CASE STUDY

A Basement Development Journey

Bringing Copper & Turquoise to Life

For most people, the home renovation process, in this case an Edmonton basement renovation, is not well understood. People think they have a good idea of what’s all entailed from watching entertaining home renovation shows where an undesirable space is overhauled in the span of an hour, but this depiction is quite different from reality. While a show can spawn inspiration, there is a lot more to it. It can take months to plan and then months to complete a renovation, depending on the initial scope and the number of unforeseen issues that arise. And by the way, most projects do have unforeseen scope changes.

We’ve put together 34 relevant steps taken in this basement renovation to show you what’s really involved. There’s a lot to cover but we’ll do our best to keep it short!

1. The Design

We recommended hiring an interior designer for projects such as a kitchen remodel, main floor renovation, large bathroom renovation, or basement renovation. An interior designer is professionally trained and will typically have fresh and current ideas, know all the right “needs vs. wants” questions to ask, and have connections that your contractor may not have. A general contractor does not necessarily have the knowledge, or the time it takes to run around getting samples. They often do not have the software for floor plans and/or cabinet layouts either. An interior designer is a full-time job and well worth the investment.

Drawing of proposed layout

In the case of this basement renovation project, we worked with the client and created most of the design before the project began. For example, one feature we decided on was to build every wall, every bulkhead, and every detail possible with a 45-degree angle. It was a lot more work to plan and build, but the finished space had substantially more flow this way as opposed to sharp 90-degree corners. There were also a lot of changes along the way, and we added a lot of interesting design features as the project progressed.

2. The Purge

Once the initial design was finalized, a contract signed, and a start date scheduled, it was time to purge the contents of the existing basement. We had a bin dropped off onsite for this client and we helped her fill it right to the top! A basement can often become a dumping ground of things you no longer use, and this was no exception.

Developing the basement kick started a Marie Kondo vibe, inspiring the client to organize, store, donate, sell, recycle and throw away a lot of stuff. When this was done, it was time to get the party started!

3. Asbestos Abatement

As mentioned in previous blogs, when hiring a general contractor for a home renovation, any house built pre-1990 needs to have certain things tested for asbestos. Things like existing drywall mud, ceiling texture, vinyl flooring, and attic insulation should always be sampled and brought to a lab for analysis if they are to be included in the demolition scope. In this case, the samples tested positive in the ceiling texture and drywall compound, so an abatement company was brought in to remove the ceilings and drywall. These professionals are very specialized and must adhere to strict government regulations. DO NOT remove any asbestos containing material if you are not a trained professional. Asbestos, if undisturbed, is harmless, but once it becomes airborne during the demolition process, the glass-like, microscopic fibres can remain airborne indefinitely and eventually cause major health problems.

4. Containment & Floor Protection

Like every project, once the first three considerations are managed, we believe it’s important to protect any floor surface we may walk during the project from damage. The second thing is to install temporary dust containment curtains. The last thing the client wants during an already disruptive situation is to have dust spread throughout their home, and we don’t want a big cleaning bill either! Then we set up negative air equipment, aka air scrubbers, to help keep the dust down. These are like big fans. On the intake side there are three filters, one being a HEPA filter. On the exhaust side, they get ducted outside. These machines draw all the airborne dust into the filters, keeping the air clean. This not only keeps the home clean, but it also keeps everyone’s lungs clear. These machines are typically used for mould remediation and asbestos abatement but since we are not certified to conduct those specific demolition tasks, we strictly use them for dust control.

Photo of another project

Photo of another project

Air Scrubber

Clean vs dirty air filter

5. Interior Wall & Bathroom Demo

There weren’t many interior walls in this basement, but they all came out except the main structural wall. Since we had changed most of the floor plan in the new design, they all had to go. The bathroom was also a full gut, and we made some interesting discoveries in there once demo was completed – continue reading for a chuckle…or perhaps a shock!

Shower demolition

Wall demolition

6. False Floor & Frost Wall Demo

With respect to residential applications, a false floor is typically used for air circulation between the finished floor or slab in a basement that is prone to water infiltration via cracked foundations. It is also often installed over an unlevel concrete slab to achieve a level sub-floor prior to a flooring surface being installed. Usually, it’s just 2×2 or 2×4 framing with plywood nailed down.

