Add Height to Your Basement: Underpinning vs. Benching

A basement renovation is a great way to increase your living space. Sure, there are other ways to add space to your home, but the basement is the first place to look. And frankly, it’s the easiest to renovate. The thing about renovating a basement is that you are building within an existing structure, so you don’t have to worry about zoning bylaws and building permits.

When you renovate a basement, you’re not building anything from scratch. And unlike a home addition, your basement already has finished walls, ceilings, and flooring. This makes a basement renovation project a much cheaper endeavour to increase the space in your house.

basement with a low ceiling
Basement with a low ceiling

A lot of basements in older homes, however, were not built to be livable; rather they were built mainly for storage, laundry, and utilities. Therefore, these basements often have very low ceilings and little headroom. Not exactly liveable.

So, how can you add height to your basement?

Well, to add height to your basement, you can either go with structural changes to the foundation of the basement, or you can implement interior design elements that give the illusion of a higher basement ceiling.

In this article, we’re digging into the ways to add height to your basement by altering your property’s foundation.

Lowering the Basement Foundation

We recommend changes to the basement’s foundation when less demanding alternatives aren’t possible. This is simply because altering the foundation of your property is costly and time-consuming.

The golden rule of the day: a foundational renovation should be your last resort.

However, if lowering your basement foundation is the only option, we suggest either one or a combination of the following techniques:

  • Basement underpinning
  • Basement benching

We’re discussing both basement lowering techniques in detail so you can learn about them and ultimately make an informed decision regarding your basement project.

What is basement underpinning?

Basement underpinning project
Basement underpinning project/ via Pinterest

Underpinning a basement involves digging around the perimeter of the basement walls. What we do in underpinning is remove the existing basement footings, excavate to a lower depth, and pour new footings at that new depth. We then rebuild the basement walls in sections and install new floors.

It’s certainly a tough job that should be done by a foundation contractor. Hiring a skilled foundation expert to underpin your basement is the best way to guarantee your house’s foundation isn’t compromised. Also, since basement underpinning requires a lot of excavation, it can be quite costly.

What about basement benching?

Basement benching (aka bench-footing) is another way to add height to your basement. Instead of excavating under the existing basement foundation, a bench or ledge is built around the inside perimeter of the existing walls. Then, we lower the basement foundation within the benched space. This method allows us to pour a new concrete slab at a lower depth without modifying the foundation walls.

basement with a bench
Basement with a bench / via Pinterest

Basement benching requires much less digging than underpinning, making it a lot cheaper and faster to complete. However, the most outstanding drawback to bench-footing is that it takes away from the square footage of the basement because of the fact that you have this new bench around the inside perimeter of your basement.

You can obviously take advantage of this bench and not let it become wasted space. Find a way to incorporate it into your basement decor. You can add cushions on the ledge to create some seating. You can also ask your contractor to turn it into a built-in storage space. Or better yet, you can even place your entertainment unit on it.

The right contractor to add height to your basement

There’s no doubt that lowering your basement is a demanding job. Changing the foundation of your home is not a simple task, which is why we encourage homeowners to do thorough research. And although finding the right basement contractor to do the job can be challenging, we advise you to check references and online reviews. It’s also best to go with a contractor who’s worked on this type of project before. With basement lowering, experience goes a long way. Your house’s foundation is no joke, so take your time and plan smartly.