Underpinning job in Toronto homeIn theory, houses are built on solid foundations that are strong enough to bear their full weight and more. Unfortunately this is not always the case. Foundations may subside and even disintegrate for structural reasons. They can also be affected by flooding, shifting earth and heaving clay.

When this happens there are two solutions. Either you have to reinforce the faulty foundations by adding bulk beneath them, or you have to demolish the house and start again. The former, which builders call underpinning (or basement lowering), is obviously the preferred alternative. While the practice of Underpinning is used to repair a faulty foundation, it’s sometimes  done for other reasons.

Increasing Basement Height

Some basements are little more than crawl-space cellars, having been built for the sole purpose of raising the ground floor level of the house. This could be to achieve a view, level the main structure across a slope, or create a defense against flooding.

Excavating a cellar without first adding support can be a recipe for disaster. You could remove foundation lateral support and cause it to start sliding into the excavation with inevitable results. The only way to avoid this happening is to create more bulk beneath the existing foundation as you dig down. For practical reasons this is done in sections.

Other Reasons to Underpin Foundations

Warning signs are cracks appearing in walls, especially in relatively weak places like corners. You might also notice:

  • A slight tilt to the house


  • Floors moving out of level


  • Cracks in wall and floor tiles


  • Windows and doors that are hard to close


  • Gaps around doors and windows


  • An opening between the roofline and the upper walls

The first step involves digging trenches to establish whether the root cause is foundation failure, or inadequate structures built on top of it It’s also essential to determine what compromised the structure in the first place.

The Underpinning Process

The purpose of an underpinning job determines the extent of its scope. If you are excavating out a basement to increase head height, then the entire foundation needs to be progressively underpinned in sequence. However if you’re repairing a cracked, eroded or subsided foundation you may only need to reinforce the relevant part.

In either instance it’s important to dig down to at least the point where moisture levels are consistent, and to install jacks until the new concrete has dried fully. You can check ground moisture with a meter obtainable from a garden store, as you don’t require a high degree of accuracy.  Bear in mind that this involves the work of a structural engineer and construction experts experienced with basement underpinning.

Repairs to Brickwork

After you have repaired a damaged foundation you would remove and repoint loosened mortar between the bricks above. This is not only for cosmetic reasons. You will also be adding a modicum of strength to the wall itself.

The Value of a Specialist

This is not an easy job (as you can see). The work is dirty, arduous and time-consuming. The time and costs involved are also something to consider.  If you’ll be in your home for the long haul, and would like full living use of your basement, it may be worth looking into adding another level of living space to your home.

Have questions about Underpinning?  You can contact us here, we’ll be happy to answer and and all questions you may have.

Finished basement with musty odourMany older homes in Toronto have basements with low ceilings, uneven floors and moldy walls that are little more than cellars. Their owners often only go there to check their boilers, or store something they’ll never use again. That’s a great pity, because they never know the potential that they wasted as they closed the door behind them.

These days, basement lowering specialists use modern building methods to dig out cellar floors and convert dead space into living space, with good headroom at a fraction of the cost of attic conversions. The common method is known as underpinning, or basement lowering.  They use technology to preserve the home above from any risk of damage as they go about their work. When their job is complete, they have added considerable value to their client’s home at a fraction of the cost.

Five Reasons to Do a Basement Conversion

  • Create More Living SpaceThere’s hardly a home that wouldn’t benefit from an extra room. Teenagers suddenly need their privacy. Mom or dad decide to work from home. The family is growing up and needs an informal place to meet, or at least a place where the kids can play without driving anyone crazy. There’s no end of reasons. It just costs too much to move.
  • Add Value to Your Investment – There’s no doubt that a home is still one of your safest investments, notwithstanding the fact that the real estate market’s taken a knock lately here in Toronto, but it always rebounds with a bang. It’s important not to over-capitalize. Digging out a basement costs significantly less than attic conversions and home extensions. This means greater profit when you sell someday.
  • Create a Healthier Environment – Neglected basements accumulate dirt, damp and mold. Nobody in their right mind would leave the spare-room looking like that upstairs. If they did, they would be at risk of respiratory infections. The same applies when there’s mold and decay on the far side of the door leading to the basement.
  • Benefit from Extra Income – As time passes, kids leave home, and retirement age is reached, many Canadian’s suffer income contraction as they enter a new phase. There are always clean and decent youngsters looking to establish their first base. This brings income that makes holidays affordable again. While there are hoops to jump through in order to have a legal basement apartment in Toronto, it can be done.
  • Achieve the Impossible Dream – Many of us have “secret hobbies” that we enjoyed when we were younger. These could include dressmaking, building model cars and boats or even something more artistic. A lack of dedicated space often holds us back from rediscovering them. Dig out the cellar, and you’re on your way to doing what you love….or even replacing your day job one day!


