I have an 1888 Victorian. I have hired a contractor to create an exterior door going into my basement. Originally the door to access the basement was on ground level but we needed to dig down and move the door access point to the basement level for several reasons. I have always been told that an exterior door must have a header. It makes no sense to me why it wouldn't. My contractor tried to tell me that the door does not need a header because there is a window directly above the location of this new door and that window has a header so the basement door doesn't need one. Am I wrong about this?

I am also asking because the concrete pad that was newly poured 3 weeks ago where the base of the door is has now cracked in 3 places. I think that he is wrong about the header and that the weight on the door is too much and has caused this concrete to fracture.

Thoughts please?

  • 2
    Be careful here, you might want to edit out the last sentence of the second paragraph. Your questions about ‘how to build’ are on topic, however legal questions about how to proceed with a contractor are not. Also you might mention what part of the world this is located in, country and/or city.
    – Tyson
    Nov 12, 2018 at 11:18
  • 1
    We can assume that a header is needed (even if not structural), but there's something we aren't being told if a contractor is arguing otherwise. Photos, please.
    – isherwood
    Nov 12, 2018 at 14:53
  • What is the basement opening cut into? Which direction do floor joists run? What is the joist band dimension? Is the window above larger than the opening in the basement?
    – Kris
    Nov 12, 2018 at 16:23
  • Lintels are required in masonry. A header means it's a wood house, and then not necessarily if there's a window package above it. Masonry is necessarily, be it a brick arch, a stone, or angle iron.
    – Mazura
    Aug 5, 2023 at 21:31

4 Answers 4


When you make a window or door opening, you will remove one or more studs in the door opening in the wall. The header has to carry the load that was previously carried by the studs you remove, transferring it to the king studs on either side of the door.

Since the door is stacked, aligned under a window above, the header for the window opening has already transferred the load above the window to the studs on the sides; the stud removed for the door probably wasn't carrying much load. It was carrying the weight of the window and the cripple wall below the window, which isn't much. Depending on the direction the floor joists, run, that stud was also the supporting the floor joists resting on the top plate above the stud.

I'd say if you have

  • A doubled top plate above the door is in
  • Joists not supported by the wall with the door
  • Just one stud removed for door opening

Then it's not likely you'll see any problem there. But you'd normally put something there anyway, if only for a nailing surface for the trim etc., and to avoid debates about it.

In any event, I don't see how failing to install the header would lead to cracks under the door. If the header is missing, the wall above the door opening may sag, the floor above the door opening may sag, but no additional load winds up on the floor around the door opening. The door frame pretty much floats between the king studs. If it was bearing any weight, it would probably deform and the door wouldn't open or shut properly.

  • If the window is on the first floor that load is being transferred down and a door in the basement should still have a header.
    – matt.
    Aug 4, 2023 at 19:20

Yes, a header is REQUIRED!!! All the window header above your door does is to place the load above it on either side of the window. The load is still there!

  • After reading the other answer do you stand by this?
    – Kris
    Nov 13, 2018 at 19:52
  • 2
    Who said you were wrong? I simply pointed out that your answer and the other one were at odds. Gravitational forces may be stronger in Tennessee than in @batsplatserson location.
    – Kris
    Nov 13, 2018 at 21:47
  • 1
    @Kris Apologies. I'm having a bad day... I guess I took some of it out on you.
    – BillWeckel
    Nov 13, 2018 at 21:52
  • 1
    No worries I wish the Op had come back to clarify some of the information. I can see scenarios where a header would be a must and where it would be redundant.
    – Kris
    Nov 13, 2018 at 21:58
  • 1
    Just saw that OP answered her own question
    – Kris
    Nov 18, 2018 at 3:29

I should have clarified that I am dealing with structural masonry from 1888. I just assumed that everyone would know exterior walls of victorian basements are brick. Sorry for not clarifying this. However, I did get my answer and I was right. The work was done completely wrong. I've detailed how I know this below.

I met with a structural masonry professional and he came and took a look at it. What he discovered was, yes, all exterior doors require headers in Colorado. However, more importantly, none of it was done correctly. In fact, most of the job, door aside, was not done correctly. The masonry expert said the door is bowed and it was starting to not close correctly. (The contractor put a spreader in the door to try and hide this.) The cracked concrete sill plate was caused by the weight as the load was not carried properly. These guys literally cut the brick hole and placed a door jamb in. No studs, no other framing on the side or above the door...nothing. The jamb was affixed to these old limestone bricks with normal screws...that's it. The masonry expert said that 2 pieces of angle iron approx. 3.5" X 3.5" X .25" X 48" laid in front of one another was necessary in order to properly carry the 3 courses of brick. He said a 2 X 8 was needed on each side of the door opening and affixed to the brick via epoxy anchors with the angle iron resting on top of the 2 X 8. He said a 3/8" gap was needed to allow for expansion and contraction between the brick and the 2 X 8 and between the door jamb and the angle iron above.

This expert spoke with my contractor and the contractor admitted he didn't know how to work with structural masonry.

So for the person who said, "there's something we aren't being told if a contractor is arguing otherwise." No...there wasn't. The contractor was an idiot plain and simple. He thought he could get away with ripping off a woman. I knew it wasn't done right. He did not want to admit to me that he didn't know what he was doing. It wasn't until I brought a technical expert in that he fully admitted he didn't know how to do the work.

  • Semantically, no. "These guys literally cut the brick hole" - that needs a lintel. Bricks cannot be unsupported, nor supported by headers made out of wood. - 1880s means balloon construction to me. And I even live in Chicago.... where brick was code until like 40y ago.
    – Mazura
    Aug 5, 2023 at 21:28

Yes a header is required. Don’t let anyone tell you any different. Also you may need underpinning. Under pinning is concrete put under the foundation where the opening is to help strenthen and stabilize the foundation. I’m surprised you aren’t required to get a permit for this. If you had a permit your drawing would tell you everything you need to know.

  • 2
    This is all covered in a previous answer 4+ years ago.
    – JACK
    Aug 4, 2023 at 20:09

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