Mike’s Basement Development – Part 1

John and Matthew answer a question from Mike in Toronto about the development of his basement.

“Hi John and Matthew,

I’m currently in the process of developing my basement, but I am having some issues and am hoping you can provide some direction. I am having trouble with the layout as I am not sure how to deal with bulkheads for heat supply and cold air returns. Any bulkheads would be along the North wall. I hope to have about 7ft high finished height to the ceiling,(and of course less under the bulkheads).

I would like to incorporate a 3pce bath, laundry, utility/furnace room and rec room (and only if possible a second kitchen). The door at the front North side leads into the cold storage room.

I am getting good light at the front of the house, but a friend suggested putting all laundry and bath at the front (or near bottom of stairs) so guests can use the bath rather than walking all the way to the back and laundry would be close by also. But having a rec room at the back would be dark.

I am having a hard time deciding whether to put the rec room at the front or back of the house. As well how to fit in a shower, toilet and sink without getting into a low head room situation. I understand that leaving the back open would allow for any future addition.

I have a flush mounted steel beam running down the center of the house so any duct work at the front or back of the house has to drop under the beam. the joists run north and south.

I would also like to freshen up the front entrance, stairs and front porch roof, since the porch roof needs to be replaced anyway.

I followed the segment on stairs with no railings but I can’t seem to come up with a decent design. I also like the modern flat roof ideas but am not sure if it is feasible here.


  • Cynthia

    Could he use glass block as a floor surface on the porch / ceiling for the cold room?  That would provide a fair amount of light to the west side of the basement.  I have seen glass block used over city sidewalk vaults here in the eastern US.   

  • Expat

    Is it possible to rotate the stairs 90 degrees so that they come down into the middle of the space?  That awkward structural column could be the anchor point of the bottom of the new stairs.  There would still be some circulation space at the bottom, but much less than having a long hallway.  Doors could open off on either side.  That one access point could jointly serve several rooms.

    The lack of light will still be a problem.  Can the walls between the houses be painted a lighter colour?  That would help to reflect light into the windows on the south side.  If the paler colours were carried through to the front, with a flat roof on the porch, it would completely transform the look of the house.  Of course, painting the neighbors’ wall might not be an option.

    I remember eating a long time ago about light shelves.  
    They’re basically shelves that sit just under high-up windows and reflect light up against the ceiling so that it’s reflected in turn back down into the room much further back.  Could you use them here?  It’d be dark underneath them, but maybe that area could be used for cabinetry or have down lights built into the bottom of the shelves.

    Sorry, my ideas are bounding around more than the reflecting light I’m talking about.  Have fun, everyone!

  • obmorales

    Hello Mike,

    Project, definitely the proverbial “10 pounds of stuff in a one pound bag”.  John and Mathew what are the overall
    dimensions of the footprint.

    I have a
    few questions to be able to set my thinking.

    1-      1- How important is the cold room and
    is it being utilized properly.

    2-      2- How serious are you and can you add
    to the rear of the site?

    3-      3- The side door to the alley; is not
    clear to me as to how it works when you exit the house, do you walk on grade,
    or to an area way onto which you have to go up exterior steps to get you to the

    4-      4- How high is it from existing
    concrete slab to grade?

    5-      5- Is there a chance to put windows in
    the north elevation or is the next house to close (code issue)

    6-      6- 7’-0” is minimum ceiling at
    habitable area (Sleeping area)so this will also dictate hwee to put the sleeping/rec area.

    7-      7- Can you tie bath/kitchen directly to
    sewer or are you going to have to pump?

    8-      8- Is your current mechanical unit in
    this basement and what kind, oil natural gas or propane? These are a few questions that I had, I will wait to hear from you.

    OscOscar B. Morales

  • Mikefilcor

    Hi Oscar, Thanks for your question, I will try to clarify;

    1) the cold room is just used for storage, previous owner put the electrical panel in there also; it is uninsulated; a neighbour recently told me the location of the interior door to the cold room is there because it used to be a window and was easier to make into a door, otherwise I would prefer it was located right a bottom of stairs.

    2) I checked with the city and I can add lots of square footage to the back, the addition maybe “phase 2″ 4-5 years, or it maybe for the next owner (or am I thinking too far ahead?)

