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Exterior of walkout basement of Toronto homeThinking about renovating your basement?  Does your home sit on a sloped lot?  Maybe you should consider creating a walkout basement for your home.

Most basements are not put to use.  Either they weren’t created for living use (low ceiling height, unfinished floors, etc), and other times the conditions down there don’t lend themselves to human habitation (leaky walls, mold, lots of spiders, etc)

Basements, as the name suggests, are areas beneath the main structure that you can walk in and out of without using stairs. Ideally, they have windows and allow access on level ground. In this case, some people also call them daylight basements. If you are fortunate enough to have one (and there is sufficient head height) you can legally use it as living space and benefit from these other advantages:

  • Added value to your home at far less than the cost of a room upstairs
  • A more attractive proposition should you decide to sell some day

A walkout basement is usually only achievable when the property has sufficient slope to allow for it. Unless constructed at the same time as the house, part of it may end up below ground with concomitant damp problems. Ideally there should be sufficient slope on the rear side of the home to accommodate it. This obviates the risk of the approach-side of the house appearing architecturally awkward.

While it’s ideal to create a walkout basement when originally constructing the home, often times it didn’t fit the budget, or just wasn’t in the plans with the original construction.  When creating a walkout basement on an existing home, you’ll want to make sure:

  •  Waterproofing protection is incorporated during the construction process
  •   Foundation support are maintained to accoodate the new design
  •   The new design is in harmony with your existing home

While creating a walkout basement can be expensive, the value from the added living space will add value to your home that wasn’t there before.  In Toronto, there is a lack of available property, so homeowners are looking to make the most of the property they already have.  A walkout basement is a perfect fit to add an entire floor of living space to your home.

While this sort of renovation can be costly, it is often possible to stagger these costs on a site that slopes away from the access point. In this case, it may be feasible to leave the raw walkout basement structure unfinished, and complete fitting it out when funds become available. In this event it is vital to ensure two things.

  • There must be legal head height after allowing for ceiling space.  This is accomplished by lowering your basement.
  • The walkout basement must have waterproofing for its design life.

This is because it is often impossible to retrofit access to the inner wall, and to repair leakage afterwards. Builders seldom understand these things, which is why you should consult an expert.  Nusite Group has been serving Toronto and the GTA for over 30 years, we specialize in basement underpinning and finished walkout basements. If you have questions about the process of creating a walkout basement, or how to lower your existing basement, feel free to contact us here.

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.