The Dreaded Basement

Gah, yes, I know. We didn’t want a basement. I know, I know we said that from day one. But dammit, it was unavoidable. I guess there is a reason, a good reason – several good reasons even – why people have them:

  1. They make economical sense. It’s true.
  2. We need a place to store our crap.
  3. It allows a place to hide the ugly things you don’t want to look at – water heater, ventilation unit, deep freeze, cellar.
  4. It gives you a place to hide noisy things – laundry, children?

There are probably more reasons but these are the big ones that I’m using to justify it (and the 5th reason being that we really had no choice in the end, but whatever). Ok, very well, but the question had now become: how do you make a non-walk-out basement inviting?

Natural light is obviously a big thing. Our main level is going to be very bright with considerable southern exposure. Our topographical study (in addition to crushing our dreams of a walk-out basement – not quite) also showed us that in order to have a ground level entrance with no stairs to the front door (north side) and a deck on the south side, we would have a hard time getting much southern light to the basement.

Window wells are how most people who want a ground level entrance to the main floor get light into the basement. But if there’s one thing I like less than ugly basements, it’s window wells. They seem tacky and unnatural to me. Basically we realized that we would only be able to put at most three to four windows into the basement primarily along the east side. The basement was simply not going to be as bright and open and airy as the upstairs, it was just impossible, unless we wanted to change everything in the main level, which didn’t make any sense. So how do you make it a place that you wouldn’t mind hanging out in and spending some time?

In our last house, the basement was dark, poorly lit and had very low ceilings. Most people who have basements like that simply avoid the space and use it as a place to dump the things that they don’t really care about – laundry, the Christmas tree, maybe some old paint. But when we were renovating that old house, I wanted to experiment down there. The rest of the house was quite grand and executive. The basement was different. So instead I had some fun. I built a floor to ceiling shelf with plumbing pipe that I used as a workshop for wood carving. In the little bedroom we painted the walls, floor, and ceiling in bright white and used it as our summer bedroom (uninsulated and way cooler in the summer), and the third room I covered with OSB sheathing and made into a wine/beer cellar. Before I’d completely avoided the basement. But after that reno, I loved spending time down there. So we got thinking. Why not just embrace the underground space? The upstairs would be bright and open. The downstairs, dark and cool. We came across this ICF (insulated concrete form) system that was pretty much perfect. It’s called “Nudura One.” Most ICF is made like this:

Standard ICF

A certain thickness of foam on the outside is chosen, depending on your desired R-value, then 8” of concrete, and then another 2” of foam on the inside. This is required so that the concrete has a “form” to sit between (the two layers of foam). The unfortunate part about this was then you have to frame and drywall the inner foam layer. This results in a fair bit of cost in materials and labour to finish it (although your insulation value and airtightness is excellent with ICF). The Nudura One solves these inherent problems. Instead all of the insulation foam goes on the outside of the wall. The form is made by using a jig to secure sheets of plywood to the inner layer and concrete is then poured between the foam and the plywood. After the concrete dries, you unscrew the plywood and – Ta Da! – you have yourself a finished, highly insulated, airtight, badass concrete wall. Yes, if you want, you can still finish the interior wall, but why? You got a badass concrete wall right there. Done.  <br><br> 

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