Should we put a door between kitchen and basement?

weedyacresJuly 7, 2013

We're renovating a small 1920 bungalow. The kitchen is getting a gut. For reference, here's the before floor plan.

To make it a galley kitchen, we're relocating both doorways to the center of the walls. Here's the planned "after". Note that we're also reconfiguring the stairs to accomplish this.

Here's a photo of the kitchen pre-demo. There's a tiny door that leads to the stairs to the basement.

Here's a photo of the demo'd wall going towards the pantry & basement.

My question is this: Should we have a door somewhere in this space to "close off" the basement from the kitchen area? If so, where should it go?

A few notes on the wall shown: it's a load-bearing wall. I'm inclined to just make it a full width opening for easy pantry access, leaving just the column on the left wall (between future cabinet run and pantry) and the far RH stud that's showing. We'd add jack studs (missing in the current doorways) and double 2x12 headers to properly transfer the load. But this is another option for basement door location, if we need one.

I welcome your thoughts.

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I can't help with the placement of the door, but I would definitely do a door. We've never had water issues in our 30 year old basement, but there are still some funky "basement " smells that waft up the stairs that we can smell if the door is open. You also don't want to constantly be looking into the abyss. Thirdly, might be a safety hazard for guests and little ones.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2013 at 8:56PM
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I had a basement open to the back hall off the kitchen and that dark hole did kind of creep me out. I'd have a door.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2013 at 11:10PM
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I don't see why it would be any more of a safety issue than any other stair landing (like at the top of the 2nd floor that houses bedrooms). I've had two houses that had no door between the kitchen and the basement stairs. Smells were not a problem and I never felt it was unsafe, even with infants and toddlers. But it also depends on what condition your basement is in, and how nicely you plan on finishing the treads, etc. If you have a door, you need a 3' landing space on each side of it. Why don't you just put it where you show the opening on your plan? I didn't really understand your description of your other option. If you did a little sketch it would probably be easier to understand.

Not really sure how you plan to access anything in your pantry, with only 1 foot of space there.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2013 at 8:55AM
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How do you use that back door? How do you use the basement? Is it finished or dank? As living space? Storage? Do you store things you use in the kitchen (like a deep-freezer)? Store things you use outside?

I like the reconfiguration of the stairs, and would be inclined to leave it open because it shows a "path" through the galley. You can use the walls for artwork! You could put a door at the top of the stairs opposite the exterior door, depending on how you use the basement.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2013 at 9:15AM
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You can't put a door (legally) opposite the exterior door, because you need a 3' landing on each side of a door. Unless the stairs aren't drawn correctly and there actually IS a landing there.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2013 at 9:27AM
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If you want to be able to close off the basement for whatever reason, you could put the door at the bottom of the stairs. We did that in our previous home when we wanted eliminate 3 doors in a tight space at the top and wanted to make an open stairway(with railing) going down to the basement. We had a finished basement but wanted to be able to close off the space to contain the noise when the kids were down there.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2013 at 9:59AM
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I don't think it's a safety issue, really. After all, who puts a door at the top of a stairway to the 2nd floor?

However, for some reason, basement doors seem a must to me. I would, however, put in a pocket door so you don't lose more space. This would be in keeping with your home's era, too.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2013 at 10:34AM
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If you don't have a door, what will keep the monsters that live in the basement from getting into the kitchen?

    Bookmark   July 8, 2013 at 11:08AM
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linelle wins for the best answer. ;-)

To door or not to door...really, it depends on how "finished" the area is going down to the basement and the basement itself. If the walls and the steps going down to the basement are nicely finished, there's no harm in seeing them, which is why many basements have the door - we have a door to go down to our basement. The steps are "utilitarian" steps, the walls going down are finished, but not wonderfully finished, and the basement isn't finished - it's more of a utility area. It's not an area that I would want to see while in the kitchen. Also, we don't keep it as air-controlled (heating/AC) as the rest of the house, so having the door helps to keep that temperature difference from transferring. And while our basement is fairly dry, sometimes we get a bit of a light odor from there and I'd rather have the door to keep that confined.

But, if the basement and the area leading to it are finished living areas, I think that having it open is fine.

I agree that if you can do a pocket door, that would be ideal, but I don't know if that would be an option for you.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2013 at 11:26AM
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In some locations code requires a door between a furnace room and the living space. If the furnace is open to the basement and the basement is open to the stairwell/kitchen, it may be required. Why? I don't know. I worked on a house where the basement stairs were open under the other stairs and a door was required to close off the area where the heating system was since the rest was open. This was a very large house and the furnace was nowhere near the stairwell, either.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2013 at 12:24PM
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Here's a modified sketch, showing more clearly the intended open area in front of the pantry. In case it's not clear, there are 3 "landings" (the larger 3x3 squares) that each step down one step onto the adjacent one.

