Article No: 71

2006-05-01 13:00:13
Basement of the Year
By: Katherine Lagomarsino

Some see the glass half full. Others, half empty. Take the Concrete Foundations Association annual basement contest as an example. Some call the winning project the "Basement of the Year." Others jokingly say the better title is the "Basement from Hell."

For Dan Bromley, part owner of ABI Corp. in Lee's Summit, Mo., a challenging project turned into recognition at the 2003 World of Concrete. His 4,177 square-foot residential basement was named the 2003 "Basement of the Year" by the CFA after hundreds of contractors stopped by its booth at WOC to cast their votes. After nine weeks of construction - six of those spent excavating a solid limestone cliff in an Olathe, Kan. development - Bromley accomplished what he set out to do, construct an award-winning basement.

"Before we started this project I told everybody in the company that I wanted to go for this award," Bromley said. The timing was perfect because in July 2002, ABI was just completing other projects that left most of its manpower free to work on the basement. Designed by Trent Carr, AIA, architect and owner of Custom Homes of Kansas City, the basement had 13 different footing elevations, 24 wall heights and seven different wall thicknesses. Its detailed form work and limited access to the construction site were two factors that got the attention of the World of Concrete attendees voting on the "Basement from Hell."

"As far as degree of difficulty and access to the job, this had all the elements," Bromley said. "We craned all our equipment in to save labor. If we didn't have crane trucks for all those forms, we're talking hundreds to maybe a couple of thousand pieces of forms that had to have been hand carried up the hill that was on a 45 degree angle."

Before excavation began, Bromley's team downloaded the house plans in a program called AUTOcrete, a supplementary program to AutoCAD, to design the foundation. AutoCRETE helped them determine the types and sizes of forms needed for each wall in the project. For this project, ABI used two types of interchangeable aluminum forms, Precise Forms and Wall-Ties. During the excavation, the AutoCAD drawings were emailed back and forth for revisions as site conditions became clearer, which helped save time and allowed Carr to keep track of the alterations.

The basement was designed so that it stair-stepped down the hill allowing for daylight windows and walkouts. Because of the 32-foot drop from the top of the foundation wall to the bottom level, every stage of excavation had to be precise.

"My layout crew had to go out about every other day to check the excavation to make sure they were correct. Once we got one level done, there could not be any mistakes because there was no way to get back down," he said.

The excavation began at the bottom of the incline and moved up. Bromley's crew used a chipping hammer to break the rock apart and a backhoe to pull the material up the hill. A unit loader transported every last bit of rock into a dump truck to be hauled away. Bromley said one of the most difficult aspects of the excavation revolved around the elevation change of the foundation.

"From the top of the wall in the garage to the top of the footing in the back there was a 39-foot, 8-inch difference," he said. A Geodimeter, a robotic survey system, was used to make sure everything was laid out proper.

Once the site was cleared, ABI spent another two weeks setting the walls. The basement has a total of 465 lineal feet of wall and footings that required 266 yards of concrete. The footing was set on a rock shelf and doweled into the rock for frost protection. The concrete was poured in four hours by a 10-man crew using a 55-meter pump. The foundation was backfilled with gravel.

The basement itself was designed as a living area to open out to an in-ground lap pool. Trent Carr says the basement has three bedrooms, one of which will be used as an exercise room, a home theater, a pool table and large screen doors that open to the pool and patio. The outside basement wall serves as part of the lap pool and the foundation includes an oval-shaped wall with a wall height dropping from 8 feet to 4r feet to form a gold fish pond. The square footage of the basement includes the outside patio and a garage, which makes the house a total of 5,500 square feet.

Bromley said that while his company has tackled other tough projects in the past, this is the most challenging project they have done. He has worked with Carr on other projects. Said Carr about this difficult project, "I was pretty confident with ABI. I left it all up to them."

Basement Specifics
Foundation contractor: ABI Corp. of Lee's Summit, Mo.
Builder/Architect: Trent Carr, AIA, and owner of Custom Homes of Kansas City
Square footage: 4,177 square feet (includes patio and garage)
Amount of time for excavation: Six weeks
Amount of time to pour 266 yards of concrete: Four hours

CFA's Basement of the Year
Think you have constructed a "Basement from Hell?" If so, submit your project to the Concrete Foundations Association for consideration. While the winner in 2000 boasted a 29,000 square-foot basement, size isn't everything in this competition. Varying wall thickness and height, complex angles and elevation changes along with the difficulty of site access are all taken into account.
Votes are cast at the CFA booth by World of Concrete attendees. The winner receives a special prize and publicity. To qualify, you must be a member of CFA, and to enter, you must submit good quality photographs of the basement under construction along with a one-page description of the project and why you think it is the "Basement of the Year." Entries should be received by Nov. 1. For more information, log onto the CFA Web site at or call 319-895-6940.