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Low Headroom:
Digging The Basement Deeper


Do you have any info on excavating floors where the ceiling height is insufficient in a basement?

Lesley R



Yes, there's an easy way to excavate basement floors, but they no longer sell dynamite at hardware stores.

This isn't a technically difficult task, but there is LOTS of labor. The floor needs to be cut around the perimeter, then cut or broken into chunks and hauled out. One square foot of concrete at the usual 4 inch thickness will weigh about 45 pounds. Multiply that by the square footage of your basement (1,000 square feet would be common) and you have over 22 TONS of rock to haul out of the basement and put somewhere. WHERE? Your flower beds? You could make a nice retaining wall from broken concrete, if you're creative. Getting this hauled away could cost several hundred dollars in most locales.

Just when your muscles are aching, the hard work begins. You get to dig out the soil. This would take some time and a lot of effort. You might choose to make this your new exercise plan, and do an hour of digging and hauling every day after work. You'd be surprised... in a few months you'll have it excavated. But you need to make sure you don't undermine the footings, which shouldn't be a big problem if you are only excavating a foot or so.

Then you have to pour a new slab. That's a lot of hard labor too. Do you have 4 to 6 strong friends or relatives that owe you money?  That's about the only way to get anybody to do this work... cajoling!

There may be ways to do this with heavy equipment, such as a small Bobcat loader. You can rent those things for under $200 a day in most areas, but you'll need to excavate a ramp to get into the basement, plus cut a hole in the basement wall to get the machine in there. And build a suitable beam/header over the opening you cut. This is getting complicated, isn't it?

What I would be considering, because I have this low-grade engineering degree, is raising the house a foot or so to give you the extra headroom. The extension to the basement walls does not need to be concrete, it can be framed with some serious wood, such as 2x8's spaced 16" on center. You could just do solid wood if the height wasn't too much. Now, house raising isn't a topic I'm going to get into here. Yes, I've discussed some simple topics such as leveling sagging floors with a few readers, but raising an entire house is serious stuff for people who either have extensive handyman experience, or are crazy, or both (like me). I'd try it on my own house in a heartbeat, because I have this technical education that helps, I think. But if something went wrong, what would the insurance company say? They'd say "tough luck buddy". The possibilities for financial ruin are quite high. Ahhh, I'll try it on my girlfriend's house.

However, you might talk to some companies that do house moving. Moving a house down the road is expensive, but just lifting it up isn't quite so bad. If you can make a truly livable basement (if the walls are reasonably sound and don't let much water in) you might increase the value of your house by more than it cost to raise the house.

Bruce W. Maki, Editor.





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Copyright 2002

Compiled April 24, 2002