The red lines show what will be walled space, essentially blocking the view into the basement, so that won't be an issue.

It seems like the green lines would be potential door locations with minimal interference, and could be left open. But they would narrow the passageway. If you did a pocket door, where would you put it?

The mustiness is definitely a likelihood, as it's an unfinished, low-overhead space that we'll just use for storage. Small chest freezer, food overflow, misc. household stuff that won't fit in tiny closets or the shed outside. And the monster collection, of course.

We don't currently use the basement access door because it's broken and screwed shut, plus we don't live there yet. Future project.

Steps are currently painted, and we'll probably keep with the utilitarian look. This is only a $60K house when fixed up, so we're keeping a tight reign on costs.

A door at the bottom of the steps might be an option, but that last flight is pretty low-overhead, so it'd be awkward.

There's no code enforcement so to speak in this small town (no inspections required on DIY work), but if there's a reason to do something for real safety reasons, we'll comply.

View of the current stairs from the basement:

    Bookmark   July 8, 2013 at 1:17PM
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We just moved our basement stairs and did not put in a door. Our previous location had a door when we moved in , and we removed it, so I wasn't too worried.
Our basement is partially finished, but some areas are unfinished and a bit odorous, but it was never an issue upstairs.
Our new basement entrance is even more open, so I'm hoping it will work out ok. But if it is a problem, I'm planning to put a heavy curtain in the opening at the bottom of the stairs. Would you be able to do that anywhere?

    Bookmark   July 8, 2013 at 3:45PM
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Weedy, I like the modified sketch with the open area in front of the pantry, but the two doors is just overkill.

Keep the stairs open with a wall going to the back door landing, and place the basement door OPPOSITE the back door...this will allow light fron the back door to help illuminate the new stair configuration, and make things a lot easier. My basement has an L-shaped stair which is open, with a side door at the landing where the stairs turn to the right to continue down to the basement itself. My right hand wall on the basement stairs is made of 1/2" tongue-and-groove beadboard (original) with the door at the bottom of the stairs made of the same stuff. That side door allows a lot of light into the stairs and the main hall from the foyer to the kitchen!

    Bookmark   July 8, 2013 at 5:09PM
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You say it's only a $60k house when done, so I wouldn't bother with a door. You have the stair configuration to block the view. Adding doors would add cost and not much else. And if monsters are like evil spirits, they move in a straight line so they won't be making those stair turns.

If you ever open that exterior door up for use, you may find the middle landing useful as a place to drop shoes and hang jackets on a hook. An interior door would get in the way of that.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2013 at 6:07PM
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You could do 3 winder steps in place of one of the landings and then eliminate the 2 steps at the top by the pantry/broom closet.

My vote is yes, have a door because of the mustiness factor.

Will this be pantry cabinets or a pantry closet ? Walls/closets are cheaper than cabinets and will also give a nice ending point to the Sink run of cabinets.

By eliminating the 2 top steps, you would have room for a door into a "step in" pantry with floor to ceiling shelves on 3 sides. You could even have the shelves between the studs on the left and right to increase your useable space in there. I am thinking the back wall shelves would be 8-10" deep and the side walls shelves would be the depth of the studs, or slightly more. Perfect depth for one can deep or all the things you get onesies of like oils & vinegars. Would also be a great depth for all the spices to be displayed easily. Or, one side wall could be stud depth shelves and the other side wall about 6-8" deep, partially recessed between the studs.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2013 at 6:34PM
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Putting the range where you're suggesting creates two potential problems:

(1) It's more expensive and less efficient to vent it because it's nowhere near an outside wall. Where it was in the "before" picture you could at least just have the ductwork "hang a left" and exit out the back of the house. And of course, the cheapest and most efficient place to put it is actually ON an outside wall.

(2) You have to carry everything across the kitchen--including pots of just-boiled pasta water to drain in the sink--which creates a risk of tripping on cats/kids/dogs or running into people. With boiling water that could be dangerous, and with stuff that's not hot it can make a big mess.

Without exact measurements I can't tell how workable this suggestion is, but what if you put the range on the same wall as the sink (leaving at least 2 feet and ideally more between sink and range), possibly shrinking the pantry a bit to make room? In other words, leave the sink where you propose but put the stove either on the far left or far right of that wall (with at least 6" between it and the side wall so you have elbow room when cooking). If you shrank the pantry a bit you would get the most counterspace between sink and range.

