Digging a Basement – How is it Done?

There are several steps to go through to dig a basement. Assuming you own the land, then the next step is to have a plan drawn up. The plan usually needs to include an engineering stamp, so it meets the standards of your city.

City approval is not necessary to dig on your property, however, if the city hasn’t approved your plans, you cannot start building until they do. My humble opinion is, why put your money into the dig until you have your ducks all lined up in a row? Why be paying for interest on money to pay the excavator until you are ready to continue your house-build – immediately?

You need to check with the city for the minimum set-backs that they require from each property line. This is how far you have to be from the property line on all sides. It’s a good idea to get this information before you have your houseplans drawn up.

We found that our original houseplans would not fit on our property and we had to choose another set of plans because of the shape of the property we planned to put the house on. Thankfully, we hadn’t had our plans drawn up by an architect yet or that mistake would have cost us greatly.

We had to be 25 feet from the edge of the road to the closest extending part of the house, and 25 feet from the back property line to the closest extending part of the house. We had an 18 inch kickout, which, even though the foundation didn’t extend out, the house did, and so we had to be 25 feet from the edge of the kick-out to the property line. In addition, the sides had to have a minimum of 12 feet on one side of the house, and another 8 feet on the other side.

Taking the houseplans around to several excavators, you get bids from the various excavators. From those bids you can choose which excavator will be the one you want to dig your basement.

Choosing an excavator is vital to the success of your digging a basement. We chose an excavator who was really good at the controls of the track-hoe. In all, it only took him about 3 hours to dig our 1800 sq. ft. basement. It was amazing to see how adept he was at judging the depth and width of the hole. When he was through, it was near perfection – very even and smooth and ready for sub-rough plumbing, gravel, and then cement flatwork.

Once you decide upon the excavator to use, it is vital to get his quote or “bid” in writing in the form of a contractor service contract. You can either draw up a contract yourself, get one online for a few bucks, or consult an attorney for a professional contract.

But, again I say, it is vital to your peace of mind and your pocketbook, to get his bid in writing. This will prevent you from being charged more in the end, when he delivers his final bill to you.

No contractor can bill you more than their original bid, if you get a contract, in writing, before they begin work. I suggest you get an “in-the-computer” fax line which you can use to have your excavator fax over his bid, with all you want him to do and his charges. Of course, have him sign and date the contract. I like to have him state how long it will take him, if he will commit on that issue.

The excavator has your plans, and you should meet with him on the property, before he starts to dig, so you can go over exactly where you want your home placed. If a contract has not been signed, this is a perfect opportunity to sign it.

You have to know how deep you want your basement. This may be determined on if you plan to have a bathroom in the basement. You will need to know the city’s requirement for the depth based upon the depth of the city sewer line. The sewer line has to have a specific minimum “drop:” from the house to the city sewer line, so the sewage will drain properly.

You also may have an opinion as to how high you want the cement to come above the center of the road, as a prevention from flooding due to excessive rain etc. All this information has to be given to the excavator. With these peramiters, he will dig your basement hole.

Before starting digging, Blue Stakes has to be contacted and a permit to dig given to the excavator. This permit will have a window of time (around 2 weeks) when the excavator is allowed to dig. If your excavation goes beyond this window, a new Blue Stakes window will have to be established.

The next step is to start digging your basement.