Before remodeling your basement, it's a good idea to check with your city building office to determine whether there is a mandatory minimum ceiling height. It's much easier to incorporate a particular standard while in the planning process and not after the contractor has arrived and set his hammers and saws in motion. At that point, making major changes to designs will be costly. If you have an older house that was built before ceiling codes were invoked, you might be able to get a waiver if the height falls below what is required.
The ceiling height required in a basement scheduled for remodeling is determined by local building codes set by individual cities or towns. Generally speaking, a basement ceiling is required to be in at least the 7-to-8-foot range, though there are some areas that allow as low as 6 feet 8 inches. An example of one local ordinance is Larimer County, Colorado, which sets the minimum basement ceiling at 7 feet.
Most ordinances provide some leeway in the minimum ceiling level for beams and duct work to be run. Common sense and the reality of modern interior spaces dictates that there will be some areas that need to drop down lower, at least to a modest extent, than the mandatory specification. Using the Larimer County example again, beams and ducts can occupy a space as low as 6 feet 6 inches, which allows a 6-inch variance below the minimum ceiling height.
Ordinances that dictate a minimum ceiling height in basement areas often specify that it applies only to habitable spaces. If you plan to use it for storage or as a laundry room, there's a good chance the minimum won't apply. A habitable room is usually described as one used for sleeping, eating, cooking or dining and excludes most other uses. But if you plan on incorporating the basement as an extension of the livable areas of the house, you should abide by the law regarding head clearance.
There are a few good reasons to pay heed to the minimum ceiling requirement in your municipality. The first is that a ceiling that hangs too low is an invitation to bumping your head, perhaps seriously. Cities do their best to prevent situations that could cause injury or death from a hazard that might easily been avoided. The second factor to consider is that a higher ceiling makes for a more appealing space and can lead to a significant increase in the resale value of the house.
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