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Thread: Dig Out a Basement?

  1. #1

    Dig Out a Basement?

    I don't expect too many people will respond to this, but has anyone here ever dug out a basement under an existing home? My grandfather did this with his house, and a friend of mine dug out his own basement. I must have insanity running through my veins, as I'm considering doing this for my house as well.

    Does anyone have any suggestions on how to make it easier? Both my grandfather's house and my friend's house were done by hand with 2-3 strong backs over a several week period. I'm hoping to get a good start, cut a large enough doorway in the foundation, and bring in one of those miniature bobcat deals that you walk behind to do the heavy lifting.

    Does anyone have any books that would help? I've read a few accounts, and some good information is in the Taunton book "Renovating Old Houses" (EXCELLENT book if you have an old, old house).

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    Toronto, Ontario, CANADA
    That's going to be quite a job Homer, but I'm afraid that I can't help you with advice. When I was a kid, my Dad had a basement put under our hardware store but I remember few details. I can tell you that it involved jacks, LARGE timbers, and a lot of hand digging. Some horses were involved as well, but I don't remember how they were used.

    Good luck! And please report about the project here.
    Cheers, Frank

  3. #3
    If I do decide to go through with it, it won't be for about another year. I'm one of those that likes to overthink things before I start.

    But don't worry, I'll take enough pictures of me digging dirt and being in way over my head. That's just how I like it.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Oak Harbor Washington on Whidbey Island
    It's really not all that difficult.

    You could hold back from the original foundation on 3 sides about 3'-4' & install 4x12 Beams we spanned I believe 22' long by 16' deep with 4 or 5 4x12 Beams & steel posts.

    We started by getting one inside of the end foundation that was going to be knocked out this supported the house while we removed that portion ot the foundation. This opened up the whole end of the under side of the house. Then we dug back in a ways from the short posts & replaced them with full length dirt floor to ceiling posts. Then we dug back a ways & installed another 4x12 & posts & repeated until we were as far back under the house as we wanted to be. Almost all the digging was done by a tracked end loader. We had already dug out for a big living room that was to be added to the end of the house. So we had plenty of room to maneuver the end loader. We even used the end loader to hold the beam against the bottom of the existing stringers. as we set the jacks in place to raise it to its final position & install the posts.

    The beams we installed ran across the opening & the pre-existing stringers ran the other way.

    By holding back from the original foundation on 3 sides it makes it simpler than having to raise the whole house. The house stays in place & you pour concrete wall about 3'-4' high & stud up to the bottom of the existing house. You could also pour a footer & lay up block if your a glutton for punishment.
    "Forget the flat stuff slap something on the spinny thing and lets go, we're burning daylight" Bart Leetch
    "If it ain't round you may be a knuckle dragger""Turners drag their nuckles too, they just do it at a higher RPM"Bart

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    The Heart of Dixie
    As a Home Inspector red flags go up when I hear this. Yes it has been done many times with no problems. Just be very careful digging around foundations. You don't want to do anything that would jeopardize the integrity of the foundation.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Rochester Hills, MI
    I'm pretty much with Jeff on this one.

    Yes, it's been done many times successfully. But I really feel that if you really need a basement you should buy a house that has one.

    Good luck if you decide to persue it!

    "The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten"

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    London, Ontario
    Quote Originally Posted by Homer Faucett View Post
    Does anyone have any suggestions on how to make it easier? Both my grandfather's house and my friend's house were done by hand with 2-3 strong backs over a several week period. I'm hoping to get a good start, cut a large enough doorway in the foundation, and bring in one of those miniature bobcat deals that you walk behind to do the heavy lifting.
    The way to make it easier is to hire it out. Safer too. And probably better for insurance. I wouldn't touch this myself.

    Friends of ours did this. It is a nice basement now, but oooohhh what a mess.

    Disconnect the electrical, gas, plumbing. knock a hole in the foundation, run through a pair of steel I-beams, bash them through the other end, jack up the house, knock out the old foundation, drive the bobcat down and dig it out, pour footings, pour walls, drop the house back down, pull the beams, patch the holes from the beams (or make them windows, I forget), reconnect plumbing, reconnect electrical....

    Oh and then you have to patch all the mess on the main floor. Do you have an old house? They did, and over the years the heavy plaster walls had caused the floor to sag. Raising the house on the jacks levelled it within about 5 minutes, which caused HUGE sections of plaster to crack and come down. They need to completely re-drywall two bedrooms, and patch lots of other space. They also had to redo the fireplace, and so on.

    You need to really really love the location, and some aspects of the house, to want to do this, IMHO.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    I haven't done it, but I do know of several that have, and although I agree with both Jeff and John about safety issues, what I have seen done is a professional house moving company come to your home and lift the house. They have a steel structure they use to lift and support the house, it's built heavy for this purpose only. After it is supported WELL, then your excavating, foundation and wall crew come in to do their work, then the house is slowly rested on it's new foundation.

    It's a lot of work, not cheap, but I have seen it done.

    I like Johns another house...only if you don't have strong sentimental ties to it. I couldn't get my wife to leave this house for one twice as nice, she is way to attached to it now.
    A very wise man once said.......
    "I'll take my chances with Misseurs Smith and Wesson. "

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    years back i was involved in a commercial job where we put a full basement under a 3 story, flemish-bond masonry structure...sitting on top of ozark limestone......if you`re serious about doing this project i`ll one finger out some of the relevent details? tod
    [SIZE="1"] associated with several importers and manufacturers.[/SIZE]

  10. #10
    I'm certainly serious about this. Whether it ends up being a full basement or just a tornado shelter, I do at least need to dig out part of the earth under the house, because (1) it is just bare dirt within 18" of the main beams (much less in most places) under the house, and (2) I need to install some jacks under those main beams to take some of the bow and flex out of the floor.

    The tree stumps are still sitting in the crawl space from where they put the house over the trees that existed when the house was built. Most have now rotted to where pieces can be pulled out, but that's a little wild. This should not be nearly as difficult as digging a basement in the Ozarks (my wife is from Springfield, MO--nothing but rock in her old backyard), as the dirt here is good farmland with pretty heavy clay below. There may be some big boulders when I get to digging, but I guess we'll find that out.

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