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Question: What are the potential options for increasing doorway height in a load-bearing portion of a cinder block foundation wall?

Background: I am considering finishing my basement, but there is an obstruction in a foundation wall that violates the applicable Ohio Residential Code Section 305 Exception 2: "Habitable spaces created in existing basements shall be permitted to have ceiling heights of not less than 6 feet 8 inches (2032 mm). Obstructions may project to within 6 feet, 4 inches of the basement floor." While I am planning to schedule a consultation with a structural engineer, I would like to know what types of options exist so I can do some research beforehand since a structural engineer's time does not come cheap.

  • Obstruction Details: A cinder block foundation wall runs through the middle of my basement. There is a single opening in the wall to allow passage between the two sides of the basement. At the top of the opening, there is a layer of brick with a thin steel strap underneath (~1/8" thickness) which extends down to within 6' 3.5" of the floor. This is prior to the addition of any finishing materials. The brick is supporting floor joists and a load-bearing wall on the first floor of my ranch home.

Note: I added an answer to account for applying for a variance, but I do not like this option because I plan to use the basement as an entertaining space. I do not like the thought of the tall members of my family hitting their head on this low-hanging brick obstruction.

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There are two very important dimensions left out of the "Obstruction Details". See picture below.

  1. Overall height of overhead clearance. (Directly related to number of courses of cinder blocks in the wall).

  2. Width of the opening. (This is of lesser importance than the overall height).

enter image description here

The dimensions I show are just pure guesses based on what one may expect in a fairly standard basement.

If your basement was built with 10 courses of cinder blocks such that the joist plate is directly over the bricks then there are going to be many fewer options. Already with severely compromised ceiling height the engineer may suggest a cross support beam inline with the wall fitted up between the ends of the joists that are cut off flush to the surface of the cross beam and then supported via metal joist hangers into the sides of the cross beam. Such cross beam would span over the opening and extend to an even multiple of the joists spacing.

If your basement was built with 11 or 12 courses of cinder blocks then you have more options. The engineer may suggest cutting out the bricks and overhead cinder blocks and laying in a cross beam header. This header would be longer than the opening width and may be specified as a steel or wood beam. The ends of this cross beam header would be supported by the first solid cinder block course on either side of the opening. It may have to be shimmed up from the cinder block course with wood or bricking.

With either of these approaches it would be necessary to prop up the overhead joists back away from the opening whilst the engineer approved re-work was being performed.

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Explain the situation to your city's building department and it is likely you can be granted a variance.

If you leave the bottom of the brick obstruction unfinished (you can even paint it if you want), there is only a half inch difference of 6' 3.5" compared to the required 6' 4". There is a good chance a variance will be granted.

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