Taking on a cellar hatchway replacement

By Tom Phelan - ReminderNews
- posted Tue., Sep. 13, 2011
- Contributed Photo

Are you preparing to close your cellar hatchway for the last time this season? Will you have to open it for the furnace service crew to get down there? How tough will it be to open safely when it’s icy or covered with snow?

If the cellar hatch is the old wooden type, and you say a little prayer each time you open and close it, can you restore it to a suitable state? Or is replacement the only practical solution? Even steel hatch covers don’t last forever. They’ll rust, if not diligently maintained, and the hinges and springs inside might work against you when you open it. Can you really let it go another winter, planning on replacement in the spring?

Though large and heavy to handle, this replacement project is fairly simple, and the result should be a well-functioning doorway for some time to come. Several reputable manufacturers offer replacement kits, with instructions that are almost fool-proof.

The first step is assessing the type of unit currently in place. There are two types of foundations for cellar doorways. A sloping stairwell is higher where it meets the house foundation, and inclines down to about 8 inches above ground level. A level unit, as the name implies, is the same height all around. The type of stairwell foundation you have will determine the kit you buy. There are several good manufacturers of these kits, and they will provide just about everything you need, along with clear and concise installation instructions. Some will even make custom pieces for your project.

Because there are variations on the two basic types of cellar ways, the manufacturers also provide a wide variety of foundation plates that adapt to your situation. If your cellar way is too narrow, or if it’s wider than standard sizes, they can provide the components that will adapt to your foundation.

This is a project that most DIYers can tackle. But the first task is removal of the existing portal. You may be replacing wood with steel or rusted steel with new, finished steel. So take a socket wrench, pliers, a hammer, a pry bar and whatever else you need to get the old one off. Just be careful not to cause any damage to the side of the house. Where possible, preserve the flashing where the unit joins the house, if it is in good condition. Remove and replace any rotted or severely damaged wood from the installation area.

The measurements you will need are fairly straightforward. This will be easier once you have removed the old door. Measure the distance from the outside edge of the left side of the foundation to the outside edge on the other side. Then measure from one inside edge to the other. Do the same with the depth of the opening – from the outside of the foundation wall to the outside of the stairwell wall. Take the corresponding inside measurement. If yours is not a sloping cellar way, those are the only figures you need. If your stairwell foundation is level, also measure from the foundation wall up to the top of the basement door opening. Take those measurements and maybe a few pictures to the building supply store where you will buy the new hatchway door. The acquisition should be simple.

To install your new door, you will need an electric drill with masonry bits, and a cordless screwdriver (unless you like the manual kind). You will also use a caulking gun and silicone caulk. When it’s installed, you will want to paint it with a good exterior alkyd enamel. Your solution may also need some extra hardware to secure it to the foundation and other components, such as extension and foundation plates.

A new, secure cellar entry will give you peace of mind, provide a tight seal against the weather outside, and allow easy entry and exit. You will also be adding value to your home.

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