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Unsinking a Family Room?

Posted by dancingqueen (My Page) on
Tue, Apr 5, 11 at 23:11

My house was built in the early 1980's so it has a sunken family room with a fireplace. I'd like to unsink it or raise it up. The fireplace, which has a gas insert goes flat to the floor. Is it possible, and not incredibly expensive, to raise the floor and still have the fireplace? Anyone done this?


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Unsinking a Family Room?

I've got one of those trendy pits too.

Depends on your definition of "incredibly expensive". If you're levelling up, not so bad. However, if this is a masonry fireplace, you're likely to have to swap out the insert for a smaller one.

With the rise in 1950's collectibles, I wonder if this idea is coming back too. Perish the thought!


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RE: Unsinking a Family Room?

I am interested to know how this would be done, putting aside the fireplace issue. If the floors are concrete would the pit be filled with something (masonry rubble for example) and then concrete poured to the correct thickness? I am assuming no additional vapor barrier would be needed as the original floor would have one? Or would it be possible (or silly) to use pressure treated floor joists and a wood sub floor?

I own an 80's house with a stepped down living room. It is simply a great way to ruin what would otherwise be a one level home, and is an accident waiting to happen.


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RE: Unsinking a Family Room?

"I am interested to know how this would be done, putting aside the fireplace issue. "

Frame up joists resting on the existing floor.


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RE: Unsinking a Family Room?

Thanks brickeyee.


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RE: Unsinking a Family Room?

If you go the joist route, find a carpenter that is fluent at scribing and shimming in order for the joists to run tight to the existing slab. It's simply not a matter of just throwing in some joisting and calling it good. Dependent on the height you dont want them free standing unless that height is substantial and the joist width can carry the span. You'll want to use lumber that is rated for contact with concrete. I would throw down some visquine as a barrier and seal at the perimeters and you might as well insulate the joist bays as well. Figure for at least a 3/4" tongue and groove plywood subflooring with at least seven plies, glue and screw.


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RE: Unsinking a Family Room?

My sunken family room is over an existing finished walk out basement. So I think I would be having it framed and raised. The fireplace is faced with tile which I had covered over with thin granite. It was once wood burning and I converted it to gas. (Live in MN and it's warmer with an insert). If I could find a different sized insert would happily change it out - but might have to be custom due to size? so the room is 17 x 14 any thoughts about what this should cost to do?


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RE: Unsinking a Family Room?

So I think I would be having it framed and raised.

Removing the entire flooring structure and lifting it up--I've actually seen this done--or scrapping it and rebuilding, is another magnitude of complexity entirely.

The odder the size, the fewer ready-made inserts there are. But there's still a vast range. You can find inserts as little as 15"-16" high.


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RE: Unsinking a Family Room?

I usually decide on how to raise the floor based on the height needed.

If there is enough room to put in actual load bearing joists the work goes much faster without shimming.

If there is not enough height to span the room in the shorter direction, installing and shimming a flat divider to reduce the span allows for shorter and shallower weight bearing joists to be used.

Shimming every joist over even a small room is a time consuming nightmare.


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RE: Unsinking a Family Room?

We are doing this. Luckily our fireplace has a raised hearth. I do think you can have a new firebox installed and raise your floor. It may be expensive but will be worth it in allowing for the rooms to flow better and for you to have a spacious feeling. Be sure to post pictures when you are done.


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RE: Unsinking a Family Room?

You're going to have to get a qualified carpenter or contractor to look at this in person. There are too many variables and uncertainties to be able to make cost estimates from a distance possible.

Raising the floor level is likely to be straight forward carpentry, but transitioning the new floor to the existing floors could be very difficult, depending on the number of openings into other rooms, whether they are tile, carpet, wood, etc. Reworking the fireplace is equally problematic.


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RE: Unsinking a Family Room?

"Raising the floor level is likely to be straight forward carpentry, but transitioning the new floor to the existing floors could be very difficult..."

