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Basement Columns?

Shawn Williams
October 6, 2019

I'm in the process of designing a new house build. Most homes have steel support columns in the basement. I'm wondering if it's possible to design a home without the columns? The width of the basement will be 59 feet at it widest point and 48 feet and its minimum width. The depth will be 48 feet at it's maximum depth and 36 feet and its narrowest. It is a two story home. I'm assuming I will need some sort of steel I-beams. I know I will need to consult with an engineer. I'm wondering if this is even feasible and what typically would be needed to make this happen.

Comments (161)

  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art

    Well...is it time to break out the big bowls of popcorn to enjoy for as long as this thread trails on...?

  • Shawn Williams

    I have a few rooms that I know for certain I want. My thought now is to rough those and leave the rest of the space as flex until I decide what to do with them. When I say future project, I meant within the first year.

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  • Shawn Williams

    And Virgil is still along for the ride. Love that tenacity. Popcorn sounds like a great idea. I will have the popcorn maker ready for when he comes by house warming party. He's coming whether he's invited or not.

  • chocolatebunny123

    Shawn, I'm not sure why you're acting like a petulant child. People are giving you FREE advice and all you're doing is shooting down anyone that comments. As the saying goes, you don't know what you don't know.


    I live in the 'burbs of a major Midwest city. We finished our basement last fall. We decided to add a bathroom and kitchenette where there was no plumbing rough in. Foundation was in place, "all" we had to do was finish it.


    When we started getting estimates, I had a rough number in mind on how much I wanted to spend, but once we had architects and contractors bid it out, that number was nothing close to what the actual cost would. I was thinking like $30K and we spent double that. Our basement is around 1500 sq ft, with only 900 of that finished. No super high end finishes either, so yup, $60K for framing, drywall, a full bathroom. That cost does include waterproofing the walls and replacing the 20 year old sump pump and adding a back up prior to framing being started. That price did not include the new energy efficient windows and egress window that needed to be installed. Because the house was built in 1998 and codes have changed since then, if we had wanted to add a bedroom to that space, the egress window would have had to been made bigger (including having the well itself dug wider) which would have added at least an additional $5K. So I think Live Wire Oak is right - this easily could be a $250K endevour.


    We do not have any load bearing walls in our basement and only 2 columns, directly under where the load bearing walls are on the first floor. We designed the kitchenette around the two steel beams in the ceiling and that area serves as our little eat in area. This is mainly used as a hang out space for our two high schoolers, so it works out fine. I'd have to measure, but there's at least 8 ft between the columns.


    Now that I'm thinking about it, there may be one more column in our unfinished storage area, but I think it's over toward a corner. Since you cannot build a basement under the garage, we had a natural "bump out" behind the garage area that we left unfinished for storage, and that is also where we put the plumbing for the full bathroom so it's easily accessible. The rest of the basement is "open concept" with the stairs in the middle.


    Nothing exists in a bubble and you may find that your "wants" for the basement may not work out the way you want them too (ie, do you have enough room for an exercise room, or maybe you should consider putting it on the second floor). If your city has restrictions on what you can build in order to keep the 50s charm, you may not be able to even have the basement the size that you want. There may be a reason why a partial basement was built in the previous house. There's a lot more "ifs" and while for a price you can likely build what you want, there's not enough information here for anyone to tell you definitively what you want is possible.

  • worthy

    you cannot build a basement under the garage


    Maybe not in the Big Easy. But it's done in our city and of course, is becoming de rigeur for the priciest digs in London.

  • Shawn Williams

    I am familiar with the city code. The house I looked at only had a partial basement because they tore down the original house built in the early 50's, used that foundation, and built a bigger house on top of it and used a crawl space for the rest. The 50's charm they are going for is external. The basement is fair game. These are not big lots or massive houses for the most part so finishing a basement is very common. If I were building this house with no basement, it would be larger than 4500 square feet. I am banking on having at least 1,000-1,500 square feet of living space in the basement. It would seem like building egress and waterproofing and roughing the plumbing would be cheaper in the beginning than trying to do it retroactively. I know what I want in the basement. There are some thing I'm undecided. I think I can do the must haves, see what I have and decide if I want to add for the future. Frankly, I haven't shot down advice. I am literally taking the advice provided here. My thought process on the basement has completely changed. It's just that some have provided no advice or want to get into my finances. I took the $250k as what it would cost to build the basement with no supports. If that is the amount to completely finish 2500 square feet the way I want and increase my living space by over 50%, I'm game.

  • chocolatebunny123

    Worthy - I stand corrected. In my state, best practice is that you should not.


