The Basement Renovation Chapter 1

One of the things I was most excited about when we purchased Aslan’s House was the basement renovation. When we purchased the house there was an additional 560 square feet of space in the basement that had not been finished, and we knew that it would make the perfect guest suite. There was already a rough-in to add a bathroom, and the ceilings were not oppressively low. There was plenty of space, a large window, and we were pretty sure we could figure out a way to add a private entrance so that guests could come and go as they pleased.

When we were considering buying the house, and many others, we did a little research on how much it costs to add a walkout entrance to a basement. Our research said the costs should be in the range of $8,000 -$10,000 and we knew we would have that much to rollover from the sale of Amherst to be able to make that happen and still finish out the basement nicely. As you know from my intro post about the house, it was love at first sight with this house, and we were confident we could make the basement work.

After we got settled in from the move, and got through the holidays, I started calling around to figure out the actual pricing on our biggest ticket item: the walkout entrance. Everything else hinged on this project – if we could find an affordable contractor, if our lot was amenable to this project, and if we could get permission from the city to add this exterior entrance to our house. I spoke to a few contractors and had a couple out to the house for bids. Each of the bids came back with a MINIMUM of $18,000!!!!!!! And that was just for a scary concrete chute with stairs in it that would go down the side of the house and enter through the basement via a single door. No double doors to let in light, no comfortable landing halfway down to catch your balance, no nice decorative rock or landscaping or anything else. Oy.

So, the project came to a screeching halt. This project alone, IF we could get permission and get through the rezoning process and IF we could find a contractor to do the project for this price, would cost us over 2/3rds of our reno budget! That’s just crazy!  So we took a break over the holidays to figure out if there was another way to go about this. Surely there must be some other way that didn’t drain all our budget and wouldn’t be a huge headache!

Then, one morning, I woke up with an idea. Sometimes the best ideas come from being told “No, there’s no way to do that, you’ll have to find another way.” Right? So here was my idea:

Currently, both sets of stairs in our house were nested one under the other. The stairs to the second floor started right at the front entrance, and were generously sized but kind of crammed into the little entrance area. The stairs to the basement were nested directly underneath, and were a long straight shot down to the basement, terminating right at the basement wall with about a three foot landing. Here’s a super technical drawing to show you what I am talking about:













My idea was this: what if we turned both sets of stairs? The upstairs would need to turn ninety degrees so that they began in the living room, and the basement stairs would need to turn 180 degrees so that when you came in the front door you could go directly down to the basement. I pitched it to Lover and he didn’t say I was insane, so we started talking to the experts.













Luckily for us, we just so happen to have great friends who live nearby, and the husband builds stairs and railings for a living!!! So one evening when they were over, we pitched our idea to him, and asked him about the feasibility (and cost!) of rebuilding a staircase in a different part of the house. And here’s the really cool part. He told us that in houses like ours, the staircases are built as one single unit, that is then attached to the floor and walls in a house. Basically, it’s like those dollhouses you played with as a kid where the staircase was one of the pieces of furniture that you could move around where ever you wanted! So the project would entail detaching the stairs from their current place, and then moving the entire staircase to the new location and securing it back in place.

So, obviously our next question was “can we hire you?” It sounded like a pretty doable project, but you don’t want to mess around with structural stuff like that without an expert! And because our friend is awesome, he was like “how ’bout I just come down on a Saturday and help you guys instead?” Well, you can probably imagine our answer.

So, on a snowy day in February, our friends showed up bright and early, ready to tear out our walls, put holes in our stairs and generally cause destruction! They’re the best kind of friends! I’ll leave you with this before picture and this picture mid-project to whet your appetite for the next chapter!



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