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The Great Beam Debacle

One of the biggest frustrations with the basement renovation so far has been our support beam.  Pretty much every basement has a long beam that runs down the center of the house but ours is a little different.  Instead of running past the stairs and ending at a wall, ours runs right towards the stairs and abruptly ends at the foot of the first step.  Awkward!  So awkward, in fact, that a previous owner decided the basement would be better off without the vertical post that support the beam near the stairs.

Missing Support Post Missing support beam - do we need that?

It may be more convenient to leave that post out but houses are heavy and it's important to support them.  It would have been super easy to just put a ceiling under the beam and leave it as is, but our kitchen and dining room would have sunk further and further into the basement.  We figured it was best to support the house again.

We came up with two options for adding support:  1) Find a new way to support the beam or 2) Put a post back where it was originally.

Finding a new way to support the beam

When I went to pull permits for the work I discussed supporting the beam with the building permit guy.  We came up with a plan to attach a 2x6 LVL (strong wood) beam horizontally to the end of the beam and then support both ends of the LVL with vertical 4x4s (kind of like a bridge).  I'd also have to make footings under the 4x4s by cutting the concrete and pouring new, thicker, concrete.  It sounded like a lot of work but I was up for whatever it would take to keep our house strong.

This plan took a turn for the worse when I started planning it out in the basement.

Mess of wires

There's a gigantic mess of wires and pipes around the beam and if I were to stick to the plan the new vertical 4x4s would go right through the doorways to the workroom and the laundry room.  That sounded pretty inconvenient!  I asked our contractor to come out and help figure out the debacle.  The only option was to cut the beam further back so the vertical 4x4s would miss the doorways, but cutting the beam back meant not supporting a few floor joists that happen to be connected to the stairs and a bunch of other structural parts of the house.  After lots of "what ifs" and hemming and hawing, we concluded there was basically no way to attach a horizontal board to the end of our beam.  Our contractor said there might be a way to do it with steel beams but it would have to be custom made and cost a lot.  That didn't sound too fun.

Putting the post back where it was originally

Katrina and I started thinking it was time to go back to the original design of the house and put the post back.  It's kind of annoying that the hallway would jet out but we realized it does the same thing on the first floor.

First Floor First Floor from stairs

How bad could it be to do the same thing in the basement?  Our biggest concern was that we wouldn't be able to get a couch down the stairs but we found a super cool option for a couch that would fit - Love Sac Sectionals! Just like our sleep number king bed, these couches come in smaller pieces that are basically the size of a large suitcase.  They're pretty expensive but after researching them a bit and test sitting on some we were excited that there actually existed a couch so we made peace with the tighter entry and were starting to feel ok about putting the beam back in.

The father-in-law plan

Katrina's dad knows houses well, does a lot of engineering, and knows how to use steel.  When he heard we were going to put the post back in he started coming up with some alternatives using I-Beams.  We had made peace with putting the original post back in but one of his ideas sounded like a really good option.  We could run an I-Beam over the top of our current beam, connect the wood beam to the I-Beam, and then support the I-Beam with a pair of vertical steel columns.  He even offered to fabricate (and pay for!) all the parts for us. How could we say no?

The new problem was finding a way to get the I-Beam in place.  We have a bunch of pipes and wires in the vicinity and we weren't sure the beam would fit without some major removal.  I re-routed the wiring but we had a water pipe and two asbestos-covered boiler pipes to move.  We thought it would cost about $600 to get the pipes moved so the I-Beam plan came to a screeching halt.

This was a really hard decision!  In the grand scheme of the basement, $600 isn't a huge amount of money but it's still significant.  We had to ask ourselves how much it was worth to us to not have a beam in our way and how much more would we have to spend on a Love Sac than a regular couch?  To help us better envision the tighter/cheaper/easier option, we laid out some wood on the floor where the walls would go to see how bad the original post would be.

Walls with beam

Grr, it was a lot worse than we thought.  We've decided to bank our money (or the back half of our house weight) on the I-Beam,  no matter what it cost.

We'll let you know soon how it goes....

Comments (4) Trackbacks (0)
  1. how much would it cost to turn the stairs to the left?

    • Well, we’re not sure how much that would actually cost in dollars, but it would cost a lot in space in our laundry room, which is going to be smaller already due to giving shower space to the bathroom. So we didn’t even entertain that thought enough to find a cost.

  2. I think you are making the right choice by using the I-beam–especially considering the assistance from Katrina’s dad. You should be able to make up the cost by deferring, downgrading or DIY-ing other aspects of the basement project, if needed. Now, while the space is gutted, is the time to address the structural issue with a smart, long-term solution.

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