Last updated: 22nd March 2022

Building a basement: a complete guide

 

How to build a basement so that it’s safe, healthy, watertight and pleasant to live in?

Recommendations to build a basement in London

To build a basement is usually quite expensive, especially when excavated below an existing building.

  • Be cautious before you choose a company offering a quote that feels too low: that might mean no mitigation against risks was considered when evaluating the price of the basement construction.
  • Make sure you hire a company with the right experience and technical competence: check their portfolio and possibly find references.
  • Always demand the following:
    • soil test, contamination report are a must
    • construction method statement must be produced beforehand, to describe all the details of how the basement is going to be constructed. It must include H&S and temporary support solutions
    • a structural engineer should be on site to oversee the works, especially during the excavation and the creation of the shell
    • waterproof guarantee must be produced at completion
    • building regulation certificate must be obtained to make sure the construction of the basement was implemented according to regulatory standards

 

Is building a basement in London worth the risks?

The risk of building a damp and cold basement should not prevent you from an investment that can increase significantly the value of your property.
The right basement construction methods ensure perfectly watertight environments that are as durable as constructions above ground. A healthy environment is also achieved using mechanical ventilation. Even natural light is now easier to get into basements using advanced materials like structural glass.

Still, building a basement needs special professional expertise to avoid issues in the stability, safety and habitability and to minimise the maintenance.

Check our page on basement conversions in London for everything you need to know for your basement project in London

Basement Excavation Earl's Court SW6
Temporary props during a basement excavation in Earl's Court SW6

Designing a basement conversion in London

When designing a basement, the thickness of the walls and the area of the steel reinforcement vary heavily according to the load coming from above and to the soil conditions. The depth of the basement also affect the thickness of the walls and the layout of steel reinforcement: the deeper you go the thicker the walls and the steel reinforcement spacing must be. This is to compensate the lateral pressure that increases with the depth.

It is possible to bring natural light to a basement, with structural glass or basement light shafts, that can get natural light underground using a set of mirrors inside a light well.

The quality of the living space in a basement is paramount in a good design.

Basement excavation and the soil in London

The soil and its composition are the first factor to consider. A soil test is necessary for the engineer to design the final structure. Aspects that affect the engineering design are the ground conditions, the soil types and characteristics, the level of the water table and the presence of any contaminants in the soil.

The type of soil defines how it resists compression and load. Those characteristics affect the depth and the type of foundations required.
For example, the most common soil type in London is London clay, which is considered adequate to support foundations for a basement. But there are areas where the composition of the soil is different and appropriate solutions must be identified.

Professionals use maps and soil testing to identify the composition and the layering of the soil, so to make sure that they have the right resistance to build a basement on.
Lab tests ensure that the characteristics of the soil are adequate to set foundations on.

Other characteristics of the area, like the level of the water table, have an impact on the design of a basement.

Basement excavation: doing the construction right

To build a basement, an engineer needs to design foundations, walls and bases that will make the final structure. But the design must also include measures to support the elements with temporary devices during the construction work. Those devices ensure that the existing building is always correctly supported while the work is carried out. Horizontal support ensures the surrounding soil doesn’t collapse and invade the excavated area, while vertical supports guarantee that the over-standing building is correctly supported.

Basement construction methods

Basement construction methods include precise sequences of actions to prevent damages to surrounding properties, above and below ground.
When designing the structure, the engineer must consider buildings located very close to the basement site.
Temporary supports must be used to prop up the adjoining buildings if necessary and collapse of the soil that supports adjacent buildings must be considered and prevented.
Big service infrastructures, like the Underground, and electricity, gas and water pipe layout have an impact as well. Preliminary investigations are required to avoid interfering with existing infrastructure.

How the weather and other external conditions impact a basement project

The weather can have a big impact on the construction of a basement. If you start the excavation in winter, for example, rain and snow might significantly impact the work and cause delays and other types of disruption.
For this reason, the months of the year when rain, snow, freeze are more likely should be avoided when planning the construction of a basement.
Protections like temporary roofing can be implemented, but they have an impact on the costs and definitely increase the complexity of the site management.

The period of the year can also affect availability of materials, delivery schedules and availability of specialised personnel.

Planning your own basement project in London

If you are wondering whether a basement would be the right choice for your property, get in touch to discuss all the aspects with us. Because, why not?

Luca Locci

Luca is a construction manager with over 10 years of experience, graduated in Engineering and Architecture. His practical experience with his technical education give him the perfect insight into preventing problems and finding solutions for construction projects.