(Topic ID: 297172)

Best way to make use my basement with steam pipes

By Richthofen

7 days ago


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    #1 7 days ago

    I've got a 100 year old home with a 800 sqft basement. It's got 82.5 inch ceilings. I'm looking to renovate it to maximize pinball space, but also add a half bath and keep the laundry. Tricky thing is, the space is plauged by low spots due to steam pipes which heat the home. The steam pipes are insulated with asbestos, which ... isn't great. I don't mind steam as the heating system, but the nature of it requires a specific slope and the pipes are damn near halfway to the ground by the time the return pipe meets the boiler.

    I've been toying around with how to get around this. The steam pipes are very old, but the boiler is only 3 years old since we converted from oil to natural gas then. I think my options are as follows, but, I could be wrong.

    1.) re-implement all steam lines, but along the walls. Since the existing insulation material is asbestos, that would be a great time to abate that. not cheap, but not a dealbreaker. I think asbestos abatement by a professional combined with new steam plumbing (only up to where the pipes meet the ceiling) would be around $10,000.
    2.) leave steam lines where they are, and dig out the basement for further height. Then the pipes matter way less. This is probably a shitload of money. Like, 30-50K
    3.) Switch the heating system to hot water. Then the heating and return pipes can be done with flexible PEX piping and be easy to keep out of the way or in walls. I'm unsure the cost, but I am guessing $15,000 -> $20,000? It would require new radiators (I am not doing the wrap-around baseboard heaters, IMHO they're a travesty). I'm unsure if my existing boiler can do hot water. if I need a furnace too I think the cost of this option is $25,000)
    4.) Leave the steam pipes, play jenga with the layout and accept less games. renovate the basement around the pipes and put the half bath in the room with the biggest pipe mess since games won't fit there.

    I'm interested to hear Pinside's take on it. I know a lot of amazing gameroom renovations have been done here, and some have been really involved. As a note, I am really not a DIY guy so I'd be paying for all this work. (Which I don't mind, better use of my time to do software engineering than learn steam plumbing). I guess I'm looking to understand what's possible, and what's common, and what someone in my situation would do.

    Red lines in the drawing are steam pipes, lowest point is the 'workbench' area. other dotted lines are the carrying beams running up/down in the picture.

    Thanks!

    basement floorplan (resized).png

    #2 7 days ago

    #1 seems most logical. #2 I wouldn’t do unless you plan on living there for a very long time. Plus unless you really dug down far, the pipes will still be a nuisance somewhere in that space. #3 Maybe a feasible option. #4 It would bug the shit out of me having to design and work around those pipes.

    IMO, I think the best thing you can do now is have a couple boiler guys out to give you estimates on the #1 and #3 options. Plus, because they deal with old systems regularly, they might even be trained and approved to remove the asbestos themselves. This will save the hassle of hiring yet another company.

    #3 7 days ago
    Quoted from JayDee:

    #2 I wouldn’t do unless you plan on living there for a very long time.

    The fact that we are going to gut and dump a ton of money into this basement means we are gonna be here until I retire, and hopefully longer than that.

    #4 7 days ago

    If the piping is that age and you want a nice finished space, I would remove/replace them to prevent any flooding damage. Is forced air an option? Might be nice to install A/C at the same time. If you can post a few pictures of your boiler and it's rating plate we can tell if the hot water option might be available.

    #5 7 days ago
    Quoted from Richthofen:

    The fact that we are going to gut and dump a ton of money into this basement means we are gonna be here until I retire, and hopefully longer than that.

    82.5" is short. I'd get a quote on digging out the basement to give you at least 9 foot ceilings. If you are going to be there for a bit then might as well make it the way you want it (if you can that is).

    #6 7 days ago
    Quoted from rwmech5:

    Might be nice to install A/C at the same time.

    This home has AC already, a newer install, but only services the second and first floor. The air handler is in the attic (third floor), drops down flex duct to the second floor rooms, and two closets commandeered for two flex duct runs to the first floor ceilings.

    My plumber said that the boiler will handle hot water.

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    #7 7 days ago
    Quoted from Richthofen:

    This home has AC already, a newer install, but only services the second and first floor. The air handler is in the attic (third floor), drops down flex duct to the second floor rooms, and two closets commandeered for two flex duct runs to the first floor ceilings.
    My plumber said that the boiler will handle hot water.[quoted image]

    Alternative could be to add a gas or electric furnace in the attic alongside your A/C coils and rip out the boiler and radiators. Could do a smaller split system in the basement if heating and/or cooling is a concern on that floor.

