Cutting Main Support beam?


Old 10-21-04, 06:01 PM
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Cutting Main Support beam?

I am finishing my basement and the inspector came and said that my ceiling clearance from the bottom basement step and the main support beam is to low. The inspector "unofficially" suggested that I should "gussett" the beam.
This will take a major chuncl of wood out of the beam. He seem to think that it is ok but, I am very nervous about it. What do you think?
Old 10-21-04, 07:30 PM
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Gusseting a beam

I am moving your thread to the Architecture Forum for discussion.
Old 10-22-04, 10:23 AM
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The inspector's terminology is puzzling. A gusset is a type of brace, not a cut in the beam. Unless he means a triangular-shaped cut.

Your nervousness is justified. The beam is there for a purpose, and cutting it reduces its load-bearing capacity. Only a structural engineer is qualified to determine what changes can be made to stuctural members without compromising their function and violating codes.

There are headroom codes that apply to finished basements. The inspector may be focusing on these at the expense of building codes. He should know that modifying the structure requires its own engineering and permit.
Old 10-22-04, 06:18 PM
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Check with code there. Some times you can run a smaller steel plate on each side of the beam past where you have to cut out. bolt through it plate to plate. Then cut out the wood under them in their center.

Old 10-22-04, 11:52 PM
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Maybe a little more information would be helpful. I am finishing an previously unfinished basement. All of the framing was done so I called my building inspector to get the rough approval. When he came he said that everything looked fine except the ceiling clearance at the foot of the stairs. (needs to 6'4" and was 5'9" from the top of the bottom step to the bottom of the support)

At the bottom of the stairs is where my main support beam runs. It is perpendicular with the staircase. The support is made out of 3 2x10's nailed together. And it has only 1 or 2 joists attached to it within the area that would need to be cut, on one side. (the other side is the stairwell, so no joists)

Anyway, He gave us 2 options. 1- we could put it a request for a variance. Which would take up to 30 days to work through and $160. or 2- we could fix it so that it meets code by cutting it. I he showed us how to do it and did seem to worried about it. I said that we could cut about 1 1/2 in up on the back side of the support and then angle it up a the same angle as the stairs. Then glue and nail a piece of ply wood on both sides ot eh remaining support to gain the needed clearance. which would end up being like a total of 4 or so on the front side.

He really wasnt suppose to give that kind of advice because, then he would be liable for it. so he didnt right it down or anything but he seemed confident it would be fine. So as far as the codes go I dont think that he would say that if it was against the code. I am just nervous about taking that big of a chunk out of the very thing that is keeping my house from falling in on itself.

I have talked to others (that are knowledgable) that have seen my basement and they say it isnt a big deal but Im still kind of nervous about it. So I figure the more input I get the better off I am.

Thanks for reading and all the advice
Old 10-23-04, 06:37 AM
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If it's peace of mind you want, an engineer can determine whether and how much to cut out of the beam, and how to compensate for the bending moment, whether by using sister plates as Ed suggested, or with columns on either side of the stairway (or both). If the beam is there for joist support, and there are no joists above the cut area, columns may be sufficient.

This will cost more than the $160 extortion to the city to overlook the head-knocker. Your choice.
Old 10-23-04, 11:33 PM
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Inspector is Wrong on Both Counts

Your building 'inspector' is wrong on both counts.

First, NO beam can be cut or otherwise altered in anyway according to most building codes. To drill, bore, notch, cut or otherwise physically alter any beam in a house is ILLEGAL under code.

In order to get a basement to comply with minimum ceiling heights, the ONLY way to do this is to LOWER THE FLOOR and never CUT THE BEAM. The only EXCEPTION to this rule is to replace the beam with another type which might allow a less deep profile and thus create more headroom...

Second, building code issues are not subject to change by 'variance'. Only 'zoning' codes are subject to variance. Not 'building' code....Building Codes are adopted and set by Law by State Legislatures and are not alterable unless the local community makes an alteration to the code that causes it to be stricter than State requirements, not weaker.

That said, your 'inspector' is all wet and is not giving you proper advice.

You need to go above his head with a privately hire engineer or architect or other knowledgeable and independent code professional to properly advise you.
Old 10-24-04, 09:41 AM
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I'm in full agreement with homebild and razz. This just doesn't sound right at all. Code says 6'-8" for headroom. I guess this is another one of them "the City calls it as it sees it" scenario's.

I have to say that the alternatives have been done but only with an engineer's blessing "in writing". I guess you're the owner, you have to decide what you want to do. As you said, you were nervous, I would be too.

Alternative to resolve this could cost you some money and some sweat! Like installing 2 new support posts (minimum) with new beam, out from the existing beam to provide the needed headroom. Then you could cut the portion of the beam in the way. This is only if you have a support post at each side of the stairwell but I doubt you have that now. You might have only one near the stairway. This may also require some modifications to your existing joist system as placing 2 new posts let's say 3' out from the bottom of the stairs will go beyond existing joist span limit, if you are able.

The other would be installing a steel I beam for the short span - again new post footings would have to be installed - For such a short span you could get by with an 8 inch easy.

Again, hire an Engineer to confirm all this so you can sleep easy at night.

Good Luck!
Old 10-24-04, 02:25 PM
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A less costly alternative to replacing the beam might be to relocate the stairwell to another location where the clearance is not an issue. The old stairwell could be reclaimed for storage. Again, you'd need to consult an architect.
Old 10-25-04, 07:35 AM
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Of course - we do not know where you live & all code issues are subject to your LOCAL BUILDING CODE.

However, in my area - Michigan - in the residential building code - for finished basements:

" R305.1 Minimum height. Habitable rooms, hallways, corridors, bathrooms, toilet rooms, laundry rooms and basements shall have a ceiling height of not less than 7 feet. The required height shall be measured from the finish floor to the lowest projection from the ceiling.


1. Beams and girders spaced not less than 4 feet on center may project not more than 6 inches below the required ceiling height.

2. Ceilings in basements WITHOUT (emphasis mine) habitable spaces may project to within 6 feet, 8 inches of the finished floor; and beams, girders, ducts or other obstruction may project to within 6 feet, 4 inches of the finished floor."

So, since you are finishing your basement - making it an "inhabitable space" the dimension would be 6'-6", not 6' - 4" (at least in my area).

Note that 6'-6" minus 5'-9" is 9 inches. Last time I checked, a 2x10 was 9.25" thick. I doubt 1/4" of wood will hold much load.

You have 3 choices:

1. pay the city the $160 for a variance
2. lower your floor - which may also not be possible under code
3. hire an architect or engineer to come and see if there is some other solution.

Everyone here is right - you can't cut away beams - unless a structural engineer or architect can stamp some drawings saying it's ok, you pull a building permit to do the work, and the building inspector says it's ok.

good luck!
Old 01-02-05, 02:50 PM
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Can you tell me how the basement worked out for you?? I am currently in the same situation you were in and would appreciate any advice.
Thank you!

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