in Personal Reflections

Renovating a 100 year old basement


The basement of my two-family house started with a dirt floor and approximately 6′ of clearance from the dirt to the first floor rafters. Some of the pipes made the clearance even less. I decided that I wanted to make the basement into a livable area, however that would only be possible with a concrete floor. I also realized that if I wanted to put in a ceiling, I would need at least another 2′ of clearance. The first shovel full of dirt was removed in 2004. I had planned on completing the basement that year, however I had no idea how much work would be involved.

When I bought my house, all the lolly columns in the basement were temporary columns. I knew that before I could dig out the floor and add an additional 2′ of clearance, I would need to replace the temporary columns with permanent columns. However, since the final floor would be 2′ lower, holes would need to be dug 3′ down, 1′ thick concrete footings poured, and the lolly columns installed on the new footings. The main house beam would need to be jacked up before each lolly column was installed and the holes would have to be dug carefully so as to not affect the stability of the ground underneath the temporary lolly columns.

I had never installed lolly columns by myself before. When I was about 14, I had helped my dad replace lolly columns on a house he fixed up. I remember using the plumb to find the exact spot to place the lolly columns. I decided that I’d rather pay someone to have it done. So I looked through the phonebook, and found someone. They charged me $200 per lolly column. That included digging the hole, pouring the footing and installing the lolly column. They did a horrible job to say the least.

When I started the digging, I had hoped that I would be able to use the wheel barrel to wheel out the dirt. However, the lolly column that was installed was put too close to the doorway. So the wheel barrel wouldn’t fit out the door with a sizeable amount of dirt in it. I ended up resorting to carrying out the dirt in 5 gallon buckets, two buckets at a time. It was an excellent way to build my forearms! The huge pile of dirt you see in the pictures below was moved there with 5 gallon buckets.

The other major obstacle I needed to overcome was the fact that the whole foundation for the house was resting on the very dirt I was about to start digging out. I had to dig 2′ below the foundation! I later realized that I should have done a lot more research before attempting something like that. I decided that I would pour 6″ thick concrete forms below the foundation to hold back any dirt from falling out from underneath the foundation. Of course, I couldn’t just dig out all the dirt first, and then pour the forms, so I dug out 5′ sections and poured a form. Once that had dried (24 hours), I removed the plywood form and dug out another section to pour. I tried to dig out the sections at opposite ends of the house, so I would minimize any chances of the foundation caving in.

The following pages will contain mostly pictures associated with the dates I took them. It will give you an idea of how things progressed. I will add notes to whatever pages contain things I can comment on or describe.

October 12th, 2004 – The Work Begins

This project actually started in 2004, however the majority of the work was done in 2005. One thing that slowed me down was the fact that I had a bunch of stuff in the basement that needed to be moved out. I had a small shed in my back yard (about 8′x5′), however it was already full of stuff. I had started to collect quite a variety of tools from all the work I’d done on my house and my other properties. I realized I needed a new shed. I completed the following digging before I started building the shed. Please visit my shed project page for details on that project and the reason I had to postpone the basement project for almost a year.

You can also see what the original height of the basement floor was. Also visible are some of the first concrete forms I poured. Keep in mind, all that sand was moved out with 5 gallon buckets, two at a time!


Note: There are more pages to this post. Scroll down to see the rest of them.

DSCN0607 DSCN0608 DSCN0609 DSCN0610
DSCN0611 DSCN0612 DSCN0613 DSCN0614
DSCN0615 DSCN0630 DSCN0631 DSCN0632
DSCN0633 DSCN0634 DSCN0635 DSCN0636
DSCN0637 DSCN0639 DSCN0641

Write a Comment

Comment

81 Comments

  1. I am amazed by you. Next project: “build a HOUSE”. I guess hard-work and determination pays off after all :o) Congrats on building your very own crib.

  2. Hey there,

    Probably the most descriptive site I’ve found on the topic, with plenty of pics of the process start to finish. Very nice job on the blog and the work in the basement. Don’t see any contact info, but would like to discuss the project with you when you’re available.