This would also let you put the fridge and microwave/toaster/coffee maker etc. on the wall where the range is shown in your current plans. It's nice to have counterspace right next to the fridge, and a setup like that would not only keep the hot stuff/cleanup area all on one side of the kitchen, it would also provide a breakfast/snack area on the other side. And there would be additional prep space to the other side of the sink, so there'd be room for two cooks to work in the kitchen simultaneously. (By the way, you would want to put the DW on the opposite side of the sink from the range for maximum efficiency).

And if it pains you to shrink the pantry, you could add a tall cabinet where the fridge is shown in your current plans to get back that storage space.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2013 at 9:20PM
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columbusguy: I'd only have one door. The intent was one or the other of the green lines, not both. Do you have a photo of your door?

I could see that back door being our main entry into the house once we make it operable. There's a driveway on the RH side of the house, and that would be the nearest door to the car when pulled all the way in. I could envision going up the back stairs, past a landing area, through the kitchen...

Winder steps...hadn't thought of that as a space-saving option. I'll have to play with that, as I've never built them.

Pantry is envisioned as cabinets. I'm DIY-ing the build, and have a stash of inexpensively-obtained plywood I can use. Geokid's pantry is my inspiration:

ideagirl: You've made some good points about layout and efficiency with the sink and stove. I'll have to post on a separate thread when it comes time to start building to flesh out the details. I'm not sure the fridge will work in the existing bank of uppers....I'll need to measure.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2013 at 8:05PM
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Wow, I haven't seen that picture in awhile. It's been four years since we lived in that house. I miss that pantry, man oh man. Sigh. :-)

I posted on your Old House forum thread (that's how I got here, I'm never on the kitchen forum anymore).

I'll put my thoughts and plan up here for review/critique.
The location of where I've put the fridge and sink can be swapped if you want to save money and not move plumbing.
You mentioned you can see using that back door often and I think a large landing area would be useful. You could have a little bench and hooks at the top of the stairs for shoes and coats as well as a small table for keys, purse, dog leash, etc.

The pantry that I've drawn where the fridge is in your plan could be where you put your floor-to-ceiling inspiration pantry. The one by the back stairs could be more for bulk items and larger items that you don't need access to all the time but don't want in the basement, as well as for a broom closet.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2013 at 9:39PM
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I think stairs on a second floor are generally more open and visible from the hallway with a bannister and finished off.with carpet, wood,, in my opinion...safer than a totally walled off staircase. Plus, it sounds like you are not finishing the steps or basement, so why would you want to constantly see an unfinished space from your newly renovated will look nicer closed need a door. Also for temp differences already mentioned.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2013 at 10:34PM
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I'm with linelle ;)

Is the basement conditioned space? If not I would definetly want a door.

As for the door placement, you'd have to consider what would be the safest place to have it and where it wouldn't interfere with your outside door.

I like geokids re-working of the space. You could do a pantry next to the fridge in the corner too.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2013 at 10:57PM
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My basement steps have no landing. The basement door swings open towards the the first floor living space. Seems to me that you have a perfect spot to rest an open basement door on the wall opposite the pantry. That way you have the best of both worlds, an open door when you want easy access to the basement and a close door when needed. I'd go for the door. I like my basement door for safety reasons (a toddler has more freedom to roam on a main floor. You can use gates, but gates are annoying, and you may not have gates handy if toddlers are not regular visitors to your home). A basement door is also handy for keeping a dog contained when dirty or when company is annoyed by the pup. I think in most cases a basement door looks better asethetically.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2013 at 8:29AM
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Weedy, sorry for the goof up, I reread your posts and got the single door idea this time around. :) I know the steps need work, but I'd still keep them where they are for cost reasons--although I'd have the pantry open into the kitchen and not the stairs, the basement door could be best at the bottom of the basement section of stairs and open INTO the basement itself as mine does.

Here are some pics:

Side Door From Hall

Stairs To Basement

Forgive the mess, was a convenient spot for the weed-eater while winding spools, and the duct tape made excellent weatherstripping since the outside one needs replacing. :)
Also, Bortai just seems to want to be in every picture she can.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2013 at 6:38AM
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Just two pics of my own stick-built original pantry dated 1908:

I should really strip the cabinets, but discovered that they were never stained, so it would be a TON of work...and I'd have to do the trim also. :) I'm not 29 like when I moved in back in '87.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2013 at 6:52AM
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