    #8 7 days ago

    I have done 2 installs of radiant floor heat. One in my previous house that I built myself, and one in an existing house I live in now. Very efficient, and way comfortable. I don't know if it would work in your situation though.

    #9 7 days ago
    Quoted from Richthofen:

    I've got a 100 year old home with a 800 sqft basement. It's got 82.5 inch ceilings. I'm looking to renovate it to maximize pinball space, but also add a half bath and keep the laundry. Tricky thing is, the space is plauged by low spots due to steam pipes which heat the home. The steam pipes are insulated with asbestos, which ... isn't great. I don't mind steam as the heating system, but the nature of it requires a specific slope and the pipes are damn near halfway to the ground by the time the return pipe meets the boiler.
    I've been toying around with how to get around this. The steam pipes are very old, but the boiler is only 3 years old since we converted from oil to natural gas then. I think my options are as follows, but, I could be wrong.
    1.) re-implement all steam lines, but along the walls. Since the existing insulation material is asbestos, that would be a great time to abate that. not cheap, but not a dealbreaker. I think asbestos abatement by a professional combined with new steam plumbing (only up to where the pipes meet the ceiling) would be around $10,000.
    2.) leave steam lines where they are, and dig out the basement for further height. Then the pipes matter way less. This is probably a shitload of money. Like, 30-50K
    3.) Switch the heating system to hot water. Then the heating and return pipes can be done with flexible PEX piping and be easy to keep out of the way or in walls. I'm unsure the cost, but I am guessing $15,000 -> $20,000? It would require new radiators (I am not doing the wrap-around baseboard heaters, IMHO they're a travesty). I'm unsure if my existing boiler can do hot water. if I need a furnace too I think the cost of this option is $25,000)
    4.) Leave the steam pipes, play jenga with the layout and accept less games. renovate the basement around the pipes and put the half bath in the room with the biggest pipe mess since games won't fit there.
    I'm interested to hear Pinside's take on it. I know a lot of amazing gameroom renovations have been done here, and some have been really involved. As a note, I am really not a DIY guy so I'd be paying for all this work. (Which I don't mind, better use of my time to do software engineering than learn steam plumbing). I guess I'm looking to understand what's possible, and what's common, and what someone in my situation would do.
    Red lines in the drawing are steam pipes, lowest point is the 'workbench' area. other dotted lines are the carrying beams running up/down in the picture.
    Thanks!
    [quoted image]

    As an HVAC guy there is no heat better than steam. It is the most comfortable, enjoyable heating option. It keeps the air humid enough unlike all other types of hit. Hot water baseboard is the 2nd best but the problem is that you have to change all the radiators out, steam radiators aren’t made anymore and work differently. As someone else said radiant is great too but in an older house it’s usually a nightmare to install.

    Personally the height will always be the biggest issue so I’d recommend digging out the basement. Get some friends or find a reputable guy. Talk to local supply houses. We used to have this old guy who dug out basements for the rich up in Lake George (very against the law and never pulled permits). That madman would dig them out and haul everything out with 5gal buckets so the town would never know. Then once it’s dug out the rich people could put in all sorts of fancy systems in the basement (most of the old old summer lake houses only had crawl-spaces under the house)

    Dig the basement out, leave the steam and enjoy a reasonably tall ceiling instead of an awful short one that barely fits a pin.

    #10 7 days ago

    I hadn’t considered that. A gas line would need to be plumbed to the attic, or the attic has a 100amp sub panel. The vents for AC are all in the ceiling, does that matter?

    Quoted from GoodOmens:

    Alternative could be to add a gas or electric furnace in the attic alongside your A/C coils and rip out the boiler and radiators. Could do a smaller split system in the basement if heating and/or cooling is a concern on that floor.

    #11 7 days ago
    Quoted from Isochronic_Frost:

    Personally the height will always be the biggest issue so I’d recommend digging out the basement.

    I agree, it’s the option that makes the basement space the best. It’s also so expensive and labor intensive and slightly risky structurally to the house. I’m probably already going to dump 50-75k into the renovation itself outside of this change.

    I am weighing all options for sure.

    #12 7 days ago

    If the basement is dug out do you not have to underpin the foundation? I ran into that issue with trying to expand 1 side of my basement up here. Quote fir 500 sq ft was 40k

    #13 7 days ago
    Quoted from Richthofen:

    I agree, it’s the option that makes the basement space the best. It’s also so expensive and labor intensive and slightly risky structurally to the house. I’m probably already going to dump 50-75k into the renovation itself outside of this change.
    I am weighing all options for sure.