A Word of Caution

A cellar or basement with low head height still bears the full weight of the home above it. This is definitely not something to be done by amateurs as you can see from the news lately here in Toronto.  I the hands of professionals, it’s a safe and painless process.

There’s good reason to hire a foundation specialist who also understands the importance of effective ground-water management. They can ensure that there’s no structural danger at any time, and that the living space above is unaffected while the job is on.

Have questions about creating a full height basement?  Contact us here, we’re happy to answer any questions you may have :)



Basement contractors in Toronto for walkout basementAs a basement waterproofing company in Toronto, sometimes we come in to waterproof a basement or repair a foundation because the home owner is finishing their basement so it can become a rental unit.  We’ve been asked in the past by homeowners whether a basement apartment is legal in the city of Toronto.  Our answer is “it depends”.  There are several criteria that must be met in order for a basement apartment is to be considered legal or not. Most professionals in real estate and the construction industry would have a hard time answering this question as it’s very complex.

Some regulations are retrospective, while others are in force regardless of timelines.  Below is a brief outline of several factors that go into determining the legality of a basement dwelling in Toronto, though you must contact a lawyer for legal advice to truly determine if it’s legal or not.

Differences in construction methods, confusing time-frames and complicated rules make the answer to this complex. The following summary provides a general background. Home buyers should check details carefully before buying based on first impressions, and risking expensive consequences later.

The same applies to sellers and their agents. The days of a terse “retrofit not warranted” are no longer sufficient. They are advised to make more complete disclosure of compliance. However it remains the buyer’s duty to inspect the premises in terms of law.

Finishing a walkout basement in Toronto

Fire Regulations

This is the only section of the Ontario building code that is retrospective. This means that a once-compliant basement may no longer be so. Requirements for basement apartments include:

  • Dry walls between a basement and main dwelling must have a thirty-minute fire-rating.


  • There must be an alternative exit. This can be a basement window, provided it complies with size and positioning rules.


  • A basement must have a smoke detector (connected to the main house if the fire rating is in doubt).


  • Some municipalities require a carbon monoxide detector in addition.

The only sure way to confirm legality is to obtain a retrofit compliance certificate from the local fire department. Some sellers arrange these to encourage buying confidence.

Other Building Regulations

Changes to general building regulations are not retrospective. Basements built pre-1995 are exempt because there were no laws applying to them at the time. More modern ones (and older ones without evidence of construction dates) must meet the following requirements in order to be used as apartments:

  • The minimum height is 6 foot 5 inches measured from floor to ceiling.


  • The entrance opening must be at least 32 inches by 78 inches.


  • Bathrooms must have either windows or exhaust fans.


  • Parking space must be evenly distributed in the case of multi-apartments.


  • A valid certificate of electrical compliance is necessary.

Ceiling Height

Some older basements fail to meet the ceiling-height requirement because they were originally built for storage, not habitation. Techniques exist for lowering basement floors without affecting structural integrity. A buyer contemplating this should allow for the cost of construction work (and total re-fitment afterwards) in their calculation of total purchase price.  In some locals, have full length windows or a walkout basement may be a requirement for a legal basement apartment.

In Summary

The rules that are summarized here are necessary to ensure safe, comfortable basement apartments, and merit compliance for this reason alone. The homeowner who chooses to ignore them risks stiff fines from city inspectors – and having to vacate apartments and forfeit rental income too.


finished walkout basement used as family room in TorontoHave you ever thought about turning your dark and damp basement into an enjoyable living space for your family?  If you are considering a basement renovation, and if your property allows for it, consider creating a walkout basement that the whole family can enjoy.

