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Old 02-26-2012, 01:10 PM   #1
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Question on finishing basements with ceilings that are too low for code.


My basement has ~6'6'' ceilings with beam and duct work that come down to 6'1''. It's clean and dry and feels perfect for a small family room/office space. I'd like to do a full finish with insulated walls, drywall, etc. and I'd like to do the project above board and pull necessary permits for construction and electric (no plumbing planned). However since the ceiling is well below the minimum height for code, I'm not sure if that makes any sense.

If I apply for a construction permit, will I be rejected out of hand due to the low ceiling? Might I just go ahead and finish the space without a permit? Assuming construction and wiring are to code otherwise, is there a safety reason other than bumping heads against ceilings that should make me reconsider this whole thing?

Any help would be appreciated.

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Old 02-26-2012, 01:31 PM   #2
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Question on finishing basements with ceilings that are too low for code.


How in the world would you frame a door in that space? And if you convert it to living space, in most places code is going to demand alternate ingress/egress. Do you have a space to cut such an opening or two to the outside or is the basement completely underground?

Love of my life for many years was the tree topper in her family at 5'2". The finished space you describe would not bother her but would freak me out at 6'2".

If you are all short or even little people, show up en mass and plea for a building code variance---I guess. Could work. I don't think you will get it.

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Old 02-26-2012, 01:33 PM   #3
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Question on finishing basements with ceilings that are too low for code.


Why not reroute some stuff so it is between the joists? Leave the ceiling open and paint everything would give you a much more open feel.
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Old 02-26-2012, 02:11 PM   #4
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Question on finishing basements with ceilings that are too low for code.


Thanks so much for the replies.

Some response from me and a bit more info:

Yes framing the 1 door I'll need will be a trick but I think doable - again not to code height. I'm 5'11'' and having gotten used to my parents old farmhouse with some rooms at 6'6'' I think it'll be OK. It's mainly for the kids anyway. Adding an egress would be a necessary part of the project and I've been looking at the Bilco egress kits.

Unfortunately the basement already has a plaster on metal lath ceiling from the previous owner - perhaps original construction. I'd really prefer not to rip the entire thing down to gain less than a half inch of space to the floor joists above.

The lowest point in the room is actually the main load bearing beam of the house. No way to 'reroute' it :-(. Folks 6' and up will have to duck under it for sure and I will probably do so too since it's such low clearance.

But all that said, it sounds like the bottom line is I will get a no-go from the town if I try to go above board due to the ceiling height alone. So the real question I have is still:

If I go rogue and just bang this thing out, comfort concerns aside, and assuming I follow code for all non-height related issues, is it safe to finish this basement?

Last edited by iphazard; 02-26-2012 at 02:15 PM.
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Old 02-26-2012, 02:20 PM   #5
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Question on finishing basements with ceilings that are too low for code.


No! Is the easy answer.
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Old 02-26-2012, 02:24 PM   #6
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Question on finishing basements with ceilings that are too low for code.


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Originally Posted by sdsester View Post
How in the world would you frame a door in that space? And if you convert it to living space, in most places code is going to demand alternate ingress/egress. Do you have a space to cut such an opening or two to the outside or is the basement completely underground?

Love of my life for many years was the tree topper in her family at 5'2". The finished space you describe would not bother her but would freak me out at 6'2".

If you are all short or even little people, show up en mass and plea for a building code variance---I guess. Could work. I don't think you will get it.
sdsester stop complaining, I am 6’7” and every so often I forget that the main beam is there. What the @#$% that hurts!


Writer’s information is for discussion purpose only and should be confirmed by an independent source.
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Old 02-26-2012, 02:40 PM   #7
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Question on finishing basements with ceilings that are too low for code.


sdsester - thanks for the brutally frank response. I'm very disappointed but certainly don't want to put my kids at risk. Still having a tough time understanding what's unsafe about it but I trust your knowledge over mine for sure.
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Old 02-26-2012, 02:45 PM   #8
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Question on finishing basements with ceilings that are too low for code.


I am 6'3", and my basement has a main beam that is about 6 ft above floor level. Got to remind myself not to hit it. Other than that, I don't think I understand your question about safety. You say you are going to put in an alternative exit. You aren't going to live there, you aren't going to rent the space out as a basement apartment. So it is just as safe as the rest of the house, except you could whack your head.

As for not pulling a permit, well that is your call. Come time to sell the place, you may discover there are issues with the listing, maybe not. And of course if the town discovers the unapproved work, they could presumably make you rip it out. But these are not safety issues.
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Old 02-26-2012, 02:59 PM   #9
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Question on finishing basements with ceilings that are too low for code.


Daniel,

Well that's what I originally thought. It was sounding like Sdsester answered my question 'is it safe' with a resounding 'No!'. That's why I kept on about safety. I guess I'll keep looking for more info.

And I'd be happy to pull a permit. I'd prefer to in fact. But if I'm going to get rejected for a permit due to the ceiling height I'm not sure why I'd bother.

All I'm trying to figure out is:

1) Is there any chance of getting the town to permit me to build given the low ceiling height?
2) If not, and I build anyway, am I putting my family at risk (not including the risk of bumping one's head)?

If the answer to both of these is no, then I'm probably just going to build it on the DL and face the music whenever it gets to me.

At selling time (if we ever do), I'll tear the whole thing out if I have to. I like tearing things down
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Old 02-28-2012, 10:15 AM   #10
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Question on finishing basements with ceilings that are too low for code.


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Originally Posted by iphazard View Post
Daniel,

Well that's what I originally thought. It was sounding like Sdsester answered my question 'is it safe' with a resounding 'No!'. That's why I kept on about safety. I guess I'll keep looking for more info.

And I'd be happy to pull a permit. I'd prefer to in fact. But if I'm going to get rejected for a permit due to the ceiling height I'm not sure why I'd bother.

All I'm trying to figure out is:

1) Is there any chance of getting the town to permit me to build given the low ceiling height?
2) If not, and I build anyway, am I putting my family at risk (not including the risk of bumping one's head)?

If the answer to both of these is no, then I'm probably just going to build it on the DL and face the music whenever it gets to me.

At selling time (if we ever do), I'll tear the whole thing out if I have to. I like tearing things down

I'm not sure I understand the safety concern. 6'6" is low, but its not like you have to crawl around down there. Where I'm from, a permit is not required to frame and drywall a basement unless structural changes are made. Of coarse with electrical involved it would have to be permitted. The only issue I can see with this is it may not be technically "livable space" defined by your building code, and therefore cannot be marketted as such for resale of your home.
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Old 03-01-2012, 09:13 AM   #11
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Question on finishing basements with ceilings that are too low for code.


So you need to gain more ceiling height?

If there's a will - there's a way. Here you go:

The CELLAR
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Old 03-01-2012, 02:21 PM   #12
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Question on finishing basements with ceilings that are too low for code.


I think the real question is what code are you trying to meet? I'm sure it meets (or did meet when it was built) code for a basement. If you are trying to meet code for a living space, you'll probably fall short. I admit I haven't researched what defines a living space, but drywall, paint, etc... will at least imply to the code folks that that is what you are doing and could cause them to deny. Nothing says you can't drywall, paint, or add plumbing and outlets to your basement, but is it now a "living space". Fine line.

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