    For example, I’m interested in what else the Engineer spec’d for you as far as concrete, footing depth, size and how your soil conditions played into that. What did your town’s building dept think of the project? Had you looked into having the concrete delivered?

    I would love to be able to do this in the next year or two. did you have any experience with concrete work before? Seems like a very good job by the looks of it, your site has been a good primer for me, and at least gives me the confidence I might be able to tackle this myself some time.

    PJ

  3. Hello PJ,

    Thank you for your kind comments. When I first started the basement project, I too searched the web for others who may have written about similar projects; however I found very little information. This was one of the reasons I documented the process as much as I could.

    The structural engineer told me that he was surprised how little information there was on the topic of digging below a foundation. However he did manage to come up with three separate papers with different ideas on how to go about it. I will scan the pages and add them to this project (give me a few days). As for the concrete, he recommended using the higher strength concrete (40,000 lb if I remember correctly) for the basement floor. He also recommended 2×2′ concrete footings at least 2′ or 3′ deep. I did not look into having the concrete delivered because I wasn’t sure how much I would need. I also enjoyed the workout!

    The concrete work you saw was the only experience I’ve had with concrete. I do recommend picking up a few concrete books before you start any work just to get a few ideas of how it’s done. I wished I had done that before I started, as things would have gone more smoothly. Also, make sure you wear a mask!! Working with concrete like that (especially high strength concrete) in a closed space (the basement) is very unhealthy for your lungs.

    Keep checking back for updates. The major parts of the basement are finished, but building the rest of the walls, finishing the ceiling, and finishing the floor have yet to be completed. I will send you an email with my email address so you have my contact info.

  4. Raam,

    Will definitely be checking back with you for updates to the site, love looking at ‘in progress’ pics of remodeling – and comparing to my own ‘adventures’. Looking forward to the papers you’re going to scan – thanks for the effort!

    PJ

  5. WOW RAAMY!!! Ur so talented!!! I wish I have your intelligent or at least 1/3 of ur mind…lol
    Your crazy and smart, I admire your determination…soon you be living in your new crib….

  6. Hey Raam,

    Congrats on the job, have you gotten a chance to find those papers the structural engineer had given you? No hurry, just curious.

    Thanks,
    PJ

    • Raam,

      I’ve read this blog multiple times and still am amazed by your work. I finally got some cash and motivation to start my basement project. You once had some scanned documents from your structural engineer. It showed a down slope from the existing wall two feet out. I once had it printed out but now can’t find it. Can you direct me to that location or send it to me. I wanted to see if that method would work for me.

      Thanks,
      Johnathon

  7. Raam, I am planning on doing something very similar in my basement. I want to go 2′ below the existing footing. Any ideas or advise to make it a little easier. I am very worried about compromising the existing foundation.

  8. Michael:

    If you haven’t already, please take a look at the possible options provided to me by a structual engineer. I highly reccomend you hire a structual engineer to take a look at your basement and give you advice. There are a lot of things that could go wrong while doing something like this. I feel as if I’m just lucky that nothing went wrong for me.

    Another tip: If you currently have a dirt floor, lay down at least 2 inches (more would be better) of gravel before you pour the concrete floor. If you pour the concrete right onto the dirt floor, the dirt will suck all the water out of the concrete and won’t give you time to properly cure (level) the concrete before it dries.

    I hope this helps. I’d be interested to see pictures or hear how it goes.

  9. if you were to pay contractors to do?

    I am having someone dig out my basement right now, finish it and put in a new bathorro with shower. The area is about 30 x 25. He’s charging $16k. Btw, do any of you know if there is anywhere in the NYC area that seels “minveyors” that we can set up to take the dirt directly to the dumpster?

  10. Hey Mike,

    I don’t know of anyone that sells “miniveyors”. I removed all the dirt myself, using 5-gallon buckets two at a time! I had thought of the conveyor option, but realized that it would be an additional cost for a project that was already taking longer, and costing more, than I had anticipated.

    $16k to dig out the basement, finish it, and add a bathroom w/ shower is not a bad deal. I had a guy who wanted to charge me $8k just to dig the basement and pour the concrete!