Here in Toronto, most homes have basements, and with our climate, most tend to have some sort of damp problem.  Some homeowners have been living with a wet basement for years and have learned to live with it, though not happily.  One of the main causes of dampness and mold problems in the basement is water seeping through from the soil around the foundation, and a lack of proper ventilation in the basement.

If you are looking to maximize the square footage of your house, a Walkout or Daylight Basement in the home can provide many benefits that are lacking in a traditional basement setting. A walkout basement is most frequently found in houses situated on a slope, since part of the basement level is above ground – however a walkabout basement is most simply defined as a basement with full windows and a door to the outside. A walkabout basement has many benefits, including the fact that it can create more living space and increase the appraisal value of your house.

walkout basement under construction in Toronto

Create More Living Space

By its design, a walkabout basement creates a unique indoor/outdoor space that allows you to use your basement more as a living area than a storage area. Having full-fledged windows and doors increases natural sunlight and allows the basement to be finished and furnished like the rest of your house. You can use the walkabout basement as a mud room, entertainment space, or even a bedroom. This can be particularly valuable if you have house guests, or even choose to rent your lower level. A door to the outdoors means that guests and renters can come and go as they please without needing to use the front door!  Rather than just use the basement for storage, you can turn it into an extra room for entertainment and living.

Exterior of walkout basement of Toronto home

Increase Efficiency In Your Home

Many walkabout basements lead to patios or outdoor spaces. This makes entertaining – especially in the summer months – very appealing. However, since the living space in a walkabout basement is more viable, this means that storage and plumbing can be tucked away, but easily accessible. It is quite simple to access a furnace and plumbing in a walkabout basement without compromising any living space.

basement bedroom in a walkout basement

Improve Your Home’s Worth

Homes with walkout basements typically appraise higher than standard basement homes. This is due in part to the increase in viable living space. The natural sunlight that having windows in the walkout basement provides means that the basement can house bedrooms or other living areas and can be more easily used for recreation and entertainment.

Having windows and doors to the outside also means that walkout basements aren’t as damp and musty as traditional basements, and can reduce the mildew and mold commonly found in basements. This means that the space can be truly utilized year round without worry of potential health hazards or unappealing smell that result from a chronically wet basement.

 Think About a Walkout Basement When Your Renovate

Regardless of whether you are looking to expand your living space or increase your entertaining capacity, a walkabout basement is a smart and economical move that not only gives you a better living space, but can increase the value of your home. Working with a contractor, you can easily assess the best way to turn your basement into a walkabout basement with full windows and a door to the outside.

Have questions about creating a full height basement in your home?  If you live in Toronto or the surrounding GTA, we offer a free in-home inspection and estimate for all of your basement renovation needs.  You can contact us here.

save money by going greenHave you thought about “Going Green” when it comes to your next home improvement project?

If you’re like most people, you love the idea but not really a big fan of the cost.  While most green home improvement projects end up saving you money in the long run, having to pay a premium up front puts off many homeowners who otherwise would love to go green.  Even here in Toronto, which isn’t the first city that comes to mind when you think “Green” (especially after a trip down good old highway 401), you see lots more innovation happening in the home improvement space.  Many home owners and businesses are seeking out LEED certified projects from qualified contractors.

Even if you’re not interested in going totally green in your home, there are lots of smaller projects around your home that can lead to big savings and a better environment.  Did you know that a single high efficiency shower head can save you almost $300 a year, or a total of $6000 over a 20 year span?  Or that a thermal floor heating system can save you about $400 a year, or $8000 over a 20 year span?  All of those little savings can add up to the vacation of a lifetime when you retire!

If you want to see how you can go green and save alot of money over the long term, check out this infographic courtesy of 1bog.org.  You can see how projects big and small around your home can add up to a nice savings over the long term and a better environment for us all.  Now that’s a good deal.

Home improvement infographic for green building

This is a guest post by Lisa Sinopoli, a lifelong resident of Toronto and your friendly neighborhood Vaughan Real Estate Agent