Many years ago, we applied to be on one of those home reno shows and they chose to renovate our basement! – or so we thought. In the planning stages of the reno, the show’s contractor discovered that the slope of our basement floor was too steep to build on. The floor was inconsistent and out of level by over half a foot in some areas! There wouldn’t be enough time in the production schedule to fix it properly so they were going to have to take a pass on us.
At first, we were disappointed: who wouldn’t want a crew to come in and take care of a major renovation while we sit back and let them do all the work? But on the flip side, as avid DIY’ers, it was going to be hard to give up full control of the project. In the end, it worked out in our favour because there’s no sense in finishing a basement when there’s still things to renovate on other levels of the house (i.e. our kitchen still needed to be renovated). You really need open access to the plumbing and electrical in the basement before closing those things off forever once the basement is done!
Anyway, since we had cleared our stuff out of the basement for the show, it seemed like a prime opportunity to level the basement floor and get it over with. Once that was done, we could take our own sweet time to renovate the basement ourselves when we were ready. But with 700 square feet of space in our basement, it wasn’t going to be something that we could tackle ourselves. We needed an expert.
After researching our options, we settled on a product called Levelrock and brought in a licensed contractor to apply it. Levelrock is a self-leveling gypsum underlayment that provides a smooth, crack-resistant surface that accepts virtually all types of floor coverings (it’s not to be used as a finished floor). It was a great solution for us for two reasons: we used the ‘green’ version of the product and it left the door open to a choice of many floor coverings before we finally settled on the engineered hardwood we eventually installed.
Before the actual levelling could take place, there were several things we had to do to prepare. The first order of business was moving our water heater. This wasn’t necessary with respect to the floor levelling per se, but the builder installed it in an area that was going to encroach on our finished laundry room. All that needed to be done was to shift it a few feet to tuck it in beside the furnace. Since we were renting it, we paid to have it moved.
Once the water heater was moved and the two appliances were side by side, It wasn’t really practical cost-wise to have them both raised to the level of the new floor so we did the next best thing by creating a ‘step down’. Hubs built a frame around what was going to be the furnace room to provide a barrier against the levelling compound.
Here it is from two more angles:
See that jog in the wood bracing by the water heater?
We eeked out every inch of space and turned that into a niche to showcase my collection of antique irons (show below), but I digress.
Back in the unfinished basement we had another dilemma: the water drain was in the furnace room and it was going to be closed off to the rest of the basement. What if we had a flood: how would the water drain?
We brought a plummer in to consult and he suggested trenching a new drain from the laundry room to the furnace room. But after we got a quote and he went away, we realized that we didn’t need to trench at all! Our solution? Since the pour was going to be deep, hubs installed some ABS pipe directly onto the concrete, through the wood bracing and lined up over the floor drain in the furnace room. Since it would be buried in the new underlayment anyway we didn’t see any reason to trench it.
Although it’s hard to tell, we angled the pipe on a downward slope toward the existing drain. We ensured that there was extra pipe above the level of the new floor so it could be cut even with our finished flooring later. Before the new floor was poured, we stuffed a rag into the opening. If you’re following our series on installing a floating hardwood floor, we’ll be showing you how we finished off the ‘new’ drain in the laundry area in an upcoming post.
Here’s an overview shot of the pipe leading up to the drain in the furnace room.
Hubs installed another wooden barrier in our cold storage room so he could move our upright freezer in there.
He then plugged the freezer into an outlet and temporarily sealed off around it with plastic. On the downside, the cold room floor didn’t get levelled, but at a least we didn’t have to lug the freezer up the basement stairs!
Speaking of the stairs, the part that rests on the floor got lifted onto blocks (on blue moisture proof wood). We couldn’t remove the stairs because we still needed a way to get up and down afterwards. Raising them on blocks made them functional and also allowed them to be removed at a future date for eventual replacement.
Unfortunately for us we had already done insulation and drywall around the perimeter of the basement. If you’re going to level a basement, I suggest you do it BEFORE completing any other work. All we could do was remove the bottom layer of drywall and seal the plastic moisture barrier well around the perimeter with tape and construction adhesive.
My only contribution before the levelling took place was adding graffiti on the floor below one of the posts. Even though it got buried, I still know it’s there 🙂
We’re Going to Level With You
On the day of the pour, the crew came in and marked all the high and low spots with blue spray paint.
Outside the house, their equipment monopolized our street for the better part of the day. It’s always a good idea to get a street permit so the neighbours can’t complain.
Countless bags of Levelrock went into the hopper to be mixed with water and pumped into our house through a hose positioned in our basement window.
On the inside, the level rock was pumped in starting in the far corner of the basement (in the laundry room).
A long float was used to spread the material out. You can see how our new drain pipe is sticking out above the new floor level.
Here you can see the Levelrock flowing around the barrier hubs put up around the furnace room.
They gradually moved toward the stairs, levelling with the float as they went….
… and adding more as needed.
Levelrock can take about 2 to 3 weeks to dry depending on drying conditions and also the depth of the pour. A dehumidifier can help speed up the drying process, so 3 hours after the crew was done pouring (when it could handle foot traffic), we plugged in our dehumidifier and left it running while the floor dried. Levelrock should be completely dry before placing any furniture on it; we let ours dry for about 2 months before our ‘stuff’ started to trickle back into our basement.
Levelrock can be used for more than just basement applications. For anyone wanting to use it on an upper level, the product can be used over a wood subfloor, but should be poured at a minimum thickness of 3/4 inch. It can be a saving grace when you run into noticeable variances in level and want a cohesive subfloor before applying a new flooring finish.
Unfortunately we never did get pictures of our completely empty basement with our newly levelled floor because our camera broke. By the time we got a new camera, we had moved some of our stuff back in.
Once the floor was dry, hubs removed all the wood bracing around the water heater/furnace area. Below, you can see the step down and also the new drain.
Moving the two appliances side-by-side allowed us to extend the wall to separate the laundry area from the furnace room.
Here’s the view looking back from our staircase. The floor is perfectly smooth and the basement is ready to put up walls.
We could finally start planning our reno!
Before we started building, hubs added caution tape around the perimeter of the step down.
Then he was off to the races with the walls and rough-ins.
Thanks to a lazy builder, we were not only robbed of an opportunity to have our basement renovated on HGTV but the unseen costs that went into our basement reno added up to quite a chunk of change! Looking back however, we’re happy with the outcome. I had fun planning the layout and we learned so much during the build, like how to tile a backsplash, do our own electrical (with a permit of course) and use ready-made Ikea Pax units to add storage in the craft studio.
Our basement reno is an accomplishment we’re proud of and it all started with a consistent foundation:) In the end, we built a laundry room, a mancave and a craft room from the (level!) ground up – all custom designed by us to suit our needs.
If you’re following our flooring series, we have two more posts coming up soon: how to prep for installing floating engineered hardwood and finally, the actual how-to install.