Strolling through the wonderful neighborhoods here in Palo Alto, California, you have no clue whatâ€™s happening underground.Â Weâ€™ve been designing projects with spectacular basements for years; wine rooms, golf simulators, game rooms, pistol ranges and home theaters.Â If you can dream it, we can design it, and probably have.
Basements donâ€™t count as developable area in the Cityâ€™s zoning ordinance. If you are building a new house or doing a significant remodel many people see this as â€œfreeâ€ space.Â Of course itâ€™s anything but free.Â In our grandparentâ€™s house, grandpa kept the train set up near the water heater and the furnace and grandma used the basement to keep her root vegetables from sprouting.Â It was a good place to beat the summer heat.
Today, basements can cost a million dollars or more and house sophisticated electronics or home theaters. Moldy smells or water dripping down the walls is not acceptable.Â Keeping basements dry requires expensive waterproofing and drainage systems, mechanical ventilation to keep air circulating, sewage ejectors and requires a civil engineer and waterproofing consultant to deal with the complicated drainage in and around a basement.Â It can easily add eight to twelve months to a construction schedule and should be timed to start after the winter rains have stopped.Â You donâ€™t want to be caught building a basement during a wet winter as it can cause extensive delays to the project so timing is everything.Â Itâ€™s hardly free space; in fact, itâ€™s very expensive space.
However, if you can get past the cost, basements can be a world unto themselves.Â Take for instance the Tintin basement.Â Our clientâ€™s favorite book as a kid was the â€œAdventureâ€™s of Tintin.â€Â In one book ,Tintin is chased by his would be captors through the underground catacombs of a old castle.Â Seeing no way out for him and his dog Snowy, Tintin used an old wood beam and a rope and made a battering ram and busted through the brick wall and escaped to safety.Â That story became the central theme for the game room in the clientâ€™s basement, complete with broken brick walls and heavy reclaimed timbers.
Basements can add a lot to a project, including significant cost.Â You should be aware of the complexities of building a basement.Â Special attention should be paid to the waterproofing systems. We prefer a belt-and-suspender approach to waterproofing. You shouldnâ€™t look to the cheapest solutions since this is an area where you want to have experts advising and monitoring the installation for you. A failure in this will be expensive and disruptive to all the vegetation around the house should a problem ever develop. Â It can all be managed but itâ€™s often far more complex than people think.Â Like I say, â€œitâ€™s not your Grandparents basement.â€