  • PRO
    Mark Bischak, Architect

    In my last comment, I asked for you to, "Post the floor plans". The response I received was:

    "What good will that do? Are you going to design the basement structure?"

    The good it would do is potentially give me enough information to answer your question or at least give you good direction. No I am not going to design your basement structure, you are going to have to pay someone for that and they will take the liability. I am probably the only one in this discussion that is licensed in the State in which you are planning to build. You may want to remove your shoes and socks and inspect your feet, one of them may have a self inflicted bullet hole in it.

  • Shawn Williams

    Like I mentioned,I do not have plans yet from the architect. We are still working on finalizing the second floor. I can crudely sketch the first floor myself. Would that be something you could use?

  • Lyndee Lee

    Give your architect some credit. He will design the basement with the least practical number of columns even if you don't explicitly say so. He designs houses and minimizing basement columns is standard practice. So, a specific request for as few columns as possible becomes a request for special design and materials. Possible means no columns, practical means making small changes which might increase the cost by small amounts in return for small increases in open space.

    Be careful asking an architect or contractor if something is possible because, given enough money, darn near anything is possible. Special requests dont get fulfilled with typical designs and materials. Special designs use different materials and those materials require more design time. Time is money and before you know it, there is another couple thousand in architect's fees and then a bit extra money for the required engineering. When you dont even have a specific design need laid out, any money spent chasing the idea of providing future options is not providing much value.

  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art

    Pass the popcorn...this is dragging on...

  • Shawn Williams

    Says the guy dragging it on. Sorry, all out of popcorn. You should meet my architect since he seems more capable of designing this basement.

  • worthy

    For the latest build, I spent a grand total of 1 hour with the architect and his team. I gave them the required minimum s.f., room requirements, including a sketch of the legally separate unit basement (see below). The architects and knowledgeable posters here added valuable input and away we went.



    Just e-filed the plans to the city, literally a few minutes ago, including the structural engineer's design. Looks good to me. There are a few posts in the basement, falling within the walls and utility rooms. But I guess I'm not very particular or demanding.

    *****

    If one feels the basement space is inadequate, one can go under the garage, as mentioned above. Or possibly even into the yard (cut and cover).

    ********

    best practice is that you should not

    Yes, it's easy to forget local conditions are not universal.

    Half of Florida, at and below sea level and resting on a Swiss cheese geology, should probably not have been developed at all. It's the result of a barely century old land boom built on speculation. And a century from now could well be abandoned to the rising ocean and collapsing limestone it's built on.

  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art

    If the OP had your experience, this thread would have ended long ago.

  • Shawn Williams

    Virgil is right. If worthy would have posted instead of you posting about popcorn, it would have ended a long time ago. You are correct in that I do not have experience since I am not an architect, structural engineer, or ever built a house. You keep complaining about the thread dragging on and yet you keep posting, nothing of which has been as helpful as the others, when you could have gone away a long time ago.

  • Shawn Williams

    I don't intend to need more basement space. My concern was that the house I looked at had a 17 x 21 room in the basement with four posts in the middle. Nothing could really be done with it. That's why I wanted to see what was possible. I understood nobody could tell me for certain and I wasn't looking for specifics.

  • Shawn Williams

    Going under the garage is intriguing me now. I do like working on my own cars so having a small room underneath where I could store my tools and build an access point to work underneath the car is interesting. The cost would probably be too much and I'm not sure the city would allow me to have a hole in my garage floor.

  • PRO
    The Cook's Kitchen

    We put in an auto lift. But it takes special design consideration. Like a taller garage.

  • Shawn Williams

    That's a big no-no in this city. The roofline of the garage must be lower than the house and the garage must sit back and not even with the house. It's not something I need but more wishful thinking.

  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art

    Where is "this city"?

  • Shawn Williams

    As has been stated, several times now, Michigan.

  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art

    Hmmmm....last time I looked Michigan had more than one city...but I could be wrong...

  • Shawn Williams

    You asked where the city is. Not what city is it. It is Huntington Woods. A small suburb of Detroit. Home of Kirsten Dunst and the Detroit Zoo.

  • PRO
    The Cook's Kitchen

    Shawn, I might gently suggest that this is another case of you don’t know what you don’t know, that is all over this thread. Having a taller garage does not mean that the garage is taller than the house. Or in front of the house. A proper design will integrate needs like that, and make it seamless. In our case, the shop has 10’ ceilings, with one bay vaulted to allow the lift to raise all but the tallest of truck cabs. The sports cars fit on it just fine, fully extended as high as it will go.


