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When I removed a cabinet from our basement wall today I discovered the panel in the photo below. The panel is metal, approximately 2 ft wide and 1 ft high. It has five 1.5 inch holes in it, each one covered in mesh (see close up). Behind the mesh I can see gravel. This plate is located in the basement wall directly below the front door. The plate is approximately 4 ft from the basement floor, and 2 ft below ground level (i.e 2 ft below the front door). The house has a cinder block foundation (but there is no cinder block behind the panel). The house was built in 1949. There are no utilities entering the house near the panel. Any ideas what it could be for? Many thanks! enter image description here

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    An old coal chute maybe? – Mark Jul 8 at 23:36
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    I'd vote that it's a vent for a cellar cold storage area. – stevieb Jul 8 at 23:44
  • I don't think it is a coal chute - only because it is directly below the front door. I think a chute would be to the side? – Halo79 Jul 9 at 1:00
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Would this be in an area that snows or could get cold. It's not a coal chute as most of those were not under the front door. My thinking is this - Warmer air from the cellar escapes and keeps the area in front of the door free from ice and snow -hence the gravel which probably extends down the outside wall. Its a simple convection heat source and very energy efficient.

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    yes - cold area in winter (Washington DC). I understand that the house was built by an engineer who incorporated lots of "modern" features for the time, including some unusual HVAC vents upstairs. Is the 'door-step heater' something that you have encountered elsewhere? It makes sense but was this something that was done at that time or just an idea? – Halo79 Jul 9 at 1:03
  • It's the engineer in me - :) and I do think its brilliant idea. – user1946891 Jul 10 at 2:24
  • We need to seal the hole in wall as some water comes in when we have heavy rain. The problem I have is that to seal it properly this should be done from the outside, but that would involve digging up the porch (an addition to the house built 20 years ago). So how to remove the panel to brick up the hole from the inside without a ton of gravel falling into the basement? My idea is to slowly edge down the panel on the wall and gradually push something (pieces of wood) to the back of the hole to temporarily keep the gravel above in place, then brick/cement it up. Any other ideas? – Halo79 Jul 11 at 21:02

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