    If you’re going to add an upflush toilet, make sure you box out the area the upflush toilet is going to be installed before pouring the concrete so you don’t have to cut the concrete floor after pouring it.

    Good luck and send some pictures of the progress if you can!

  11. great web site! I’ve found that it is very difficult to get info about this on the internet. Thanks!

    question: Do you know the title and author of the book from which the structural engineer got the pages you scanned?

  12. NICE BLOG, I’M IN THE PROCESS OF BUYING FIRST HOUSE, ALTHOUGH THE CEILINGS ARE ALREADY 8 FEET, STILL HAVE TO DIG BEFORE POURING THE CRETE TO KEEP THE 8. THIS WAS REALLY HELPFUL, AND REMINDS ME THAT A “GO TO” ATTITUDE CAN SAVE YOU SOME HARD EARNED MONEY IF YOUR WILLING TO SWEAT. YOU ARE AN INSPIRATION TO THE REST OF US, AND PEOPLE LIEK YOU KEEP US GOING, THANKS

  13. Thank you Mikey!

    It’s always nice to hear when people find my basement post useful. I wish you luck in completing your basement project!

  14. Sat down this morning to Google digging out basements and found your web log. Impressive! Read from page one to the end in one sitting. We’re starting our own basement dig soon. Three separate rooms to be done starting first with the farthest from the basement door. Thanks for the info. I will visit your blog again for further updates. Great job!

  15. Thank you Travis! I’m glad to hear you found my post useful.

    If you have any particular questions, don’t hesitate to contact me (details available on my Contact page) or post your question here in the comments. I’ll do whatever I can to help!

    Good luck with your project!

  16. Like most of your other web viewers, I also started to work on my basement. Some of my obstacles are securing my chimney, replacing temporary house jack to lally columns and putting in needed drainage because of high water table.

    I had the same idea for perimeter footings by doing it a section at a time. From what I read, you did 5′ sections, 8″ wide approx 3′ deep. How many bags of cement did you use per 5′ section? I noticed you didn’t use any vapor barrier under concrete.

    I have one steel I beam coming in to replace a floating 8″x8″ beam on 3 temporary house jacks. This will open this space tremendously.

    I am also working on eliminating two brick piers and replace them with one lally column by adding heavy gauge steel angle iron to both sides of a wood beam that is sitting on the foundation.

    I am concerned about narrowing my basement entrance by adding the 8″ footing then framing an exterior wall on it. I figure that I’ll end up with a 20″ wide stairway on the last 4 steps into the basement. Any ideas?

    Great job on your basement. I showed my husband your site and he told me that he would be busy those days I plan to start digging. Ha! As long a he cooks the meals, I’m going to attack it like a workout.

  17. Hello Dana,

    Congratulations on starting your basement project. The initial attack is always the most difficult!

    To answer your question about how many bags of concrete I used per section, let me first clarify how big each section really was. I tried to keep the thickness of each form to about 5 – 6″, but in some places I may have gone much less (usually places where digging so far underneath the foundation was really starting to scare me!). How much less? Well in some places I may have only gone 3″ – 4″. Never the less, the average size was about 6′ wide by 3′ tall and 5″ deep. I used about 3 – 4 bags of concrete per form.

    Let me tell you though, having a mixing machine made all the difference! I purchased the cheapest one I could find for about $150. It was electric and mixed 2 – 3 bags at once. That coupled with a hose made the mixing much easier.

    Since this was my first time doing anything with concrete, vapor barriers weren’t even something I had thought of — I never had problems with water in the basement prior to starting the project (nor after), but in retrospect I would have used a vapor barrier anyway.

    As for the entrance way, I too had the same dilemma. I concluded that the extra space was worth more than framing it off with walls and I thought if the town ever came by and saw a very small exit-way, they might complain. So I decided not to finish off the area where the actual foundation was. That means you wouldn’t be able to insulate it, but you could still tile it or put wallboard over the unfinished area to make it look nice.

