A removable Panel for My Basement Stairs

Let’s start with a look at my stairs from the archives, when they still looked like something.



10 inches narrower than code requires, but attractive and well built. This stairway is not original to the house; I think it was installed in a 1930’s remodel of the first floor. That triangular wall under the stairs looks right the way it is, but it encroaches on the basement stairwell, as if it wasn’t too narrow before.

How narrow?. They’re insane! I measured about 22 1/2 inches from the foundation wall to the wall framing, so that would make it 22 even when it’s closed up.


You may also notice that the wall isn’t there anymore. The framing was wrecked. You might notice in the last photo that the studs are turned sideways to make the wall thinner, the sill doesn’t sit on the floor (baseboard and quarter round filled this gap) and most importantly, THE SILL IS BROKEN OFF. That’s how it was when I moved in; either it was like that ages ago or the previous owner did it to get the washer and dryer out of the basement. Either way, I didn’t notice until I started renovating. Here’s a better look at this mess.


Yep, that’s my floor, just floating. So first I figured that I’d keep the wall built with old framing, but raise the sill higher to get a couple extra inches so I could get a 24 inch (not standard American 27 inch) washer and dryer up and down when I need to. This would basically mean a hole at the bottom of the wall covered only with baseboard. Maybe enough to finagle things up and down, but awkward. I’d have to angle the appliances around the two walls through a gap that wouldn’t be straight up and down. And that’s after turning the appliances 90 degrees after clearing a 25 inch wide doorway. Oof.

These narrow stairwells are a big problem in South Philly, and a lot of people solve them by opening the wall to the basement. I’m not willing to do that because I don’t like the way it looks and when I said that I’d put function over aesthetics I was lying. But the Irishman dropped in on me and came up with an even better idea! A removable panel! All that damaged framing will just go away, and the wall will be made out of 3/4″ plywood held in with screws from the stairwell side where they won’t show. That gives me 25 1/2 inches of luxurious width in my stairwell and an opening in the wall much wider than the door. Now if I can just figure out a way to widen it out to 27.

I’m gonna do it! Another project to finish before I move in full time, but it also reduces my Phase 1 costs. Why? Because if I’m out of money I’ll hold off on the washer and dryer, at least until the next paycheck or holiday sale. Anyways, that’s enough for now. Next post you can read what it’s gonna look like.


7 thoughts on “A removable Panel for My Basement Stairs

  1. Mary Elizabeth

    Chad, we have had those kinds of removable panels in many places in the two homes Bruce and I have shared. There are panels that come out of walls that lead to the bathroom plumbing–one in our current home is in the back of a hall closet, but some he has built in hallways are trimmed out to look like decorative wall panels.

    I think the problem with old houses is that they didn’t have washing machines in the basement in those days. In the meantime, you can use a laundromat, a washboard and galvanized tub, or beat your clothes on a rock. πŸ™‚


  2. Jo

    You’re coming up with some great saves. Old round washers with wringers attached to the top were only about 21 inches wide, still a tight fit for your 22 inch steps. Our stairs (3 floors) are very narrow also but with the chimney on one side they could not be widened. As to putting form over function, it’s all relative. There are some things we just can’t bring ourselves to do away with and it’s individual for each person. I personally love the dark border around your floor. Elegant. Jo @ Let’s Face the Music



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