Dear PoP – How to do a Basement Dig Out?

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“Dear PoP,

I recently purchased an older rowhouse in which the basement is in rough shape. I have come across a number of rowhouses in which the basements have been renovated through expansion, i.e. dig down a few more feet and make it more inhabitable. I was curious if you might have any recommendations on companies that might perform such work. Or if you if know of anyone that has dug up their basement and might be able to pass along their experience/recommendations. Any thoughts, ideas, stories would be appreciated.”

Has anyone had this work done before? Any suggestions?

24 Comment

  • I looked into it once. It’s very very expensive. It’s very labor intensive and usually involves structural work since you might end up digging below the footings of your foundation. If that’s the case, underpinning the foundatoin could easily double the quote.

  • Might want to see an old episode of “this old house” when they did a renovation of a rowhouse in Shaw. They discussed all the things that needed to be done. Also, just call DCRA. You are going to have to do it anyways, so might as well bite the bullet now.

  • WP ran an article on this topic. Cap Hill Restoration Society (CHRS) has also covered this topic. The two main points — doesn’t have ROI that some believe, and you’d better hire someone who REALLY knows what they’re doing.

  • also: you will need the permission of your neighbors to underpin your house [assuming that you have them on both sides] since there have been several accidents in recent years with illegal basement dig-outs.

    and the permitting process can take up to 3-6 months before you can even pick up a shovel

  • It’s difficult for any contractor to estimate as you don’t know exactly what you’ll find until you commence digging. It is indeed very labor intensive as it must be done with hand tools.

    You’ll need to inspect the adjacent row houses on each side to better guess what you’ll find. If one has dug out a basement lower than yours, you’ll have to cut, break into pieces, and remove the underpinning they made for you. Depending on the slope of your street, you may then have to underpin them before you’re done.

    Nicely done basements can be so cool in the city, but there has to be a genuine commitment in creating one. Done right it is a very expensive endeavor as there will be latent conditions and unforeseen expenses so be well prepared and remember…

    One thing to bear in mind every step and every day along the process…

    Drainage, drainage, drainage.

  • I flipped a house last year on 11th & Lamont St NW. I and preformed a basement excavation but NOT below the footings. This process is the only way I would suggest. If you dig below the footings which we initially planed on doing you have to get the approval of the neighbors to sign off. Of course I had two jackasses as neighbors who wouldn’t sign off delaying our project months so I told them to fuck off and ended up not doing it.

    Below will leave you with a cold dark shell does not include the build out for living/bed/bath ect

    Ruff Budget
    Architect $5000
    Permits $1500
    Demo Existing slab $3500
    Excavation/dirt removal $2000
    Plumbing Ground works $2500
    New Slab $5000

    Time line 2 months

  • I’ve heard the rough order of magnitude for a basement digout is $50K. Just in case you’re trying to set your head with this.

  • My former landlord dug out the bottom of a rowhouse while I was living there. (I lived upstairs, obviously.) She did a complete buildout of the basement as a seperate unit – 1 bedroom, 1 bath, tiny kitchen. She left a walkway for the house upstairs in the basement, and added a shower stall to the “bathroom” (read: toilet) that was originally in the basement. If I recall correctly, the original estimates were around 80k for everything. Definitely didn’t have to the do the “underpinning” that everyone mentions cause there is NO WAY the crazy neighbor lady would have let her proceed with the project. But, because she lost most of the basement, it meant she had to move the washer/dryer upstairs into the house. I have no idea how much that added to the cost.

  • $50k sounds like so much. How much does it cost to put an extra floor on a typical petworth rowhouse?

  • My basement was dug out when my house was renovated. Now I need to pul down some drywall and find the origin of my wet carpet. Honestly, I’d prefer not to have the finished basement, even though it’s better for resale.

    My captcha is “62-year-old ants”. Don’t know if they found any of those when they were digging.

  • I have been wondering about this. The husband and I have been discussing what to do with our basement. I am not really sure that we need to dig it out. The “garage” floor of the basement is already at least a foot or so lower than the other rest of the basement. Accounting, for the fact that probably a quarter of it would be a utility room then that only leaves about the front 1/3 or so that has 7 foot ceilings. The garage part (which we don’t use as a garage) already has 8 foot ceilings. I just don’t think in our case it would be worth the money.

  • I have no idea how much it’ll cost but keep one very important thing in mind:
    You live in DC, we get a lot of rain in the spring and often great big deluges in the summer. This water has to go somewhere and a basement is a hole in the ground and as a contractor/house builder that I know once said, “The best way to think about a basement is not IF it will have water in it at some point, but WHEN”. I installed a sump pump in my basement (not a dig out) and that thing has been running quite a bit lately because of all that snow we had in December.
    If it is $50K…that is a lot of money.

  • Just build an unsightly pop-up and save yourself all the trouble with neighbors, footings, drainage, etc.

  • don’t do it. take off the ceiling, expose the joists, and soundproof the bottom of the second floor. same effect, but even cooler, and MUCH MUCH cheaper. plus, no permits.

  • sorry, i meant to say, take the ceiling off the basement, and soundproof the BOTTOM of the first floor (the ceiling of the basement), and there you go. AND it looks so much better….

  • I also recall a neighbor spent $37,000 on a plumber to re-route all the pipes on her basement ceiling, move the water heater, boiler, etc to make room for having a smooth ceiling. And I think she also dug out. Can’t see how it could possibly be worth it!

  • You want a good contractor for this.

    I would recommend Kevin Holcomb who is also a master carpenter and has done a fair amount of structural work for me. He has done the basements with underpinnings for other people but it’s not in my budget. Tel 301-580-8512

  • I think it’s ludicrous what plumbers are charging to reroute plumbing. You can learn to sweat pipes in 30 minutes watching youtube. We need a residential homeowner exemption for plumbing as well as electrical.

  • I’ve seen it done, and it is about $50,000. Many of DC’s historic row houses were built on compacted dirt. So, the stages were to hand dig the basement flooring, using a saw to cut a few feet from the side walls. A few times I’ve seen them use of one of those mini-bobcats, but it is a lot of hand labor. Then, they used hydraulic cement to create a new footing at the base of the walls a few feet below the existing walls. The footers extend a bit from the walls to the center of the rooms. Frankly, that makes your house more stable than before. Then, they lowered the basement floor to get the right height.

    Sure you have to get permits, but it’s not like this is an unusual project.

    If you live in an area where you can get $1,200 or more for a basement apt, it may make sense as part of a larger renovation. Or, if you want the extra living space, it can be cheaper than moving to a bigger house.

  • What permits and documents are required to dig a basement?

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