    If you dig out (and it’s legal), it’s going to add square footage to your house so you’ll get some equity back. But ymmv based on local code etc. Property taxes could also rise though.

    To answer your question on the HVAC - all our vents are in the ceiling and it’s never been an issue. However our house is new and has great insulation. So that might be a factor. I’d consult a few HVAC folks.

    #14 7 days ago
    Quoted from rwmech5:

    If the basement is dug out do you not have to underpin the foundation? I ran into that issue with trying to expand 1 side of my basement up here. Quote fir 500 sq ft was 40k

    Yeah you absolutely have to underpin it. And most of the digging is manually done. watched lots of YouTube videos, definitely not a small project

    #15 7 days ago
    Quoted from Richthofen:

    The fact that we are going to gut and dump a ton of money into this basement means we are gonna be here until I retire, and hopefully longer than that.

    I realize that asbestos is generally not considered dangerous unless "disturbed" however if you intend to be in the house for a long time and you intend to use that basement for a gameroom I would spend money on the abatement regardless of what I did with the pipes. I think getting rid of that stuff will increase the value of your house and I know it would give me more comfort in being down there playing pinball all the time.

    That being said - I'm curious how much (if any) height you get from moving the pipes. Will it still be 82" at best? Are the pipes making it 82" or are the pipes making certain areas lower than that?

    #16 7 days ago
    Quoted from Richthofen:

    Yeah you absolutely have to underpin it. And most of the digging is manually done. watched lots of YouTube videos, definitely not a small project

    Your local HVAC/plumbing supply house definitely knows who does that kind of work and you can probably find a guy who will do it for far less than those crazy expensive big outfits.

    Most outfits make 150%+ profits. Mini splits for example only cost about 3-4K but if they don’t all it they charge about 13k. The install is one of the fastest of any HVAC equipment too. AND mini splits are so idiot proof they will actually TELL YOU if they’ve been improperly installed and the software will lock out the unit.

    You probably don’t need to underpin the house, even back then they were digging foundations out well below the frostline. Don’t underestimate old houses in the northeast. It’s a practical matter that they required deep supports otherwise the frost would have screwed up your house long ago.

    Of course someone qualified should definitely look to see if you’re the anomaly but typically only houses in the south have issues like that.

    Ignore the asbestos nonsense. It is perfectly fine and safe if you leave it alone. There are currently MILLIONS of buildings with asbestos insulation. Most large stadiums and schools have more asbestos than you can to think about.
    It’s mostly just fear because asbestos abatement is BIG MONEY and so so so many companies do it completely wrong and end up contaminating your house. Unless you’re going to be cutting it anytime soon, don’t worry too much. It’s very stable and still does a great job. It’s sorta like lead paint, don’t eat the paint chips and don’t go sanding it down and it won’t hurt anyone.

    Source: 7 years experience in the trade.

    #17 7 days ago

    It's 83 inches at best, if I take down the bullshit popcorn ceiling already in the partially finished area. Standard Stern / BW games fit with about 6 inches to spare.

    Quoted from Isochronic_Frost:

    Ignore the asbestos nonsense. It is perfectly fine and safe if you leave it alone.

    I am not looking to take out the asbestos just because it's asbestos. It's been in the house the five years I've been here and its stable. But if I start spending lots of time and invite taller friends over who are gonna bump their head on these pipes, its just one more point against the existing steam system. The asbestos is ONLY wrapped around the steam pipes, it isn't in the walls so it shouldn't be too huge a job to remove it properly.

    I've actually got an amazing plumber who did the oil -> gas conversion for us at a really reasonable price and did a top notch job. I'd only engage a larger firm for work that is structural and underpinning IMHO is absolutely necessary.

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    #18 7 days ago

    Popcorn ceilings potentially have their own risk.

    "Herein lies the problem with scraping your popcorn ceiling off yourself; if your ceiling contains asbestos introducing the fibers into the air is when it becomes dangerous."

    #19 7 days ago

    Are both steam supply pipes and the condensate return running low across the ceiling? Might be possible to install a condensate pump tank in the laundry room to collect that area and run a new return pipe back to the boiler? Not sure just spitballing.

    #20 7 days ago
    Quoted from Isochronic_Frost:

    Ignore the asbestos nonsense. It is perfectly fine and safe if you leave it alone. There are currently MILLIONS of buildings with asbestos insulation. Most large stadiums and schools have more asbestos than you can to think about.

    Quoted from Richthofen:

    I am not looking to take out the asbestos just because it's asbestos. It's been in the house the five years I've been here and its stable. But if I start spending lots of time and invite taller friends over who are gonna bump their head on these pipes, its just one more point against the existing steam system.

