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Getting Correct Basement Depth (or house height)

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Mary's Forum Posts: 101
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By Mary in PA on 7/27/2009

I've read more than once in construction journals and blogs on other sites, of homeowners who have the unfortunate experience of having their basement at the wrong depth.

In one case, the homeowner used an architect and a GC, and ended up with basement windows that were supposed to be at ground level actually sitting several feet below ground level. The homeowner was forced to do a lot of grading rework and put in a retaining wall to fix the error. From what I read (if I understood it correctly), the error was in the architect's drawings.

In the other case, it was an O-B. The homeowner (and builder) hired subs to put in the basement and build the house, and only when the walls and floors were going in did it become evident that the house was sitting way too high compared to its neighbors (an unintended result).

So, how can a potential homeowner and builder (with no previous build experience) avoid this problem? What should I be doing beforehand (with drawings, surveys, stakes on the ground)? What should I be doing after the hole is dug to make sure it's correct? Thanks for any input/comments.



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By Rachal in Janesville, CA on 7/27/2009

These are horrible examples of really bad work, but I think they are the exception and not really common.  It's great that you are worried about it, because that means you are ready to address the issue intelligently and methodically. 

I personally read several books devoted to foundations and grading.  It was great information and I learned a lot of the lingo so that I could intelligently talk to the contractor about my concerns.  In the long run it didn't make me understand the whole process of 'concept to concrete,' that takes years of experience on the part of the contractor. 

Can it be that O-B's are the type of people that love to plan?  We plan for success and we plan for failure whether it's building our dream home or trying to drive through town and avoid traffic.  I personally know a lot of people who don't enjoy planning.  They think the time and effort isn't worth the money tradeoff.  They are petrified of making bad decisions in their planning and therefore won't take the plunge.  So, the point is:

People who love to plan will inherently create problems that don't exist.  I held up my project for a very long time because I wanted to 'know' what the subcontractor was doing.  In the end I found someone that I felt had enough experience.  I had to trust him.  I had to trust my decision to let him do his job.  

I don't believe there is any one trick to "make sure" this doesn't happen to you.  I guess you could always hire another contractor to double check his work before your pour.  I think this is a bad idea.  I believe you should have some level of confidence in the contractor who builds your foundation, regardless of the price.


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By David in Greenville, SC on 7/27/2009

I'm just basically seconding Rachal's answer. While mistakes happen even with the best of planning, these are rare and extreme examples. The only things you can really do are plan properly and try to hire people who you have checked out thoroughly and trust to do the job properly. However, even the best make mistakes and nothing is guaranteed. So, eventually, you just have to go forward confident that you have made the best decisions and hired the best people possible.


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