    For the stairs, I tore out the old bulkhead and existing stairs. The existing stairs left very little clearance when entering the basement and I wanted it to feel more open. The pictures on this page show how short the old stairs were and the next page shows how far back I dug into the ground to make room for the new stairs. I then rebuilt the entrance which allowed for a full 32″ door. It really wasn’t that difficult and this could have been done even if I left the existing stairs in place (though I would still have had the problem with low clearance when entering the basement).

    I would love to see some pictures of work-in-progress and if you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to ask! If you can accompany your questions with pictures, it would make answering them that much easier!

    Good luck on your project!

  18. Great job! This looks fantastic!
    I just bought a house built back in 1890 and my basement is almost identical to yours before the work. I noticed when you put the framing for the walls up you put pink R13 insulation. Did you put anything between the stone walls and the insulation?
    Also, what did you use to fill cracks in the between the stones? I assume there would have been some just from the age of the home. Any advice you can share on how you did the framing and insulation would be great!
    Thanks!

  19. Hello and Thank You Autumn!

    I have updated page 20 of this post with lots of information answering your questions. Please let me know if you need further clarification or if you have any more questions!

    Good luck on your project!

  20. WOW very impressive. Thank you for posting this because as you’ve mentioned there isn’t too much on this topic elsewhere. You’ve answered alot of my questions and the basement looks great. I had previously helped my father lower a portion of our basement years ago using the old 5 gallon bucket technique. I’m about to begin to finish the rest of it off. Thanks again for sharing your story!

  21. After reading your blog, I’ve decided to go at it myself! Thanks for putting in the time to write about it. It was very helpful + it gave me the confidence to proceed.

    To those other people who are considering it – it’s some serious hard work, but very rewarding.

    http://richardcorbett.blogspot.com

  22. I’m glad to hear I inspired you, Rich!

    I wished I took pictures as nice as the ones on your blog, but I didn’t even know I would eventually be writing an entire blog post about the project until after I was done. I just knew I wanted a record of the progress so I could look back and see where it all began! The rest of the post was written mostly from memory!

    I’m surprised there aren’t more blogs out there with people detailing their home project adventures like ourselves. I’ll definitely be watching your blog for updates!

    Thanks Rich!

  23. I was curious as to hwo this was done. My wife and I are just about to buy a house wiht the same issue exactly. The stone wall will need to be replace don one side though. How didyou determine if the drainage was lower the the new foundation? or mroe specifically can I determine that prior to digging? How much did the hosue settle and did the drywall inside the house crack because of it? I will have mroe questions later.

  24. Hello Jeff,

    The long 3″ drain pipe that extended from the area below the bathroom/kitchen to the main city drainage exited the basement through the existing floor. This meant if I dug the floor down 2′ any additional drainage would need to be pumped up to allow it to exit via the main drain. You can see the main cast iron drain extending away from the bathroom towards the street to exit the house in these pictures. It’s also visible in this picture on the right side.

    If you don’t plan to put a kitchen/bathroom in your basement, and you don’t have any water issues, you might not need to involve a pump at all.

    The house didn’t settle at all after I did the basement work — it settled many years ago shortly after the house was built. I wanted to make sure my work in the basement didn’t cause it to settle any more, which is why I did extra work to secure that section of the foundation.

    I hope all goes well with your new home. This is a great time to purchase a house as the overall market has really created a lot of great buying opportunities!

  25. i knew i wanted to ask another question. thanks for your fast response. What was the estimated total cost of the supplies for the project sans the toilet and shower and kitchen. So, the walls and concrete and bits?

  26. The project extended over a long period of time, so I can’t even make a guess as to how much I spent overall. The bathroom alone probably totaled around $5 or $6k (that would include the wood, drywall, and plumbing). Keep in mind that I did all this work myself, so that doesn’t include labor costs.

    I have all my costs saved in my Quicken application, but I haven’t checked for a total. I’ll see if I can find out tonight and post it on the front page of this post.

  27. Most likely your town requires a permit for such work. If you do the work without pulling a permit, a future inspection may uncover the work and the building department might make you remove all the work (or they can issue a criminal violation).