    Quoted from Seamlesswall:

    Popcorn ceilings potentially have their own risk.

    As a Facilities Manager, I concur, it is in all our buildings older than 1989 and quite a few newer that that (It was never really fully banned, though the use dropped significantly after 1989 due to an EPA ruling) We test materials whenever we are doing renovation work. The real key is whether it is friable or non-friable. Friable means it will break apart easily and release fibers in the air (pipe insulation is usually friable, especially if old). Non-friable is generally in floor tiles and mastic and is pretty low risk.

    We remove it whenever we have a project, even if non-friable. Abatement has come way down in price, so it is generally not a big part of any project.

    Yes, your popcorn ceiling may contain it, and if it is an older plaster finish, there is a chance that has it too.

    My two cents:

    Test the Ceiling before you remove any of it.
    Keep your steam system if it is working for you.
    Abate all the pipes but only move the most onerous ones to outside edge (blue dash on figure). Box in yellow pipe with support beam.
    Remove ceiling (abate if necessary) and install new, low profile one with much better lighting. you can get low profile LED canless recessed lights than only need about 2" clearance.

    Live with this for a while. It will seem a million times better than what you have now. If, after living with it, you still want headroom, you have lost nothing as you would have probably wanted this anyway. For digging, three options:
    1. Full dig out down 24". Will require underpinning and make sure your sewer line can be dropped. Here is a link to Yelobird 's own dig out project which was a full basement install, it is a great thread: https://pinside.com/pinball/forum/topic/new-game-room-underground-excavation-and-expansion-for-themodcouple#post-5000388
    2. Dig down just a few inches to exposed footing and pour a new floor (install inside perimeter drainage with both dig options while you have the floor out)
    3. As has been pointed out, both of these are expensive. For the cost of this project ($40K, $50K or more), consider a small addition instead with a basement. A 11' by 15' space (165') could add room for eight pins in the basement and a nice room upstairs and with no plumbing/kitchen, could come in around the same price.

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    #21 7 days ago
    Quoted from ReadyPO:

    consider a small addition instead with a basement. A 11' by 15' space (165') could add room for eight pins in the basement and a nice room upstairs and with no plumbing/kitchen, could come in around the same price.

    I wish. There's literally no room for an addition given the lot size. This is a 1920s "streetcar suburb" with houses reasonably densely packed. We really love city living and walking / cycling places. We could easily sell this house and buy a much bigger house in the exurbs or suburbs, probably already with a finished basement and newer build, but that isn't for us. See my lot, below. yellow is the property line and red is the garage. The house is already sideways on the lot (front door is the right hand side of the house). We guessed that the owners wanted a specific kit house (Sears or the like), but had to turn it sideways to get it to fit on the lot. If we added on to the rear of the house we'd lose what little yard we have.

    Quoted from ReadyPO:

    2. Dig down just a few inches to exposed footing and pour a new floor (install inside perimeter drainage with both dig options while you have the floor out)

    We are getting a new concrete floor regardless, maybe just pour over leveler but the floors are chunky and make it impossible to level a pinball machine on (or move one on a lift table). there's a reasonable amount of floor sag in the house and shoring up the main beams and creating real footers with lally columns may be on the menu.

    lot (resized).png
    #22 7 days ago

    Actually get a quote on digging out the basement deeper. It will be way less than you think. We just expanded our basement - dig out the entire new 900 sq ft space, and it still only cost me about 35K. Because I was going to need to transport and store half our furnishings long term, and the basement made that no longer necessary - it made it a no brainer

    #23 6 days ago

    Some more photos to give you an idea

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    #24 6 days ago

    What about redoing your garage withe a 2nd floor and hallway leading to it? Would that be cheaper and work? I've seen 2 garages with a finished upstairs and I love them!

    #25 6 days ago
    Quoted from bobwiley:

    What about redoing your garage withe a 2nd floor and hallway leading to it? Would that be cheaper and work? I've seen 2 garages with a finished upstairs and I love them!

    This is definitely an idea - some real opportunities in expanding over a garage if HVAC access is simple enough or you do a mini split system. It will change your house roof line though (for better or worse) but it might not be incrementally that much more than it would cost to dig out your basement.

    I guess to really do your analysis you kind of need a few quotes for all options to decide whether one option is worth XYZ more or not.

    Regardless - getting more space for games is ALWAYS a good thing and ALWAYS worth the money. These are the words of us pinball/arcade addicts.

    #26 6 days ago

    The garage is literally in the neighbors yard and detached from the house. I’d never get planning permission to alter it. And made of cinderblocks.

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