    You say say that you have professionals involved in your project, but you seem to already want to second guess them before they have produced any work for you. THis isn’t productive for those professionals or your process. If you have such a lack of trust in them, maybe you chose them incorrectly and you have time to change?


    But since they haven’t produced anything, I’m having a hard time with why you think they need back seat driving on such specific details at this point? That’s a backwards method. And, if they ever do need such a monitoring, then I would agree with you that your choice was not appropriate to your needs. But right now? Let them do their jobs without hovering outside their windows.

  • Shawn Williams

    First let me address the garage. I'm really not interested in a car hoist. You brought that up. I never looked into it. I just assumed the garage would need to be taller. I don't want the hoist so I'm not going to ask about it. If the one bay is vaulted, and it is above the first floor roof line, the city will not allow it. Again, I don't know if that is the design you have and don't care because I don't want it. I suppose I can raise the house some and give me a tall basement like I want and with the garage on a slab that would give me clearance. That may not be a bad idea as I can add overhead storage in the garage. I really just said the basement under the garage in jest. I was envisioning more like a quick lube shop type garage. Ultimately, it isn't very high priority.


    Where have I second guessed them? I have stated over and over and over and over again I will go with what they come up with. However, I want to be knowledgable in the design process myself. Why is that such a bad thing? It's not a lack of trust. I really wanted to be more informed. I'm surprised people seem to be discouraging me from being informed while simultaneously calling me out for not being informed.

  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art

    Well...your continual argumentative attitude, combined with constantly shifting criteria may have something to do with it...have you ever tried agreeing with someone about something...?

  • Shawn Williams

    I have agreed with numerous people here. I have changed my position based on what people have said here. You, on the other hand, have provided nothing useful. You whined about dragging this thread on, and yet you brought it back after 12 hours of no responses.


    What criteria shifted? My criteria originally was a column free basement. That shifting based on agreeing with people here.

  • PRO
    The Cook's Kitchen

    You seem to prefer to argue as a first choice response rather a non confrontational collaborative exchange of ideas. I’m going to suggest again that you don’t know what you don’t know here, so your position in your choice to argue is the weak position.

    I’m going to agree with the other suggestion to go back and offer a big bonus on top of the high bid for the other home that you wanted. You’ll be buying a known product, at a known amount. Building custom is anything but that. There are big unknowns, and those always come with cost increases. It takes a flexible mind set and equable temperament to get through a build.

    Unless you have a partner that could assume the major contact and decision making role in this, I’d rethink building. I think your confrontational communication style is going to ensure that there is plenty of miscommunication and strife on the build. If it ever gets out of the design phase. That won’t be a good way for you to live, and it will cost you extra money all the way around.

    It’s the old joke, but it should be taken to heart. Do you know the difference between a diva and a pita? Lots of money! (Variation is eccentric and crazy) Out of spec on anything costs extra. That goes for the social lubrication between people as well. Good luck!

  • Shawn Williams

    Not being confrontational but I want to make sure I understand what you are saying. You want me to go to the new owners of the house, who do not have it listed for sale, ask them if they want to sell it, offer them more money than what they paid, and pay more than what the house is worth or what it will appraise for? Then I would need to sell the lot I already own and likely lose money from closing costs and holding costs. And I do this because I wanted to see if a house could be built with a column less basement?

  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art

    No...you gave up on the basement without columns...


    Remember...?

  • Shawn Williams

    I did give up on the basement with no columns. What is your point?

  • Lyndee Lee

    The professionals above have presented excellent comments about how your interaction have not helped you get the information you want. They have much experience in construction projects and are warning you that, unless you change your approach, you will have a very expensive and contentious project. You are free to disregard their comments but you have been given the benefit of their wisdom and appear not to realize the value of experienced professionals.

    Examine your goals and determine exactly what is your desired end result. Is it the perfect house, no matter how much time or money it absorbs? Or, are you looking for a 90% result for half the cost? Do some thinking and apply the Pareto principle to this project. Consider value versus cost and possible versus practical.

    Figure out how to respectfully communicate a desire to understand the issues that have influenced their proposals. You need to convey your deep interest in the topic while admitting your shallow understanding. Invest some time into practicing how to communicate without confrontation.

  • Shawn Williams

    I have fostered many business relationships. I didn't get to a point in life where I could afford a $1 million dollar house and own multiple properties by not knowing how to maintain professional and personal relationships. What advice have I not taken? Virgil really hasn't provided anything instead of just snark so I give it back since it's the internet after all. What is wrong with my approach? I know what I want but I will defer to the professional. I have stated that dozens of times now. I then have someone advising me to go and beg someone to sell me their house for more than it's worth despite the professional realtor whom I have had a professional relationship for over 10 years tell me it isn't worth it. Is that the advice I'm suppose to take?

