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Challenge: Create an accessible, beautiful basement suite in a 1940s bungalow in the Gorge area of Victoria, BC

If the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a basement suite is a dark, dingy, and spider-filled cavern, decorated with a tube TV and a gaudy flower print camouflaging a couch that someone found on the side of the road, you’ll be happy to know it doesn’t have to be like that. We recently finished a renovation for a homeowner here in Victoria, converting his basement storage space into a sweet suite.  

When we design a renovation in Victoria, our goal is to provide the homeowner with options. When David contacted us to convert his Tillicum-area basement into a secondary suite, we designed a space that could be rented today; provide him with a wheelchair-accessible living space should he need it; serve as an on-site residence for a future caregiver; and down the road, provide his wife with a rental option if he’s no longer here. 

“My wife worked with a colleague who used and recommended MAC Renovations,” shared David. “Being a retired project manager in another field, I initially wanted to be the general contractor myself. In hindsight, and after working with the MAC team who were on site every day, the renovation would not have gone as well as it did.”

The Plan

“I wanted to highlight the architectural features of my home, such as the vintage post and beams and brick chimney, and the MAC Renovations team was able to make that happen while creating an extremely bright and beautiful suite,” said David.

The original basement was one you’ve likely seen in many homes in Victoria: faded wood-veneer wall panelling, chipped floor tiles, and overhead fluorescent lighting with acoustic ceiling tiles. Surface-mounted wires and junction boxes adorned the exposed beams, while dark brown switches decorated the door frames. We were excited to change this dated layout into something David and his wife could love today and in the future. 

Height is often a challenge for basement suites in Victoria, so the first thing we looked at was the available space. The existing basement had sufficient headroom, meeting the provincial code except under one beam, which dropped the space to 6’5”. The beam was structurally important, so we couldn’t remove it, but because David is in a wheelchair, the City of Saanich approved the variance. 

Homes and renovations completed before 1990 are always a candidate for asbestos, and David’s home was no exception. Fortunately, it was only the mortar around the chimney that had asbestos in it, and David was able to have this taken care of before we began. 

A common concern with basement suites is the transfer of noise from the upstairs to the suite. To minimize this, we opted for fibreglass insulation between the joists with resilient channels isolating the drywall from the structure. The results were impressive. “I stopped in early one morning to check on something, trying to be quiet so I didn’t wake David and his wife if they were sleeping,” said Derek Breen, MAC Renovations’ project manager. “I got a text from David later that morning, asking if I was mad at him because I didn’t respond to him. He’d been yelling down to me from the main floor, but due to the soundproofing, I hadn’t heard him at all – so we’re quite happy about that, as will anyone living in the suite.”

David was available throughout the project, providing quick answers to our questions and ensuring we were meeting his high standards, and we made good use of BuilderTrend, the project management software we use to track everything about a project. 

The Team

The basement renovation required multiple sub-trades and specialty crews, all managed and coordinated by MAC Renovations. “We had a fantastic team of professionals on this project,” said Derek. “Everyone working together to build this space for David and his wife.” 

Our internal crew of carpenters did an excellent job of framing everything up, building the walls and room structure to comply with the City of Saanich’s requirements. We added additional blocking in the ceiling to accommodate an overhead hoist that can be added in the future to help David access whatever he needs in the basement from his wheelchair. 

We’ve built strong relationships with local tradespeople, and they provide phenomenal value to every project. Gord Wade of Phil Ballam Plumbing came to the rescue to solve a substantial plumbing problem and to help us through some challenging inspections. “Gord was definitely one of the stars of this show,” said Derek, “bringing his trademark blend of easy-going expertise — he’s always a pleasure to work with and an excellent problem solver for all things plumbing related.”

In the bathroom, Mark Tebbut installed a transition-less, custom-finished concrete floor, so David can easily wheel into the shower without assistance.

We designed a little patio and private courtyard, just for the suite. McDonald Cement Finishing took care of the stamped concrete, with new front steps and a coloured-concrete patio.

Natural lighting is often a challenge in basement suites, and to overcome this we turned to the team at Thermoproof Windows, who delivered quality vinyl windows to let the sunshine in on this project. These sealed-unit vinyl windows helped bring a sharp look to the project, and contribute to the unit’s energy-saving ability.

The kitchen cabinetry was supplied by Pacific Rim Interiors, bringing an impressive level of quality to this essential space.

The Results

Our goal for this project was to make a basement suite as warm and inviting as the main floor of a home – and we did it. 

The new space looks amazing, with a u-shaped kitchen showcasing two-tone cabinets – a rich chestnut for the upper cabinets and a bright white on the lower, with stainless appliances and plenty of workspace on the new countertops, even for someone in a wheelchair. The new windows bring in a ton of natural lighting, and the slide-in range has controls on the front, making it easier for David to access them. The temperature controls on the commercial-style faucet are easy to grasp: a great feature for people with diminished motor control.  

Basement suites often seem to have a persistent chill, so we went with Dri-core panels and plywood, raising the finished floor off the cold concrete surface; a great solution to mitigate occasional subgrade moisture. Vinyl plank flooring was glued in place, perfectly matching the new cabinets and really tying the room together. 

“This renovation project has given us peace of mind that when I need full-time care, they’ll be nearby to assist me, living in a bright, beautiful, quiet, and well-insulated, self-contained suite,” shared David. 

If you’d like to make your basement a useful space to be proud of, give us a call to find out how we can make it happen.