    If you live in a small town and you’re not planning on selling your house anytime soon, you might consider taking the risk of doing the work without pulling permits. However, at the very minimum I would recommend you hire a structural engineer who can inspect the property to make sure there is no risk of structural damage to the property. If you explain to him what you’re trying to do, he will make recommendations. It was definitely the best $300 a spent during this project.

    Good luck!

  28. Awesome job!!! I have been wanting to do this to my 2 family for a long time. Finding your site gives me the confidence to get going. I may bother you with a few questions in the future if that’s ok. Thanks.

  29. Hey Chuck! Glad to hear I’ve inspired you. :) I’m happy to answer any questions you have, so feel free to post them whenever you’re ready.

  30. Hi Raam.

    Thank you for posting when I started looking for this type of information three years ago there was nothing. You are an example of how the internet grows, of how information should not be used as a “weapons”.

    A lot of REALLY good information. I’ve also documented my project and maybe we could link to each other as a way of helping others.(?)

    jan

  31. Hi Jan,

    I too looked for this info online before starting the project and I was amazed how little I found. That was one of the biggest reasons I decided to write this long 25-page post.

    I would be more than happy to link to your project if you’ll do the same for mine. Use the Contact page to send me an email with the link.

    Thanks!

  32. Hi Ramm,

    Amazing project, and very useful information. I was wondering if you have pictures of the final stages of the renovation. It’d great to see how it looks now. We’re planning to buy a house with a 6′ basement. Your blog has given us a clear picture of what is waiting ahead of us. Great job.

    Jose

  33. Hey Jose,

    I’ve actually been forced to stall the project beyond what the pictures show. I got hit really badly by the mortgage crisis (adjustable rate mortgage, market went down, I owe more on the property than it is currently valued, so I’m not able to refinance and get out of the adjustable rate mortgage, so my payment went up $800 a month).

    I’m currently trying to sell the house, but it looks like it may be foreclosed on before that happens.

    Good luck with your new house! If you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to ask.

  34. Hi, congrats on your accomplishment – it looks great!!! We are going to attempt this on our newly purchased home. How long did it take you to complete this project? Did you have a lot of help?

    I would love to pics of the bedroom, and more of the other rooms.

  35. Hi Blair,

    It took me close to a year to get to where you saw the last pictures of the kitchen. I didn’t have any help — I was doing it all myself after work and on weekends.

    Unfortunately, I had to sell the house and I wasn’t able to really finish the project. Good luck on your project!

  36. Hi RAAM –
    I have yet to read your blog, but I will soon. Just by reading the comments I was impressed. When I was in high school in ’85, I helped a gentleman make a crawl space into a finished basement. We dug a trench along the inside foundation, then in four foot increments undermined the foundation, poured forms, and built up a block wall about 3′ tall. For the final excavation, we busted out a 8 foot wide section of the foundation, and hired a small dozer to get rid of the dirt. That was a backsaver for sure, although I ended up having to wheelbarrow out a few inches more by the time we were done. I like the way you think, and I hope you are doing well in your new home.

    Randy

  37. Hi Randy,

    Thanks for the comment! I actually had to sell the home due to the whole financial crisis, but the basement renovation was an experience I will never forget! It goes to show that amazing things can be done with hard work and persistence!

    The crawl space you made sounds familiar to what I had to do with the 4 foot sections of foundation, but luckily you had a small dozer for most of the dirt… carrying out dirt two 5-gallon buckets at a time was definitely grueling work (though it helped build huge forearms!). Did you have a portable cement mixer or did you have to mix all the cement by hand? The portable cement mixer I bought for $250 saved me so much time.

  38. Ha – I truly can’t imagine using buckets. It probably would have been easier than pushing a wheelbarrow up a ramp though!

    I remember mixing countless bags of cement by hand, and finding as many rocks as I could find to out in the footings. This was a season of after school work, and I was pretty much hired labor, but I learned a lot. Made me realize I could tackle huge jobs myself, like replacing a ridge beam in the house, and cutting a huge wall in the back of the house to move in a one-piece shower enclosure. It all works out in the end.