  • Harry Doyle

    Here's what you haven't done, even though multiple people have asked you multiple times: Post the d**n floor plan - even if it's drawn on a cocktail napkin.

  • Shawn Williams

    I will work on sketching it real quick in paint. I asked if a personal unprofessional sketch by myself would be helpful and didn't receive a response so I didn't go through with it. I will ask, with that rudimentary sketch, what are you going to be able to tell me that hasn't been said?

  • Shawn Williams

    Here is a quick sketch of the first floor I did in paint.



  • Shawn Williams

    I also want to add the dimensions are external so the actual finished rooms will be a little bit smaller. These are rough estimates right now.

  • live_wire_oak

    I’m revising my build estimate. 1.5M. In 5 years time, during the next economic downturn. It won’t happen until then because of the arguing and lack of being able to find a GC who will deal with that. People run from that in a boom economy. They just charge extra for it in a down economy.

  • Shawn Williams

    I'm not even sure what you are talking about. It sucks though if you have to overpay for a build.

  • Lyndee Lee

    The advice you have not taken
    Practice how to communicate without confrontation

  • Shawn Williams

    How do you know I have no practiced that? Again, I am totally comfortable about my business relationships. I didn't ask for communication advice just like I'm not going to ask my architect for communication advice. So, what other advice have I not taken related to the house?

  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art

    Do you or do you not have architectural plans for second, first floors and basement?


    If you had posted these at the beginning of the thread, it would have been an entirely different thread.


    Your sketch from Paint is worthless. No one can obtain any worthwhile information from such a crude, out of scale, incomplete sketch.


    Since you don't understand, the point of accurate plans is to determine and evaluate how the loads are being carried and what is a reasonable framing concept for the basement.


    It's not difficult.


    As Harry, myself and many others have said repeatedly; post the plans.

  • Shawn Williams

    As I have said, several times, likely dozens of times now, I do not have them. I am seriously trying to not be confrontational but how many times do I have to say it? I do not have them yet.


    I figured the paint sketch would be worthless. That is why I didn't post it. I asked if it would be of any help. I got no response. Then Harry said post the damn plans even if it's drawn on a cocktail napkin so I did.


    I do understand the point of accurate plans. That is why I hired someone to do them. I do not have them yet. Please read and acknowledge you understand that I do not have them as of this time.


    As I have said, many, many, many times I do not have them. I asked for basics. If you can't provide basics, fine. It's not difficult. I'll finish by saying, I do not have the plans right now.

  • PRO
    Mark Bischak, Architect

    Based upon the rough sketch, I would roughly say that you might be able to layout the basement with minimal columns and placed in a manor that when the basement is finished the columns would most likely be able to be buried in a wall. How is that for a definite maybe?

    By the way, I am in Berkley.

  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art

    No point in further discussion of basement or other aspects of the house until or unless you post all floor plans.

  • seabornman

    I'll answer your first post (I haven't read the other 154 posts), now that you posted a sketch. Sure, you can span the 32 ft. of the basement. The bumpouts would be picked up by cross framing. Depth will depend on loads above.

  • Shawn Williams

    I would mostly be interested in spanning the beams as far as possible in the back and leaving the front more compartmentalized. It seems doable. The architect said they would have plans available likely the begining of next week. By then I should know the basement layout. My original point was being able to ask the architect if he could modify the plans to allow more open basement. I understand that anything can be done and it depends on cost. I'm assuming he will be going for a more economical approach. That is why I wanted to have an understanding for what I can do.


    I also have in-laws in Berkley. Wanted to be close but not next door. I currently live in Macomb Township and hate it. It's basically a smattering of houses thrown in the middle of a field.

  • worthy

    I'll answer your first post (I haven't read the other 154 posts),

    Thanks for the timesaving tip!

  • PRO
    Mark Bischak, Architect

    I have in-laws in Macomb Township.

    "It's basically a smattering of houses thrown in the middle of a field."

    Yep, and there may be only 50 floor plans in the whole 36 square miles.

  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art

    How's this:


    I'll answer your first post (I haven't read the other 154 posts):


    --Yes, of course you can clear span your basement;


    --The size, depth and number of framing members may vary;


    --Budget and construction time may vary;


    --Finding an appropriate framing contractor may vary.


    I'm pretty certain about these answers.


    Glad to have been of help.

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