Author Topic: Finished basement - Massachsetts building code question  (Read 1389 times)

Bettis

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Finished basement - Massachsetts building code question
« on: May 31, 2018, 10:42:28 AM »
We had a partially finished basement with about 6'6'' of headroom (less where the ductwork is).  Unfortunately, our sewer pipe had a hole and unknowingly, we ended up with a bunch of mold and water damage.  We have gotten the basement gutted down to a totally unfinished space but we do want to finish it with the insurance money soon.

Unfortunately, a few companies who have visited for quotes have told us that 7 feet is the minimum height for a finished basement.  I've done some googling but cannot figure out if we could be grandfathered in (house was built in 1959).  We likely do not have enough money to dig the basement floor out and make it lower (if it is even possible due to sewer pipe out to septic, water table, etc).

We had 60s-70s wood paneling before and wanted to finish it a little nicer(a media room and a kids playroom, no official bedroom) but the way I am reading the building code, I feel like I am completely out of luck and am going to be left with a totally unfinished basement due to the building code changes and a freak pipe accident.

The only thing that gives me hope (yet some confusion) is that the insurance adjuster said nothing about the low ceiling and we will be receiving a check to cover the mold removal and remodeling.  Maybe it isn't up to the insurance adjuster to mention it but I am just really confused.  I should probably call the town but I also don't want to put a target on our back where we could have done it without notifying them.  We don't plan on selling the home but we are in our 30s so it's bound to happen and I don't want it to bite us in the ass then.  It never came up when we bought the house in 2010 but maybe it was unfinished enough to not be considered finished?  Not sure about the true definition of a finished basement.

Hopefully anyone from Mass (or a state with the same type of guideline) can weigh in but if anyone has any knowledge about this stuff, I'd really appreciate it.

https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2016/09/vk/53051-basement-ceiling-height.pdf - My source for building code information

Acastus

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Re: Finished basement - Massachsetts building code question
« Reply #1 on: June 01, 2018, 01:16:12 PM »
I got stuck with a broken septic system in Mass., and $30k+ later I can attest they are very picky about building codes. I believe you are grandfathered if you change nothing. Any new construction must meet the current code.

BuildingmyFIRE

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Re: Finished basement - Massachsetts building code question
« Reply #2 on: June 04, 2018, 01:03:51 PM »
You need to look at your town Bylaw.  Many homes in Mass have that same issue (built in the 30s-50s, basement not deep enough to finish).  No (reputable) contractor will finish your basement if its not code compliant, sorry to say.

Have you considered trying to finish it yourself? 

Vic99

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Re: Finished basement - Massachsetts building code question
« Reply #3 on: June 07, 2018, 09:31:08 AM »
Why don't you walk into town hall and ask the building inspector directly?  Although I never acted on it, in my 1920 built MA house, he told me 7 ft was code and said he wasn't going to void that if I have an uneven basement with a corner area that is 6' 6".  I have two areas like this.

Good luck.

Bettis

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Re: Finished basement - Massachsetts building code question
« Reply #4 on: July 10, 2018, 07:56:52 AM »
Sorry for ghosting on my post but not too much to update yet since I found more mold that needs to be taken care of.  We are trying to find contractors to quote us on a remodel but the code thing has been tricky.

The problem is that we got an insurance check but our bank's name is also on it because it exceeds $20K.  To get the bank to endorse it, I need a few forms signed by the contractor doing the work and since 7ft is code, that's where the trouble lies.  If I do this all "myself"(I know a few people who can help with basics), I would lose the money and have to pay the whole thing out of pocket which is not feasible.

I do need to try talking to the building inspector.  Hopefully he/she is sympathetic about what happened and the future plans (no real structural changes, just replacing the floor, walls, and ceiling, plus it will not be used as a bedroom, just a man-cave).

Car Jack

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Re: Finished basement - Massachsetts building code question
« Reply #5 on: July 10, 2018, 01:32:19 PM »
I'd venture to say that before you get the ok to rebuild, you'll have to meet code.  Mass alone isn't enough here....you need to check your specific town as every town has their own code.

My own story is that I had propane kitchen and water heater.  Propane company went from 2 small tanks to one huge one.  Because of this, when the electric co read the meter, they reported this to the town.  Large tank isn't allowed within xxx feet.  We ended up removing all propane and replacing water heater and all kitchen appliances as it was the cheapest way to go.  Code owned us.

Good luck with your permanently unfinished basement.

Cadman

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Re: Finished basement - Massachsetts building code question
« Reply #6 on: July 10, 2018, 04:02:13 PM »
I think I'd also ask the inspector at what point an unfinished basement becomes a finished basement. If he waffles, I'm sure a quick visit to the assessors office (perhaps it's in the same building) would give you an answer. In this area, finish treatment on a basement ceiling constitutes a 'livable' area (drywall, plywood, drop ceiling, etc).

Knowing that answer, would the bank be amicable to you acting as general contractor? Hire out as much work as legally allowed, and perform the rest yourself. Though I am confused why the bank needs contractor proof if the check is being issued by the insurance company.

Bettis

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Re: Finished basement - Massachsetts building code question
« Reply #7 on: July 13, 2018, 07:09:28 AM »
That part confused me too.  The insurance company offered to pay $2X,XXX so it should be my responsibility to use that money to rebuild how I see fit (though code is probably going to own me).  Why the bank has anything to do with it makes no sense to me but they require a W9 and Contractor's Waiver of Lien.

I'm probably going to town hall next week since I can finally get a work from home day in and I'll just tell the inspector what happened and ask what my options are.  I'm afraid honesty will lead them to tell me I'm SOL but how can a burst sewer pipe that wasn't foreseeable cause me to lose basic use of part of my home with no reasonable option to rebuild what I had?