    Hard work and persistence. Advice everyone should take to heart.

  39. Dear Raam, I am researching excavating my basement to make it a studio for my mom. It needs about 1 foot deeper minimum because the ceiling is about 6 feet. I’ve been getting alot of different prices and opinions which leaves me very confused. I am thinking of getting in an engineer. I see that you used one as well. Is this a lenghtly process? Thanks.

  40. Hi Gloria,

    The engineer I hired was a structural engineer and I only hired him for advice. He took about two hours to walk through the basement and wrote down suggestions, as well as talked to me about potential problems. I mainly hired him for advice since I was doing all the construction myself.

    If you’re hiring a construction company to do the work, then I would recommend you find an engineer that has worked with the construction company.

    A structural engineer will definitely know the best way to go about the process for your house. Construction companies will all have their own way of doing the same job, but a structural engineer will know the best way.

    I hope this helped. If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to ask!

  41. I also agree with you, the original basement walls needed to be treated/sealed before moving on with the insulation and drywall.
    Yet, hey, you learned a lot and you passed that knowledge on to others who are very grateful of your work. Sat down and typed “finish old basement” and linked your site. Great Info. Thanks for taking the time to record your efforts, you have done the community a real service.

  42. Hi there,

    I hope you are continuing to respond to comments and questions. I will have completed underpinning my foundation and digging out my basement within a couple of weeks. Everything has moved along with fine results- digging, form building and concrete placement- yet I will soon have to underpin my chimney. We have a couple of ideas floating around, including the use of two steel i-beams which would be dug under the chimney slab and then supported with jacks on either side. I will then build forms around the beams and pour a concrete base under the chimney via a chute on either side. When cured I would cut through the steel so it would be flush with the chimney sides. I would like to know what you did with your chimney.

    Comments appreciated.

    • Hi RB,

      I actually had three water heaters sitting next to my chimney, so instead of trying to move them, I just left a 4′ section around my chimney untouched and built concrete forms around it. That section is still the same height as the original floor.

      To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what to suggest or even if the idea you mentioned will work without risking collapse of the chimney. If I was in your shoes, I would consult with a structural engineer and see if he had any suggestions.

      Best of luck!

      • Re: chimney underpinning. Happy to say that we had success underpinning our chimney in three stages. We excavated one side of the chimney about 16″ in from the end. We prepared formwork that would allow for a spread footing that would be 3″ under the new slab. Three days after letting the concrete cure we did the opposite side, repeating the steps. After another week we excavated under the centre between the new footings and did our final pour. Altogether we needed sixty bags of concrete but we added a 10″ spread footing around the chimney and can now prep for the slab pour. Very satisfying- almost as satisfying as underpinning the foundation wall. I’ll never do it again mind you.

        • Congrats! I’m so happy to hear everything worked out. :)

          Oh and I can totally relate to being simultaneously satisfied and wanting to never do it again! My basement renovation project was enough work, stress, and nervousness for a lifetime.

  43. Wow great job. Thank you so much for sharing. I learned alot from this. I was researching this subject for a similar project(job) for one of my buddy’s house, i’m glad i ended up here. Nothing but Respect for ya!

  44. that’s impressive, not only from the shere volume of work/labour involved but also the amount of guts it takes to tackle such a project.

    two BEvERages for you! i’m inspired :)

    i am wondering about the under pinning. did your house have a footer already or was the foundation wall just built up from the soil? i would be afraid that if i excavated the soil from under the wall foundation that the rubble stone would just brake lose and fall into the hole. especially if you were doing 5′ lengths! i guess this never happened?

    did the structural engineer suggest to put rebar in the under pin? i know you did after the fact to join the new footer with the slab. but that’s not what i mean.

    i thought (and i need to do more research) that footer is supposed to be isolated from the slab so as to avoid lateral pressure.

    how did you make sure there was no gap between the top of the new footer and the bottom of the existing foundation wall? sounds like a stupid question, but i read on a professional website that when they under pin they leave a gap and when the new footer dries they pack the gap with something (not sure with what, i forget).

    all the best and thanks for the share!

    ps. sorry to hear about the financial difficulty in the mortgage crisis. hope you are doing better now.