    3) the side door is at grade/driveway level as you enter there is a small landing to the right are stairs(3 /4)leading up to main floor and to the left are the stairs leading down to bsmt.

    4) see 3
    5) I am not sure what the code is to how many square feet of windows are allowed, the next house is 6 feet away, it is my private driveway, however there is a 1 metre sideyard setback
    6) I will have 7 ft high ceilings all over, except under any duct work, which I suspect will run along the north wall.

    7) I believe new bath gets tied into existing sewer line, the old homes only have 1 sanitary line going out

    8) I had a forced air gas furnace and a gas hot water tank, all (including ducting) has been removed. The challenge I am haveing is the cold air return to feed the upper floors. I think so far the plan is to have the cold air go up the north wall where the post is located

    I would like to go with forced air gas again, venting is also a concern, I think it has to be vented out the back or the south side, which means the vent pipe will have to go under the steel beam. so I can otherwise locate anywhere.

    thanks, Mike

  • http://www.thirdstone.ca Louis Pereira

    Hi John | Matthew and Mike – I think this project is a real challenge.  I prepared a few iterations but decided on this one.  For starters, i would agree as Mike prefers – to relocate the entry to the Cold Room at the base of the stairs. This would cluster the main circulation to each room along the south portion of the floorplan.
    For practical reasons I assembled the utility rooms (Laundry, Mechanical and Bathroom) at the core of the plan and wanted to take advantage of the windows and morning light on the east side of the house for the Rec Room / Kitchen area.  This space has the potential of being both a Guest Suite or a Rental Suite, while the Laundry and Bathroom function as a shared amenity.
    As a side note, this is one of those rare occasions that I would have suggested a dropped beam rather than a ‘flush’ condition. The dropped beam would have simplified the duct work and the result would have been higher ceilings.  I’ve offered some suggestions on how I think heating distribution would work in this case…
    Louis Pereira – thirdstone inc. [^]

  • Mikefilcor


    many thanks for your detailed input. I never thought to put the air plenum down the center, I thought it would be along the north wall to avoid low head room situtation, however the problem I have by doing that is low headroom in the bath area!

    I otherwise like your plan, I dread the thought of moving that door at the front, but it does make sense, these are old field stone foundation walls.

    (The flush beam was an idea instead of lowering the basement)

    Thanks again,

  • Cynthia

    The brick walls at the front and sides of the porch surface are probably not structural.  Replacing them with windows would bring a good deal of light into the cold room.  The space could be insulated and Louis’s design flipped to move the rec room there.       

  • http://www.thirdstone.ca Louis Pereira

    Hi Mike – Thanks for the feedback.

    If you intend to have the main plenum along the north wall, you would still need to dip again at the structural beam due to the flush condition.  Doing this would create too much resistance or friction (heat) loss and therefore would operate inefficiently.  Ideally, it is a better practice to align the main trunk down the middle or core of the floor plan and then distribute (branch) the heat to either side of the plenum.

  • Mikefilcor

    Hi Louis:
    I understand the resistance theory, and in hindsight I would not have used a flush beam. They would just run any duct work alongside the beam and drywall it.

    I saw it installed at another house and it eliminated the bulky beam running down the center of the house where everyone has to bend/limbo under it and I thought it would give me higher ceilings.

    Just a thought on your proposed layout:

    1-the main sewer line would under the laundry room, closest to the first appliance (south side) will the plumber give me a hard time installing the drain or is it “do-able”

    2- would your plan work if we switched the bath and furnace room? I am concerned about the cold air return ducting getting into the bath area since the joists run north/ south they may have to drop a short run in there

    3-being a stone foundation wall how much of a return do you recommend I leave for the new opening (if I go with that)

    4-if I choose not to create a new opening (mainly because the electrical panel is there), I guess I would alter your plan by moving the laundry to the opposite wall, moving the door closer to the front wall and loose the closet (not a great idea once you put it in writing) hummm..

    I appreciate your input
    thanks again


  • Mikefilcor

    Hi Cynthia;

    Yes the brick walls are structural, it is actually block wall foundation with brick cladding, the floor of the porch (ceiling of the cold room) is 4-5 inch thick concrete.
    The interior wall (whcih was the original exterior wall) is stone rubble foundation and would be a major deal to open up

    Being in an old Italian area they used the cold room for storage of canned goods, wine, cured meats etc.

