When we opened the dining room, we wanted to also widen our basement stairs. But at that point we thought that we would have to reroute our radiator pipes, so we gave up and decided to do it later. Well, now it’s later.
The funny thing is that rerouting the pipes is actually not a big deal so we really should have just done this all at the same time. But if I’m wishing to travel back in time then I’d wish we would have done this 4 years ago when we renovated the first floor…
The basement stairs are typical of other houses from the Edwardian period: hidden behind a wall and accessed through a door.
We’re widening our basement stairs because they’re currently 25″ wide at their narrowest, which means we can’t really get anything down them – like a washer and dryer, a couch or anything else we might want to bring downstairs when we finally finish the basement.
If we’re widening the stairs, we also wanted to change the look of the stairs to further open up the first floor. The best inspiration actually came from another project our architect worked on and we thought the same would work for our house. Especially the contrast between the original Victorian handrail and the new modern one.
The first step was to remove the basement stair wall. Calling it a wall is probably a stretch; it’s more of a piece of particle board. Removing it was surprisingly easy.
We then removed the door frame, door and flooring.
Obviously the lack of a handrail is a bit of an issue, so we set up a semi-safe make-shift gate and made sure to give Adam a proper safety briefing. He now knows not to go anywhere near the stairs.
The make-shift gate was only temporary until we had our super bright yellow gate delivered.
Next we needed to widen the opening, which required structural work. We left this step to the professionals. After some delays, our contractor finally came and moved the joists (and reinforced the ceiling).
First, they built a wall in the basement to support the existing joists.
Next, they cut the joists to the new opening and added a new LVL to support the ceiling.
Framing and Drywall
We also had our contractor frame the wall. It wasn’t easy; the existing basement wall changes quite a bit and we wanted our new wall to be nice and flat all the way to the basement.
At the top, the framing stuck out 9″ past the original wall, but in the basement, the framing was right against the wall. They also made sure that the wall would be square with the other basement walls (for our future basement renovation).
We also had them hang the drywall because, well, we’re tired and they’re just so much faster at it than we are.
We hung the drywall on the stairs ourselves because I needed some time to think about how I wanted to finish them. We ended up using an L-bead for where the drywall attached to spindles and a corner bead for the bottom part of the stringer.
Opening the Floor
First we had to remove the subfloor and flooring, which was basically cantilevered over the basement now that there weren’t any joists below. We used a hand saw to do the tighter, smaller cuts and a circular saw for the long stretch.
We made sure that the subfloor was cut right to the joists so we can have a nice clean finish when we finally install the new flooring pieces.
Taping and Mudding
By Sunday (only a day behind schedule) we were finally ready to tape and mud the drywall.
Turns out the only thing worse than taping and mudding drywall is doing it on a super tall ladder.
Making a Wall Niche
I somehow managed to forget that I wanted to build a wall niche bookshelf, so after the first coat of mudding, I marked where I wanted the bookshelf and grabbed my utility knife.
I had marked the wall so that our contractor put the studs in the right place, and I added blocking for the top and bottom of the shelf. It means I now have a solid surface to attach the frame of the shelf when it’s time to install.
Once I had the hole cut, I attached some L-bead around the edges to create a clean surface. Unfortunately I was about 2 feet too short and only realized after the hardware store closed. So I had to install the bead in two sittings. Sigh.
By the end of the weekend we did a light sand and second coat on the entire wall. We then kept sanding/mudding for the rest of the week and into the following weekend.
The final step was to caulk where the new drywall met the existing spindles. It wasn’t complicated or time consuming, but a final and necessary step after a long week of mudding and sanding.
After a week and a few days, we were finally ready to paint!
Because our plan was to install the stair treads right up against the new wall, it was important to paint the wall ahead of time.
The surface area of the wall is quite deceptive, because most of it is hidden in the basement. It wasn’t a huge task, but painting took its time (like everything else). Since it was new drywall, I primed the walls and followed by two coats of paint, knowing full well that when the stairs go in we’ll likely have to touch up the paint. But at least the majority of the work would be done.
And for a fun little before and after: