staged sequence process you allow the basement to be lowered in a controlled and safe manner. Thus causing little to no shifting or settling of existing house structure.
- Bench Footings: “Benching” is the term used to describe a concrete bench which is constructed over top of a stable excavation slope when a basement floor is being lowered without extending the foundation wall footings to a lower level.Thus leaving the existing footings as is and undisturbed. In benching, a stable excavation slope is maintained below the foundation wall footings and a concrete protection “bench” is constructed over top of the stable excavation slope. A concrete bench is the combination of concrete and rebar around the internal perimeter of your existing structure. This process is usually used as an alternative to underpinning, reducing the construction costs, or it is done to avoid undermining an existing neighbouring structure that could be undermined during the underpinning.The con with “Benching” is the considerable large size of the benched footing itself extended out from the foundation wall face. As the depth of the basement lowering increases so does the size of the concrete bench thus decreasing the total amount of livable space in the basement.
What are the Benefits?
If you’re trying to decide which remodeling project will provide the best return on your investment at resale, basement lowering wins hands down. Here’s why:
- More Value: When you open up your basement for more practical uses such as a game room, home office, media center or in-law apartment, you widen the appeal to a greater number of potential buyers. This will sell your home more quickly and at a higher price than other homes in your area.
- Improved Structural Integrity: No matter the reason for lowering your basement – creating more head room or accommodating an upper level expansion – the process will strengthen your home’s structure and extend its lifespan. Foundation damage can be caused from aging, soil type, extreme weather and poor workmanship. The new foundation will strengthen your entire home and reduce the risk of major structural problems.
- Uncover Hidden Problems: The process of lowering the basement floor requires removal of a portion of the foundation and exposure of hidden mechanicals like plumbing, electrical, insulation and HVAC. This will allow for easy inspection and repair damages quickly.
- A Healthier & Drier Home: Older basements can develop cracks and leaks over time, allowing water seepage, mold growth and musty odors. Many types of mold have been proven to cause serious health risks and the basement lowering process can rectify any problem areas. You’ll improve air quality and have an opportunity to install significant waterproofing components. Incorporating a sump pump and battery backup in the newly added room will keep the area dry and free from damaging mold and mildew.
- Added Square Footage: So often, homeowners searching for extra space opt for building above-ground additions instead of using the area right below their feet. A two-story home with a low-ceiling basement could potentially gain up to 50% more usable area by underpinning instead of building out. In addition, basement lowering can be a cost-effective and time-saving alternative to constructing another room.
- Rental Income: It may be possible to incorporate a new or expanded entrance to your basement during the underpinning process. Doing so would allow you to turn your new space into a complete apartment. Not only would the extra income provide value to your home, but it would also help you recover the cost of the renovation work.
- Energy Savings: While a good percentage of energy is used for heating and cooling your home, an unfinished basement and insufficient insulation can cause inefficient energy usage throughout the year. Lowering your basement can provide an opportunity to incorporate more effective insulation methods that can help reduce heating and cooling bills and add even more value to your home.
If your home is like many older homes in Toronto and you’d like to finish your basement to fit your modern lifestyle, a low ceiling height would likely cause some major remodeling headaches. Lowering your basement may be the perfect solution for turning an unusable area into a brand new playroom for the kids, man cave or even a private apartment for your adult children who have moved back home.
As with any renovation work, it’s wise to consult with a professional before starting your project. You’ll want to find someone with experience in basement lowering to guide you through the process. It may take a little time and money to transform your dark, dingy basement into a place that everyone will want to use, but the transformation will be spectacular and so will the added value to your home.