With pressure on space in the UK, using basements for extra usable space is getting more and more popular. Using a basement for a kitchen presents a few technical problems, but if it ends up giving your house more room and making it more saleable then it might well be worth it.
Lack of windows
The main problem with basements, the one that prevents people from taking on a job like this, is the lack of light. Of course you can put artificial light in, but there’s something about not having windows that is very off-putting. But most basements are in urban properties built in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and they aren’t usually wholly underground, like cellars.
Kitchens work best in basements that aren’t completely underground. They might have skylights at the front at street level, or because of the slope on the plot, can give access to the garden with patio doors. You might be able to make better access to the rear by excavating down in the garden and putting in a few steps up to garden level.
Access to the rear
If this is possible it could enable you to turn a window into patio doors, something that would really enhance the new kitchen. Of course you need to make sure you won’t be compromising the foundations, the damp-proof course of the exterior wall, and the strength of the wall itself.
Use an independent surveyor
Assuming you can work with the amount of natural light you have, or you are happy to make do with artificial light, then the most important practical problem to overcome is dealing with damp. It is absolutely imperative to get the opinion of an independent building surveyor with experience of basements and cellars.
Note the ‘independent’ part of that sentence. If you are going to use a company that specialises in converting basements then that’s not a bad thing, and their surveyor must look at the property so that they know what they are getting in to.
But an independent surveyor hired by yourselves will have your best interests at heart and will tell you if it is really inadvisable to continue. A surveyor working for the company that’s going to do the work will want the project to go ahead and therefore might be more optimistic.
Depending on the way your property was constructed, the type of soil it’s on and the height of the water table in the area, damp-proofing can be as little as a repositioning of the damp-proof course or as much as ‘tanking’ the whole space.
Although externally applied tanking systems are available, they are really only practical to apply to a new build. A kitchen basement conversion is going to be performed on an existing property and internal tanking is the more practical approach. There are two main systems. The first is to apply a waterproof layer and rely on this to push water around the house instead of through it.
The second is to add a hard or semi-solid membrane to the walls that allows water to collect behind it and flow down into a series of channels, leading to a pumped drain. With a basement conversion that’s going to be used as a kitchen, you’ll need pumped drainage anyway, for the sink and appliances like dishwashers or washing machines, so the second method might be more appropriate.
Plumbing and heating
And that’s brings us to the plumbing. There shouldn’t really be any issue with bringing hot and cold water down to the basement. If anything you will get a better head of pressure, so this simply becomes a plumbing job.
Heating is important as a basement will feel colder because of the moisture in the ground around it, even if damp isn’t getting in. What you put in depends on the heating system you have already, but note that you might have to upgrade that system to cater for the extra space.
Finally, think hard about access to the basement. If there are stairs already, that’s fine, but think about making them wider or removing turns. If you have to put access stairs in, make sure they are simple to navigate.
If the main dining area is remaining upstairs, you’ll want to be able to carry shopping down easily and, more importantly, cooked food up in safety!
Plan as much as possible
If you’re thinking of putting a kitchen in a basement remember that, as with any major renovation or alteration works, the results will be a direct reflection of the amount of planning and forethought that goes into it. So spend more time at the planning stage and you’ll enjoy a straightforward project that delivers what you expect.