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The Basement Renovation: The Stairway Transition

One of the questions I faced when renovating the basement was, where does the basement end and the upstairs begin?

The stairs to the basement are parallel to the outside wall. This wall, like the rest of the basement, was finished with paneling. When I removed the paneling, I discovered that the builder had experimented with some sort of parging (stucco?) on the foundation block. All sorts of wood scrap was nailed to the wall to serve as strapping.

The original strapping on the wall.

Removing the strapping wasn’t difficult, but the surface underneath was uneven. Whatever the parging material was, it would be difficult to remove so that was not an option. Somehow, I would have to make the transition from the 2×2 strapping at the entrance, to the 2×4 framing of the basement.

strapping removed
The wall with the strapping removed.

Insulating an uneven wall

Ideally, this wall should have been insulated to a minimum of R-12, like the rest of the basement. However, I could not afford to lose 3 inches from the width of the stairs. Any amount of insulation would be better than what had been there previously, so I did the best I could within the constraints of the space.

new strapping and insulation
New strapping and insulation

I used a combination of 1×2 and 2×2 strapping to create as even a wall as possible. The wall is insulated with a combination of half inch thick foam board insulation and fiberglass insulation. The average R value of this wall is probably less than 5, but this isn’t as bad as it sounds, considering that there is no insulation at all in the main floor walls.

The milk chute

milk chute door
The original door of the milk chute.

The house was built back in the day when fresh milk was delivered right to the house, and so it had a milk chute next to the side door.  The chute had since been sealed up with brick and stucco on the outside while inside the old door remained.  It had been painted at one time and although someone sanded and refinished it, its appearance left a lot to be desired. As part of the stairway wall, it was an element in the transition from the main floor to the basement.

milk chute door removed
The milk chute door and trim, and damaged plaster were removed.

I removed the door and casing.  When I removed the strapping on the wall, some of the plaster crumbled.  I carefully chiseled the damaged material away to the point where the wall was still solid. Now I was able to apply some moisture proofing paint to the newly exposed brick and then strap and insulate the area along with the rest of the wall. 

new drywall and trim
Moldings cover and protect the edge of the new drywall.

The new wall sat proud of the door casing and the old plaster wall.  I used a variety of wood trim to conceal and protect its edges.

new shelf unit
Shelf unit installed in the milk chute cavity

I made a small open shelf to set into the cavity. It gives us a place for the garage door opener as well as a small drop zone when we are coming or going from the side door.

The wood ledge basically marks the point where the main floor ends and the basement begins.  I stained the wood trim with the same maple stain I used for the closet trim, which closely matches the wood trim throughout the main floor.

The “dummy” stringer

The new wall also sat proud of the existing stair stringer. To solve this aesthetic problem I made a dummy stairs stringer using a wide pine board.

I used strips of poster board, pinned in place and taped, to create the template.

creating template
Creating the template

After carefully removing the template from the stairs I laid it on the board where I traced the outline.

tracing template
Tracing the template onto the board

I made the cuts with a jigsaw and then stained the board to match the other trim on the first floor. A protective coat of polyurethane was also applied.

Staining the new “stringer”

The new “dummy stringer” was attached to the existing stringer with trim screws.

finished stairs
New stringer in place

The carpeting helps hide the imperfect cuts on the stringer, and the maple stain not only looks nice against the light green wall color, it also carries the design flow from the main floor through to the basement.  Of course, I could have just had the stringer covered with carpet.  That would have looked good as well, but it was not something I had considered at the time. Not covering it did save me a little bit on cost of the carpet installation.  Even though about an inch of its width was lost to the new wall, the stairway is still wide enough to move furniture and appliances.

The Basement Renovation


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