    There’s actually good light in there, just not in the basement.


  • Bradw


    1. The cheapest way of getting more light into this basement is by adding more light fixtures! Seriously, this is a basement, it is underground, it is surrounded by other houses. Consider yourself lucky if it is dry and deep enough. Unless you want to drop a boat load of cash making major structural changes move on.

    2. Do not move the opening to the cold room. See previous warning about structural changes and add electrical costs. Ouch! Your modification to the Louis plan is fine – sure you lose the closet but I’ll show you where and how to get the space back and more.

    3. I will assume that the basement is dry, the floor is mostly level and that the plumbing drains/vents and water supply are fine.

    4. Plan to spray foam the basement walls including part or all of the cold room. Why? Way easier than installing traditional insulation and vapour barrier. Also frame and spray foam the cold room ceiling – the cold room or part thereof will now be a conditioned space and can be used for storage etc.

    5. Once the basement has been spray foamed add new windows and a dry-core floor. Now you will have a comfortable, easy to heat space regardless of the design.

    6. Now the HVAC problem – since the basement is now well insulated it can be cheaply and easily heated electrically. Potential tile floors in the bath and laundry can be heated with electrical radiant systems – the rest by inexpensive baseboard systems. AC in the basement will not be required. For the rest of the house consider ductless options – with this solution you can preserve what little head room you have in the basement completely plus save mechanical room space. The ductless system might cost more than a conventional furnace but when you factor in ductwork, framing and trim costs it might end up a wash. The major downside will be telling ductwork cleaning telemarketers that your house does not have ducts!

    7. For God’s sake please cut down that tree by the front entry – I thought I told you about this last time you begged for help :)

    8. Water heating – I would look into tankless but a conventional tank is also fine. 

    9. Redo the porch roof as is, add railings and some chairs. Now invite me over for a beer to thank me for all this wonderful free advice…

  • http://www.thirdstone.ca Louis Pereira

    Hi Mike –
    There is skill and craft to look and see what goes on in a plumber’s mind ;)
    Even so i’ve offered a few more iterations of the previous plan but I’m not certain how well these work without additional input.  I’m really looking forward to seeing Matthew and John’s solution.

    I’ve also attached an Option 2 Layout for consideration…

  • Steve in Seattle

    I don’t believe anyone has yet mentioned the door under the stairway.  What is it?  It appears to be another entrance from the exterior, which would be handy if Mike wanted to make this a rental unit.  Toward that end, I’ve used Matthew’s solution (posted on Facebook) as a base and added a kitchen, flipped the bathroom so it’s not visible from the entry, rotated the living room to put the seating a safe distance from the TV, and moved the door to the utility area.  I’ve also stacked the laundry to provide more space and light at the foot of the stairs and keep the electrical panel accessible.

  • Steve in Seattle

    I misunderstood the photo.  Revised plan in Part 2.

  • Mike

    Brad, good to hear from you again. It’s an old photo but the tree is still there until I do final clean up.
    I waterproofed from the outside and dug down a little more to give me 7′ high finished (eventually) ceiling height. I am also putting down 2″ foam board, before concrete is poured.

    Is spray foam acceptible on old stone foundation walls? I was going to put an interior layer of Delta for any moisture then frame on top of Delta. I heard that the old rubble stones need to breath??

    The cold room is block wall and usually keeps beer cold too. If I insulated then I would need to get another fridge!

    I was going to heat the whole basement with in floor radiant heating (hydronic not electric) until I got a quote!

    Regarding the ductless heating; the in floor heating guy also does this and he gave me a price for ductless air conditioning at  the time. The house is so small  we could put 1 unit at the front or back and cool the entire main floor. The issue is with the second floor with multiple rooms, we didn’t get into this , but does each room get their own unit? I will look into this some more.

    I have looked into tankless units and may end up renting one until I am comfortable that they work OK.

    Didn’t you also recommend I extend the front living area into the porch? I have looked into this and it might not be so easy, as I put in a steel beam to the existing exterior wall and it would be a big deal to extend forward.

    I got turned on looking at all these modern flat roof designs, mine is I need of major repair anyway so I was thinking trying this design, not sure if it is do-able.

    So I take your vote to leave roof style as is leaving enough room on porch for people and beers (usually more beers than people).