Frost walls are the wood framing around the perimeter of the concrete basement foundation. This is where the insulation goes.

False floor/frost wall demolition

False floor demolition

In this Edmonton basement, the false floor must have been put in first during the original development because the walls were framed on top of the sub-floor. Typically, the walls are fastened to the concrete floor and then years later a false floor is built once water starts entering the foundation. To get the false floor out here, the frost walls had to go too.

7. Unfortunate Discoveries

Crack & hole in joist from previous reno – code infraction

Improper plumbing route – code infraction

Once all the demolition was completed, we were down to bare concrete. This enabled us to do a full assessment of all the newly discovered problems we were about to solve. Previous contractors or DIY’ers, dated building codes, and even relaxed building inspectors in the past probably all played a part in the mayhem we uncovered.

Here are some of the issues we discovered:

  • Inconsistent slab elevation/finishing – we measured variations up to 4”
  • Three foundation cracks letting water in
  • HVAC ducts with tinfoil strapped on the ends
  • Two 2” x 10” floor joists cut off from a previous main floor bathroom remodel
  • One 2” x 10” floor joist with a 5” square hole cut in it
  • Shower drain piped between the slab and the false floor – into a floor drain
  • 90% plugged 4” main – with 60 years of grease and coffee grinds down the kitchen sink (it was BAD!)

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!

  • Five junction boxes buried in the ceiling and a taped splice in the wall
  • A hole in the crawl space wall letting in winter, mice, spiders and squirrels
  • No vapour barrier on the crawl space floor
  • Rotten and crushed top plate in the crawl space creating problems on the main floor – cold draft and sticky patio door
  • Drywall screws in plumbing drain lines
  • Humidifier drain line run through the joists across the basement to the washer drain
  • Disconnected heat duct to upstairs ensuite bathroom

Was there more? Unfortunately, yes!! This was one of those projects that had it all.

8. Window Enlargements
Building and safety codes are updated every few years. Window egress is always a big one. The City of Edmonton, in conjunction with The National Building Code, has strict guidelines for egress windows and window wells. Area, height off the floor, type, and window well sizes are all outlined here so contractors and/or homeowners understand the requirements.

Temporary window covering with air scrubber hole

Specialized saw for concrete wall cutting

After carefully laying out our window dimensions, we had a local concrete cutting company come in and open the size of the existing window holes. The City of Edmonton requires this information at the time of submitting a permit application, and sometimes they require drawings from an engineer. In this case, they wanted exactly that. We had two windows to enlarge. Prior to the permit application process, we had our structural engineer come take a quick peek and he provided structural drawings. After the saw cut and our new framing was in, the windows fit perfectly.

9. Foundation & Structural Wall Repair

After carefully laying out our window dimensions, we had a local concrete cutting company come in and open the size of the existing window holes. The City of Edmonton requires this information at the time of submitting a permit application, and sometimes they require drawings from an engineer. In this case, they wanted exactly that. We had two windows to enlarge. Prior to the permit application process, we had our structural engineer come take a quick peek and he provided structural drawings. After the saw cut and our new framing was in, the windows fit perfectly.

Water infiltration via foundation crack

Repaired foundation crack

Repairing foundation cracks is most effective if it’s done from the exterior side of the foundation with a dimpled membrane foundation wrap, but can also be repaired with an epoxy injection from the interior side. The former requires heavy excavation and was not a great option in this case for two reasons. First of all, this project was ongoing in the dead of winter and the ground was frozen solid. Second, there was no way to get an excavator in there to dig. The latter is a fine option as long as proper grading is performed for rainwater drainage.

10. Design Changes

Prior to framing, it’s a good idea to go over the floorplan with the client one last time. If any changes are to be made, like a room or closet size or location, now’s the time to have that conversation. In the case of this basement renovation, the client approached me and wanted the bedroom moved to the other side of the basement. This change altered half the floorplan. After just a couple hours with a tape measure, Sharpie, and a roll of tape to mark out new walls on the floor and the client was ready to proceed. If you encounter this, be sure to update your drawings with your local municipality permit office.

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