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The Basement Renovation: The Pantry

So just what is the room under a porch called anyway?  The previous owners of my house called it a pantry (and had it labeled as such on the electrical panel).  Most people refer to it as a fruit cellar, or sometimes a root cellar.  In my case you could call it a money pit, but that was my own fault for cutting corners.  More on that in a minute.

When I first moved into the house, the pantry was quite an ugly room, with a rickety old shelving unit and little else.  The previous owner used the room for storing his homemade wine.  I used it for a couple of years to store junk.  When I was in middle of the basement remodel, I thought about other potential uses for this area.

The pantry area under the front porch

The room measures about 5-1/2 feet by about 20 feet, which adds some substantial square footage to a small house.  Essentially it has two rooms, the smaller room measuring about 3-1/2 feet by 5-1/2 feet.  My wife and I are both pack rats. Together we have about 10 large plastic storage containers full of “stuff” which were taking up room in several closets.  The smaller room of the pantry is a perfect area to keep these containers.  The rest of the pantry is an adequate size for storage shelving, a small workbench for minor household projects, and even a mid size chest freezer.

Shelves in the pantry. The smaller space is tucked around the corner.

I saw no evidence of any moisture problem as metal tools had not rusted after being stored in there for four years. I figured that I would be able to get off relatively cheap.

The First Attempt

I fastened 1×2 strapping to the block using tap-cons, and installed rigid polystyrene insulation between the 1×2’s using adhesive specifically designed for this application.  Using the smaller dimension strapping saved floor space, and half inch insulation was better than what had been there (nothing).  For the ceiling, I used 2×2’s which I toe-nailed (with screws) into a 2×2 top plate that I had installed around the perimeter.  Everything was covered with vapor barrier. For the walls, I used 1/4 inch OSB, figuring that it would be a lot cheaper than drywall.  I had hung about 90% of the OSB when I discovered a large amount of what appeared to be condensation on the insulation side of the vapor barrier.

Basically the work that I had finished up to this point was for naught.  I was unable to take the OSB or the insulation down cleanly, so this was all money out the window.  I didn’t try to salvage any of the strapping either. Most of it had caulking (which I used to fill some of the gaps) and bits of insulation adhered to it.  The “condensation” that I had noticed turned out to be the only area where there was a problem. In fact, it was not condensation at all.  The old waterproofing had flaked off and moisture was infiltrating the block.

I had a choice.  I could either patch this one area with another waterproofing product and hope that it would solve all my problems, or I could remove the existing waterproofing and do the job right.

Out with the old (all of it)

With the pantry gutted again, I set about removing the old waterproofing. I used a drill and wire wheel attachment, just as I had done with the rest of the basement.  This turned into a lot more work than I ever would have anticipated. 

The walls had been waterproofed and then painted.  In some places, the paint and waterproofing were easy to remove.  However, in other areas, the paint had been applied to bare block. Removing paint from these areas was a chore and a half.  I was only able to work for a couple of hours at a time. The air quality became so bad and the dust would coat my safety glasses and clog my dust mask.  I was fortunate that the pantry was separate from the rest of the house, accessed by only one door. That was easy enough to seal off to prevent dust from accumulating throughout the house.

A few of the wire wheels and cup brushes used to strip the paint and water proofing.

I used a cheap drill, which died on me about a quarter of the way through the removal process.  I ended up using two more cheap drills.  And I also used countless wire wheel attachments. A grinder with a paint remover attachment might have probably worked better and held up longer. Scraping the walls took the better part of a couple of months to complete.  This one week project had now occupied my entire summer, and threw my basement renovation way behind schedule.

The block walls stripped of waterproofing and paint.

New and improved

Once the walls were clean of waterproofing and paint, I patched any holes with a leak-stop cement product.  Use rubber gloves if you work with this stuff, as it is a relatively potent irritant.  After the cement cured, I applied two coats of waterproofing using brush.  I was unable to find Xypex, which was the product that I had used for the rest of the basement.  Instead, I used Drylok, which seems to be a  good product as well.  It contains Portland cement which bonds it to the existing concrete and a synthetic rubber which acts as the moisture barrier.

I upgraded my strapping material to 2×2′s this time, and used fiberglass insulation which I separated into half-thicknesses which should yield a rating of R6, about the same as the half inch thick polystyrene, which rated R5.  Again, I used a vapor barrier and quarter inch sheets of OSB.

I painted the OSB with two coats of primer and two topcoats of latex paint.

Hindsight being 20/20, I should have run a 12 gauge wire and installed an electric baseboard heater to keep this space warm. While electric heat is fairly expensive, it would not have taken much to keep this room warm, especially if I upgraded the framing material to 2×3’s or 2×4’s and increased the amount of insulation.

Installing the Floor

The existing floor was simply the concrete slab with a coat of paint on it.  To prepare the optimum surface for peel and stick tiles, I laid roofing paper to act as a bit of a vapor barrier. I fastened quarter inch thick underlay directly to the slab using the shortest Tap-cons that I could find (between 25 and 30 per four by four sheet).  I sealed the underlay with a latex flooring primer, and then laid the peel and stick tiles.  The end result is a floor that should remain in good shape for many years to come.

Installing the underlay for the floor.

The final product

A fluorescent fixture provides light in the main room, while a pull chain fixture supplies light to the smaller storage area.  There are also two electrical outlets in the room;  one is on a dedicated circuit for a freezer or other appliance.

A lockable storage cabinet provides a home for old paints.

An heavy duty shelving unit doubles as a light duty workbench.

And there is plenty of room for storage boxes and other items, thus freeing up space throughout the rest of the house.

While I added ventilation to the pantry door, a source of heat, such as an electric baseboard heater with a thermostat, should have been considered.  Alternatively, I could have cut down an exterior door to fit the opening and left this room as a cold zone.

The Basement Renovation


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