We just ran across a situation in one of our listings where the basement ceiling height did not meet the required ceiling height for “livable space”, per Missoula code. This is by no means an isolated incident, as many older homes do not have a height of 7’ in the basement areas.
When a homeowner wants to either finish off a basement or make revisions to it (such as adding egress windows), a building permit needs to be obtained and approved with a signature in order to make that “livable space” legal. There is, of course, always the option of just doing the work without a permit, and some people choose that route. The concern with this is quite obvious – if you get caught, you could get stopped and/or have to deal with a plethora of other issues. So, let’s stick with the legal route.
We actually had an employee of the City of Missoula come to the house and give us his thoughts as to whether they would grant a permit in the space. The overall ceiling height is approximately 6’10”, but when you include the heating ductwork, it is closer to 6’4”. In some places it came down close to 6’. We were told that although the code states that the ceiling height must be 7’, the city has become a bit more lenient when it comes to older homes. Very generally speaking, inspectors would like to see a height of 6’10, and not less than 6’4 including ductwork.
In some places, we obviously still had an issue in this particular house. Suggestions for this situation included replacing some of the existing ductwork with flatter, wider ductwork, and potentially adding some height at the base of the stairway by cutting into the base of a closet on the main level. While these items are certainly not without cost, they are significantly less expensive than the potential devaluation of a home due to the basement being classified as “unlivable space”.