I want to add bathroom in my basement. The house was build in 1950s so its old. The basement ceiling hight is not great, max 7 ft (unfinished area).

I have had couple of contractors and plumbers come by for estimate. The plumber didn't raise any issues over permit but the contractor did and particularly on forced air ducts that runs through proposed area which further reduce the ceiling height in that area.

I do want to get permit but I am confused. Why did plumber didn't raise permit issue (he said in quite he will get permit after examining the site).

Since this is old house and basement height is given, are there any provisions that I can be given permit to add bathroom? How should I approach the town?

My contractor told me min ceiling height has to 7 ft after finished job. But given I barely have 7 ft, he said I will loose at least 2 inches of that for ceiling/flooring which means I am falling short. Still his main object was the forced air ducts rather than this ceiling. I am confused!

Is it possible I can get permit to build bathroom in this basement? I would appreciate any tips! If it helps, the state is Massachusetts.

  • 2
    Go to the city or whoever is the 'authority having jurisdiction'. Show the nice person at the desk your sketches/pictures and ask all those questions. We (the collected genius of the internet) can't tell you how they'll respond. Feb 11 '16 at 4:23

The plumber most likely didn't bring it up because (1) he doesn't know much about the height requirements nor is he required to or (2) he is just there to do the plumbing or a combination of both 1 and 2.

Next, basically the general rule is that things like this can be 'grandfathered' in, so long as they aren't touched. Since you were code compliant at the time of installation or construction (or somehow got by), they can not require you to upgrade anything to meet modern codes. However, if you ever go to do any new work or renovation like this, anything that is done must meet the current codes.

I did find, and this copy of the code is old (Seventh edition - 2009), an exception to the ceiling height.

780 CMR: State Board of Building Regulations and Standards

5301.1 - Exception 2:

Ceilings in basements without habitable spaces may project to within six feet, eight inches of the finished floor; and beams, girders, ducts or other obstructions may project to within six feet, four inches of the finished floor.

This exception may no longer be around in the current code, and even with it you might not fit within it's parameters.

(6'-8" overall from floor to ceiling, 6'-4" under the duct from floor to ceiling, but still 6'-8" regardless above the bathroom fixtures)

If you still do not meet this criteria (again, if and only if it's still in the code) then they do not have to permit the work and the job can not be done. I'd suggest talking to the town to see what can be done, they'll give the definitive answer.

  • Thanks for the info, if this code is still valid today, I will pass 6 ft 8 inches but where the ducts are, it is still barely 6 ft there so that's a fail. A realtor friend told me I could perhaps apply for exception and show I need it. I wonder if anyone had any experience with such kind of request to town?
    – zar
    Feb 11 '16 at 4:59
  • Are the ducts in the center of the intended bathroom space? Do they service the bathroom or something above and could they be moved to elsewhere? I believe you might could have them hanging down on one wall, but that whole area wouldn't count as clearance of usable sf. Although I don't know the details on this. If the ducts are out of the way with plenty of space left in the room, it might be okay. If it's intrusive however and would require going under, definitely not.
    – TFK
    Feb 11 '16 at 6:02
  • I don't actually think you'll meet code with a 6'8 ceiling... That quote says 'without habitable spaces' which I would take to mean unfinished. Either way your realtor is right: go to your township/borough hall or whatever, and ask to speak to the building inspector. They can tell you what you'll need. I find that these people are usually willing to help you figure out a solution that will fit your space if you're polite and respectful to them.
    – DrewJordan
    Feb 11 '16 at 18:24
  • @DrewJordan Habitable space is typically defined as "A space in a building for living, sleeping, eating or cooking. Bathrooms, toilet rooms, closets, halls, storage or utility spaces and similar areas are not considered habitable spaces."
    – TFK
    Feb 11 '16 at 19:48

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