Once we bought our final house and my wife and I started discussing the details of the decor and design that we would have, she made an interesting proposal to me. I would be allowed to do anything I want underground as long as she held sway above ground. I mean, really? What an awesome deal! Of course renovating a house built in 1950 required a lot of decisions all the way around, but free reign in my own space? BWAHAHAHAHAAH!
Yes. Besides rubbing my hands together and cackling like a B-Movie villain, I was ready for this task. I had a 1100 sq ft unfinished basement that I could do anything I wanted to. I confirmed my wife’s commitment to this, and praised her continuously for her foresight to let me go on this endeavor.
Once I started working on the design I realized there were many problems to solve. And since this was under the house my options might be severely limited. Here are the original images of the basement.
The floor plan was basically this when we started:
While an interesting space it had a lot of problems for the future Cave of Awesomeness and Gaming. The first thing that was needed was to rearrange everything into different spaces that made better use of the space. We went through a lot of different designs before coming up with something that was close to what we wanted.
With the last design we seemed to have a winner in many ways. One of the primary issues with the basement was the 7′ ceilings. I was given two choices, one was to raise the house, which probably would not have flown well in the historical neighborhood I am in, or to dig down. Dig down? Hmmm, underground lair… BWAHAHAHAHAAH!
Yes, digging down. I did not really understand what that would entail until the work actually began. To gain two feet of space means they had to dig down four feet, and build a giant french drain under the entire basement floor to handle the ground water that would be seeping up. Then there was the need to reinforce the basement walls. In the end we ended up with 17″ thick concrete walls, a 16″ thick concrete floor, and two sump tanks, one of which is three feet wide and seven feet deep. Two steel beams cross the ceiling holding the entire house up off the basement allowing us to not need any pillars in any of the rooms. We could hide them all in the walls.
Yes, if you ignore the wooden house above me, I do have a bunker. Minus the roof that is… so close.
After removing 600,000 lbs of material in the basement they were able to start building it all back.
In retrospect, this was a huge job. And yes, they did start all the digging manually. There was not sufficient room for an excavator, yet. They needed to selectively remove sections of the floor, rebuild it, then add in the new wall to the old wall so that the house could be supported. Then remove the rest of the floor. We also discovered a horrifying fact. With the age of the house, the sewage pipes were all made of iron. Old rusty iron. Old rusty iron pipes that were stuffed full… Yes, full. In fact the iron pipes were so soft they could be crushed and ripped apart with your bare hands. Well, assuming you did not mind your hands full of shit.
By finding this issue, we saved ourselves from a catastrophe in the next few years when they would have exploded all of the new man cave.
The next stage was to start putting the pieces in.
And now that we had some reinforcement we were able to finally breach the outside wall and bring in real heavy gear.
And more walls go up
And with our only true egress point sealed again the only way in and out of the basement was via a ladder. Here you can see laying out conduit for floor power where the table will go eventually. Because the entire floor will be concrete this was our only chance to put in the conduit and plan for any future cabling that might be needed. This also locked us into position for where the table would have to go.
And now closing it all up.
And the sump tanks. One small one for the private toilet. Private, it’s mine damn you! And one for all the house french drains. Both have a dual pump system. The one on the big tank is so powerful that when it is on, it blows water for three feet into the street from the outtake pipe. Do not stand near it when it goes.
It was time to start putting the stairs back in and walls and such. When we found one small issue. An issue of two steps. It seems we mis-measured the distance of how far the treads will go, and the stairs would intrude into the base area more than we had originally counted for. We had to go back to the drawings and revise them on the fly since everything was on schedule. We ended up with this modified plan.
Basically we moved the entry to the office to under the stairs and closed up the space at the bottom of the stairs. This did cause a couple weeks of stress until we worked it all out. In the end, this design worked out much better, but now introduced new desires that could not be filled. There was now a natural wet bar area that we were not able to put a sink into. Sigh.
Because we had the very thick concrete walls, we decided to go with steel frame for all the outside walls and wood for the interior ones. This allowed the steel frames to be mounted straight to the concrete walls. For insulation we put in three inches of dense spray foam sealing up the perimeter as tightly as possible.
And lastly all the mechanical and plumbing was installed, followed by drywall. Of all the construction on the house, this was the most extensive and time consuming. While all the construction for the whole house took nine months, the basement was four months of that work.