Many older homes have a basement or cellar but the likelihood is that this isn’t being used for anything other than storage, if it’s being used at all. Yet in cities, where space to expand is at a premium (like in The Bay Area), converting your cellar can give you useful extra space and add value to your property with relatively little disruption. The advantage of a cellar conversion over converting your loft is that it’s usually nearer to other living areas of the house. This makes it ideal for things like games rooms, gyms, studies or home cinemas.
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Converting a cellar or basement into habitable space is a relatively rare task people take on in the UK due to moist air and land. It doesn’t have to be a scarce home improvement though. In most cases a conversion won’t need planning permission as you’re not changing the external appearance of the property. The exceptions are if you’re creating a completely separate living unit, a basement flat say or you’re excavating a new basement from scratch. Building regulations of course will always apply with regards to things like escape routes, ventilation, damp proofing, electrics and so on.
Is My House Suitable?
If you have an existing cellar then the answer is almost certainly yes. You’ll probably need to carry out some remedial work like water proofing and fitting a better staircase but otherwise it should be a relatively painless process.
The modern trend is to add new basements to properties that don’t already have them. Most older properties have a suspended timber floor which means that disruption to the house is minimized because most of the work can be carried out from the outside. However, some older homes have relatively shallow foundations so you may need to underpin the walls before work can commence. It’s important to get a professional to advise you here.
The biggest problem with any below ground conversion is likely to be water and how to keep it out. Rainwater may seep from the outside boundaries of the property or from blocked gutters and drains down towards the basement. Because it doesn’t get direct sunlight it can be difficult to get damp to dry up, leading to mildew and other problems. The most common solution to dealing with rainwater problems is to lay drainage pipes around the base of the outside walls so that the water is carried away before it seeps down.
Groundwater seeping into the cellar may also present a problem. In these cases the best solution is to install a lining membrane behind a secondary wall; this allows water to collect in a sump from where it can be pumped away to the outside. This is more effective than the older technique of tanking with a cement lining and works even in locations where the water table is high. Before undertaking any kind of conversion you should check if your area is liable to flooding.
Other Things to Think About
If your house is terraced or semi-detached then you’ll need to consider the neighbors. They’re entitled to inquire about the possibility of subsidence and request a report at your expense. A good architect or surveyor should be able to advise you here but it’s still worth having a chat to your neighbors before you start work.
Your cellar conversion will also need services like electricity, plumbing and heating so it’s important to work out how you’re going to provide these. Depending on the use you intend to put it to you may also need phone and TV points. To ensure safety it’s a good idea to have a smoke detector and a carbon monoxide alarm too.
If there’s a wooden floor above you’ll need to pay attention to soundproofing so that you’re not disturbed by people moving about upstairs. Don’t make it too soundproof though, you still need to hear the phone and the doorbell!
Because there’s likely to be little natural light you’ll need to pay particular attention to lighting in your cellar. The use of halogen spot lights can produce a bright, white light and they can be embedded discreetly in ceilings or walls. The décor can help here too, opting for lighter colours can help to give the whole thing an airier feel.
There are lots of uses to which you can put a converted cellar, you’ll find plenty of inspiration online if you’re stuck for ideas. Whatever you want to use it for a cellar conversion can enhance your lifestyle by allowing you to utilize an under-appreciated resource in your home. It can also add significantly to the value of your property.