The basement areaway is an exterior entrance to a basement or cellar. It is sunken into the ground and can often have problems with the walls leaning into the space or having improper construction resulting in a collapse.
Basement Stairwell Retaining Wall Failure
Basement stairwell retaining walls are notorious for bowing, leaning, or shearing inward due to the hydrostatic pressures of the surrounding soil, soil frost expansion, tree roots, and expansive clay soils. Over time, these walls can begin to shift inward in different ways that can become a safety hazard if not properly stabilized. This is often due to the wall construction itself.
These retaining walls, especially ones constructed with cinder blocks or bricks and built prior to the 1980’s, were typically constructed without steel reinforcement to provide resistance from inward lateral movement of the walls.
These retaining walls can be structurally stabilized in several different ways depending on the construction of the wall and the condition or severity of the wall damage. Should the movement of the walls exceed certain tolerances, the walls may not be salvageable and may need to be replaced altogether.
Finishing Basements And Egress
Basements in homes constructed prior to 2003 often do not have egresses for general entry/exit or emergency escape. If you are planning to finish your basement, many municipalities require or strongly recommend that you install an egress as part of the project. If you are planning to add a bedroom within your basement, an egress is typically required.
Installing a basement egress is a great way to increase the value of your home and provide additional living space for your family or guests. An egress is required to allow occupants to escape during a fire. This is known as an “EERO”, or an Emergency Escape and Rescue Opening.
Building code requirements vary by location and municipalities so it is important that you discuss with your local building inspector with questions regarding code requirements in your area. You are responsible for abiding by all applicable building codes in your area.
New Basement Stairwell And Egress Precautions
It is especially important that a basement stairwell is installed properly by an experienced professional due to, but not limited to, the factors below:
- Temporary Structural Bracing – When cutting an opening in a foundation wall or widening an existing window, it is particularly important that the structure above remains temporarily supported during the installation and the proper permanent structural supports be installed to provide continued support of the floor structure above, the exterior wall above, the roof above, etc. This typically requires a structural engineer to verify the loads and supports.
- Structural Integrity – New basement stairwell retaining walls should be designed to withstand the surrounding pressures of the soil and other dead and live loads, as well as other building code requirements. A licensed structural engineer would typically design the walls with proper steel reinforcement.
- Drainage – Basement stairwells, if not installed with the appropriate drainage precautions, are notorious for causing water intrusion issues within the basement. It is particularly important that a drain be installed at the bottom of the basement stairwell that connects to a functioning foundation drain or to a sump pump. Failure to do so may cause the basement stairwell to fill up with water and flood the basement. Battery back-up systems or back-up generators are always recommended when a drain is collecting water from the exterior.
- Guardrails / Handrails – Guardrails and handrails are typically required by municipalities for safety to ensure pedestrians do not fall into the stairwell or down the stairs.
- Lighting – When installing a new basement stairwell, installation of lighting is typically required by municipalities for safety if there is not already lighting present.
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