Considering a basement lowering project for your home? Lowering your basement is not your everyday home improvement project, though, with the real estate prices in Toronto and the scarcity of land, it is a great option for expanding your living space without losing precious yard space.
Homeowners in Toronto often ask about lowering their basement. In a process often called underpinning, the basement floor is dug out a few feet down. This makes the basement more accessible, functional and can add to the value of a home. Not only does it modify a basement into a more valuable space, but it also adds structural integrity to the home.
Preparing for the Basement Lowering Quote
As with any home improvement type of project, homeowners should be well educated before they begin the basement lowering process. When it comes to your basement, you are looking for a foundation or underpinning contractor who is professional and experienced with the type of work you desire. You’ll want to find a company that is reputable, insured specifically for this type of underpinning work and one that can provide you with references as this type of project can be disastrous if done incorrectly. When it comes to the structural integrity of your home, it’s always worth researching thoroughly for an underpinning contractor before hiring.
You may find companies who are willing to price your job on the spot without drawings, without further knowledge or testing. Often, homeowners will request a ballpark price point which could end up increasing drastically after you hire a contractor as there are many variables to consider. By providing a price without going through the process of receiving drawings or testing, an accurate quote will not be given. The contractor will most likely overbill you at a later date once the project has started. Working with a professional and reputable underpinning company, all procedures and steps will be outlined and explained on all levels of the project. It is imperative that the contractor you decide to work with includes demolition, drilling test holes and has engineer drawings before beginning the job. Often, when this part of the process is not completed discrepancies in the work order can occur.
Hiring an Architect or Engineer
Part of the process for lowering your basement should include getting quotes from at least two professionals for drawings and determining which architect or engineer you plan to use before you even have a contractor come out. Doing this part of the process ahead of time shows the contractor that you are serious about the process and will educate you on how the entire scope of work is outlined. If you ask a contractor for a bid on a basement lowering project without doing your due diligence, for example getting drawings, you may end up with a range of pricing that is arbitrary and down the road could lead to pricing inconsistencies.
An experienced underpinning contractor will only work with reputable architects and engineers with experience in basement lowering and can recommend one if needed. Here at Nusite, we work with several very reputable engineering firms and architects that specialize in basement lowering.
The basement lowering drawings you received from your architect or engineer typically need to be certified and then sent for approval for a building permit., at least here in Toronto. The inspector may recommend changes that will need to be marked on your approved drawings. This is not an easy task so you want to make sure you have an experienced craftsman leading this project.
Understanding the Basement Lowering Quote
To understand your underpinning contractor, his pricing and process, it’s important to note that basement lowering is a very time-consuming, labour-intensive process. The project can be challenging from an engineering standpoint. Your contractor will need to follow those drawings accurately and that takes skill and experience. We recommend you compare quotes between a few different contractors and check to make sure the scope of work is the same on both of them.
There have been several well-documented disasters in Toronto involving unqualified contractors and houses falling down due to improper shoring during the basement lowering process. If you hire an unqualified and under-insured contractor, the homeowner (you) will bear most of the responsibility and legal consequences if workers or civilians get injured due to negligent work.
Scheduling the Work
When you decide upon a plan and agree on a price with your underpinning contractor, the work can be scheduled. When dealing with a contractor, scheduling can take a few days or a few weeks. We feel that a busy contractor is a good thing. You don’t want to hire a contractor who isn’t busy. It’s similar to eating at a restaurant where no one else eats and expecting a wonderful meal.
Here in Toronto, the Spring and Summer are usually the busy times for basement lowering contractors but since the work is indoors, this work can be done during the winter and you may have a better time finding an available underpinning contractor for your project.
The Work Process
The underpinning contractor will begin by measuring and marking everything out prior to the beginning. They dig out the basement slab and typically lower the floor 1-3 feet. They will also shore up the underpinning or sidewall area to ensure structural stability. Then the lowering process is carried out, either bench footing (creating a bench to support the dirt underneath the foundation wall) or underpin (directly removing the soil underneath the foundation wall and replacing it with concrete). Once that is accomplished, typically the next step is to waterproof the interior of the basement foundation, put down gravel then pour a new floor. A waterproofing membrane is then connected to a sump pump on the interior to help keep your basement dry. The amount of time it takes and the cost of the project can vary based on the size of your basement. Some projects take a few days (mostly repairs) and some can extend into many weeks (The average full job is 3-6 weeks). While it is difficult to provide a price without drawings and discussions with the homeowner, you can expect this type of specialty work to run between $30,000-$50,000.
When the basement lowering project is completed, you should walk the job with the foreman or project manager. You’ll want to check for anything that seems unfinished or anything that doesn’t look right. You want to check that the city and the engineer passed all inspections throughout the project. As well, make sure that your contractor and his crew cleaned up after they finished. You shouldn’t see the debris left behind unless your contractor has let you know ahead of time that you are responsible for cleaning it up. In most cases, the contractor does the cleanup and removal unless otherwise agreed upon.
Do I Really Want to Do This?
Basement underpinning is by no means, a small undertaking as you probably understand by now. It involves research, time and money as it is quite complex. Yes, it takes preparation, thoroughness, and quite a bit of your hard-earned money. If you find the right contractor, your project will go much smoother. An underpinning project done well gives you more space than you will enjoy for years to come. It also adds value to your home. In today’s real estate market, adding that value (which does not increase your property tax) will go a long when selling your home.
Nusite Contractors Ltd. has been proudly serving GTA homeowners for over 30 years! We are a family business and take pride in customer service and professional work. You can contact us here to schedule a free consultation and written estimate! We would be happy to help!