    • Hey Gary,

      It was definitely a monumental task… the biggest construction project I’ve ever undertaken (and the sheer amount of time and labor I put into that house definitely made it hard to leave when I was forced to).

      As for your structural questions: I’m not entirely sure what you mean. However, I did have a structural engineer come in and give me advice. There was only one 8 foot section of the foundation that he was suspicious about and that’t where he recommended I use rebar and extra concrete. All I did with the rebar was hammer it into the dirt underneath the foundation and into the ground under the new floor before I poured the concrete. I also dug the floor down about 8″ deeper in front of that section of the foundation (sounds counter-intuitive, I know) so that when I poured the floor there would be more concrete creating a base for the existing foundation wall to lean into should it start giving way.

      It was a scary job, I’ll tell you that. The entire six months I was working on this, I was waiting for the foundation to cave in. It didn’t look like there was any underpinning for the old foundation but rather that the stones were just placed on the soil (mind you this house was built around 1900).

      More than anything, all I can suggest is to get a structural engineer (or a couple of them) to give you advice and go from there.

      Good luck and thanks for stopping by! :)

  45. thanks for the reply. i’m still on the fence on this subject.

    but anyway, i just wanted to say that i read the rest of your website, sounds like you’re living a fun & unique life! i was in thailand backpacking a couple of years ago and what i came home with was a profound sense of peace. i stopped worrying about “stuff” and started enjoying life more. now i’m really much more happy just like all the people of thailand.

    good luck with your travels.

  46. AMAZING article – I just purchased a 100 year old house in CT and the basement looks like a cave! I just installed a new $3700 gas furnace and the old one we took out had some water damage and corrosion. I would love to dig out the basement and make it habitable to ensure that my recent investment does not get ruined in the next few years. The old place survived a direct hit from hurricane Irene (3 days after the closing) and I am trying to make small improvements as the weeks go on. Currently, I am in the process of trying to waterproof the foundation and basement.
    With my limited home improvement skills I am doing what I can and learning along the way. It’s got a long way to go – I would love to send you some pictures (if you still check this blog), you’ll get a good laugh from them :’)

  47. Raam,
    I just found this and have to say THANK YOU! My wife and I bought a 100 year old home last year and I have been wanting to start exactly what you have done. My project will be a bit more labor intensive as I will not only be digging 2′ deeper in a 35′ x 45′ basement, but also removing 3 old foundation walls left over from past additions. Your posting has encouraged me to move forward and I hope to keep a journal and post it as you have. Thanks again!

    • Hi Greta,

      I’m not really sure how much the whole thing cost. I worked on this project over the course of more than a year, by myself. I’d say the bathroom alone probably cost around $5k (wood, plumbing, up-flush toilet, drywall, paint, flooring, shower, sink, electrical… but not including my labor costs). The biggest expense certainly would’ve been my time had I tallied that up, but I was doing it as a fun project and I took my time doing it.

  48. Hi, my contractor has put some dirt behind the wall for a similar project. The cement floor was poured but one truck load of dirt remained which they disposed of in this way. I wasnt there to stop them. I’m worried it will cause problems in the future. Do you know if this is common practice?

    • Hi Carsten,

      I’m not sure if it’s common practice. If you’re really concerned, I highly recommend checking with a structural engineer. If you ask other contractors, they may give you biased opinions that lead to you hiring them and spending more money. A structural engineer will be unbiased (as his primary concern is writing an accurate report that explains what you want to know). Good luck!

  49. was wondering if you did anything as far as insulating the foundatiom walls/ i am looking to renovate my basement and I was told foam boards, but i did not see anything in your pictures if you did that or not

    • Hi Kelly,

      I did insulate the walls using standard insulation, but I sealed it with sheets of plastic to keep out any moisture. Foam board insulation is more common for basements because it holds up better against moisture, so you may want to use that if you expect lots of moisture.