The biggest problem is making SURE you have the correct height for the new floor relative to the existing floors.

You must account fer EVERY component you will use in the new floor and its thickness.

Being off by 1/8 inch between the two finished floor heights is annoying and painful to fix after the fact.

You need to know the actual sizes of the components, from the framing lumber to the sub-floor decking, the floor material, etc.

If you are VERY lucky standard dimensions will get what you need, but I count on having to rip joists down in height to meet the stack (thus decreasing their allowable span).

Trying to meet existing floors is one of the reasons I avoid shimming as much as possible.
It is a real PITA to shim over large areas for flatness while also hitting an exact height.
Every shim used introduces a source of flatness error and total height error.

At least with weight bearing joists you only have to adjust the bearing points at each end.


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RE: Unsinking a Family Room?

I've experienced the complete opposite on a few projects as it took careful, painstaking shimming to get it to mate with the existing floor level. There were a lot of sunken living rooms here in the seventies /eighties. Because of trends, some folks want them gone but hide in the bush and watch them make a comeback! Some "trends" go full circle!


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RE: Unsinking a Family Room?

"it took careful, painstaking shimming to get it to mate with the existing floor level."

That is why using weight bearing joists for the new surface is so much easier.

Only the bearing point require careful leveling.

I would rather do two longer run in the room than every joist across the short dimension.


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RE: Unsinking a Family Room?

I appreciate the tips, but I've been a carpenter for 40 years, I know how to add and subtract, and I have a ruler and a level. Was there something specific in my comment that you disagree with?

<< "Raising the floor level is likely to be straight forward carpentry, but transitioning the new floor to the existing floors could be very difficult..."

The biggest problem is making SURE you have the correct height for the new floor relative to the existing floors.

You must account fer EVERY component you will use in the new floor and its thickness.

Being off by 1/8 inch between the two finished floor heights is annoying and painful to fix after the fact.

You need to know the actual sizes of the components, from the framing lumber to the sub-floor decking, the floor material, etc.

If you are VERY lucky standard dimensions will get what you need, but I count on having to rip joists down in height to meet the stack (thus decreasing their allowable span).

Trying to meet existing floors is one of the reasons I avoid shimming as much as possible.
It is a real PITA to shim over large areas for flatness while also hitting an exact height.
Every shim used introduces a source of flatness error and total height error.

At least with weight bearing joists you only have to adjust the bearing points at each end. >>


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RE: Unsinking a Family Room?

"but transitioning the new floor to the existing floors could be very difficult, depending on the number of openings into other rooms, whether they are tile, carpet, wood, etc."

It is not "very difficult", just painstaking.

Made even harder by trying to shim every joist along it length.


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RE: Unsinking a Family Room?

I LOVE the sunken den, and yes, they have started popping up in model homes/newly built homes recently. However, I've never lived in a house with a sunken or raised room. It seems like those who have them dislike them, for various reasons.
Best of luck!


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RE: Unsinking a Family Room?

Sounds like mag and brick are confused about the shimming process. I shim the bottom of the joists when they are at a width close to the existng slab. I also scribe when that width is a tad tall. Shimming at the top of the joists trying to level out the substrate wouldn't cut it. This method is common out here as most sunkens were formed out with 2x6's , so raising it back up with 2x6's requires ripping, shimming and scribing as no slab poured out is dead on. You shim/scribe to what you have to meet up with the existing. Trying to get dead on level doesn't enter into the equation as you go with what you got to get it tied /planed in. I've done several. It was the most efficient and clean way to do it on these particular projects.


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RE: Unsinking a Family Room?

Scribing and shimming take an excessive amount of time.

I normally divide the area up into small enough sections to put joists across the smaller dimension, then all the work is at the supports for the ends of the joists.

By keeping the new joists above the old floor (especially for concrete slabs) by even 1/2 inch a huge amount of time is saved.

Finding high spots in slabs and then scribing the bottom of joists is not my idea of a productive day.

Plates down at each end, check with a laser level, place new joists on leveled plates.


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