  • Mikefilcor

    much appreciated

  • Mikefilcor

    Louis in this option is the heat supply still running down the middle of the house

  • http://www.thirdstone.ca Louis Pereira

    Yes, it’s still runs down the middle in Option 2.  The intent is to contentrate the dropped ceiling along the flush beam only.  This way the height of the rooms and hallway can be maximized.

  • Bradw


    I think it is fine to spray foam rubble stone walls but if it is a concern you can use conventional insulation and vapour barrier. I would spray the joist cavities around the rim joist to make life easier. Regarding the cold room, I figured you could make this into a conditioned storage space without much problem – living space no but conditioned storage yes.

    Take a look at the Mitsubishi Mr. Slim product – they offer a ceiling conceal split system which distributes air to multiple rooms.

  • MidAmericaMom

    Hello Mike,
    Nice to see you are still working on the house!

    What I wanted to plug is egress windows – on the east.  We were able to put one in without structural changes and the light does come in.   Put a terraced well there (white reflects the most light in) and even more light will come in.  You may want to place one on the South as well since you might be able to capture SE light.

    I am sorry that I cannot address mechanicals or bulk heads but I have a short basement ceiling myself and know they are challenging!

    The stair is walled only on one side near the rec room so we can mount a TV on the wall.  I was thinking storage closet under OR a cool thing – built in shelves like the IKEA cube shelving unit.

    The bath is in the center and has a shower.  The laundry is regulated to the center hall.  A 4 foot deep closet opens to access the units.  To one side is an alcove where you can put a hanging rod or shelves for stacking, hanging etc.  Behind the laundry closet is where your mechanicals would live.

    The rec room has a couch with chaise at the end near the wall.  The wall to the bath is a galley kitchen with compact apartment sized appliances (2 burner cook-top, refrigerator, and sink).  A table about 42″ diameter  with 4/5 chairs is near the window.

    Did you ever settle on a plan for the rest of the house?

    Good luck!  Mid America Mom

  • Bradw


    Nice to hear from you. I like your plan, in particular the laundry and the egress window. 

  • MidAmericaMom

     Thank you!

    I have to confess that this is based on experience.  In my low ceiling 1927 bungalow basement we have a hall from the stairs to a back room.  This is where my units are.  I like the placement but just wish I had more space in front.  The nook on the side is in case the ceiling height is too short to hang a rod above the dryer.

    Hope all went well with your reno (bedroom in the house and an income property?)!
    Mid America Mom

  • Mikefilcor

    what about venting the furnace and water heater?
    it might be too close to the neighbour to vent on the north side, would therefore have to vent either froont /back or south side?

  • Mikefilcor

    Hi MAM, good to hear from you again also.

    Many thanks for your input, I like  the laundry location, with standing room in front.
    I would just like to confirm if there is enough room for mechanicals .

    In your house, does the duct work run down the middle of the house also?

    This beam is a pain!

  • MidAmericaMom

     Hi Mike.  Our support beam runs down the middle of the house – so in your plan that would be parallel to the stair.

    We did not update the ducts and maybe never will.  We have gravity registers still and the ducts are in asbestos – big $$ here in the US.  All ducts are on interior walls!  Living with this I now know why modern houses have registers near the windows… it can be quite cold near the outside walls in the winter (by a minimum of 5 degrees Fahrenheit) .  Even if we could do a wall system I would not.  I think back to the baseboard boiler system I lived with in TO… there is an awkwardness of placing furnishings and hanging drapes and my worry of combusting fabric.   If I ever get a chance with another property I would do a ceiling heating system- radiant and cooling with just a whole house fan (it is dry where we live).

    Oh for ceiling finishing in the basement with the beam in mind – my parents did tray ceilings and they look quite good.  Makes you think it is decorative and not necessary.

    I did not see the scale so I was not sure what dimensions you had.  I was trying to eyeball based on the scale of the door.  Not sure of the codes in TO but in our home we have 2  -40 gallon gas hot water heaters and a newer gas furnace in a space that is about 5 feet by 4 feet.  We do not worry about access as we have an easily removable wall from the hall to them. *In this plan you could move things down, have less width in the rec room, bury the support post in the bathroom to utility area wall like Louis suggested.

    Good night!

  • MidAmericaMom

     Plan below.  Added another closet to the utility area as well.