  50. I just saw what you did. Wow, that’s wonderful. My father built our house all by himself. Then he jacked up the complete house ( don’t ask me how lol) and dug out the high basement by shovel and wheelbarrow. I remember running back and forth in the basement dirt as a child, amazed by it all. Then he placed all the bricks around and placed in the windows. I remember the exciting day when he got the cement mixer and my mom and dad poured in the floor. When it was completely dry the house was lowered down onto the brick walls. It was a 4 bedroom house. My Dad was an remarkable man, and you remind me of him.

    • Sandy, thanks so much for sharing that story about your dad digging out the basement of your house. You had me grinning ear to ear by the end of it. :) It’s really amazing what we’re capable of when we put our minds (and bodies) to something.

      (Sorry for the delayed reply; I’m just catching up to comments now!)

    • Hi Bob,

      What’s the process for underpinning an old (solid) farmhouse chimney leaning away from the house????

      I wish I could tell you! I recommend contacting a structural engineer and getting some advice that way. I’m sorry I couldn’t be more helpful.

      (Sorry for the delayed reply; I’m just catching up to comments now!)

  51. Hope you are still updating this blog. So sad to see all your work go to the bank.I guess I am not the only crazy one I too am digging out. But I think mine is little more. Most of my underpin is 5ft deep & 6ft in some places.IE I am 5ft under the footing.
    I have been digging for 2yrs now but I have been taking time in the summers off to have fun so little slower. A very small part of my basement was 5ft already but most was 3ft crawl going down to 1.5-2ft. I have moved 30 or more yrds of dirt with 30-50 to go. My pours are mostly 4ft x4ft 10inch deep I got 7in under the footing & 4in to the outside I wrap about 2in up over the top of the footing. Doing it this way you dont have to worry about shrinking & grout. I also drive rebar horizontally (2 runs) into the next section & I drill into the bottom of the footing & place rebar vertically. Your soil looks very sandy & it can be more tricky then mine which is mostly clay. I am dealing with water delays today as the rain wont stop nothing a sump pump can not handle. I never called a structural engineer but I have family that have done construction for many years so I take the word that I am over doing it better to much then too little.

    • Thanks for the update, Digger! I’d love to see some photos of the project, if you have any available online. It sounds like quite the endeavor!

  52. Raam,

    Thanks for the website. Folks are certainly correct when they say that there is limited info out there on the web regarding this type of endeveaor. I live in a cramped old New England Seaport home where space is hard to come by so we are turning to the basement as a last resort. Since we are at the outset of the job, I want to throw a quick thank you out there to you for providing some content to get started with. However, today I am more interested in giving you a pat on the back and a vote of confidence going forward. Hopefully, you were able to put the forced home sale in the rear view mirror and move on. The type of energy (physical and mental), discipline and entrepreneurial efforts that you showed by trying to turn a two family home into a good long term investment are indicators to me that you have what it takes to pick yourself up off the floor and ready yourself for another challenge in life. A lot of good people found themselves in tough positions a few years back and battled back. I can’t say for certain, but something tells me you are one of these types! Great work.

    • Hi Josh,

      Thanks for the comment. I’m glad that you found this post useful!

      The loss of my properties and the subsequent bankruptcy in 2009 were catalysts for the huge life transition that followed. I had always wanted to travel the world nomadically, living out of a backpack and working from my laptop wherever I could get online. That’s exactly what I ended up doing in 2010 after selling the remainder of my possessions. With $3,000 to my name, I traveled to India, Vietnam, and Nepal for 6 months, living on $250/month. In 2011, I was invited by NASA to watch the last three Space Shuttle launches in Florida and I spent the rest of 2011 traveling around the USA. Then in 2012 I went to Australia for 6 months. I met my wife in late 2012 and now we have a 7-month old baby girl. We currently rent instead of own but I think it fits our lifestyle better. We’re planning to spend 6 months every year traveling abroad with our daughter and the other 6 months visiting family, starting with Australia this November 2014. :)

      I believe that life always works out the way it should if you follow what feels right and true.