Friday, January 27, 2012

Sunken No More

I'm not sure how sunken living rooms came into being or why. Our experience with them has been a 23-year-long one, since buying this ranch-style house in 1989.

The photo above shows part of our sunken living room. It's a long, narrow room, which widens out at the far end, accommodating a fireplace and an entrance into the dining room.

It has always been a challenge for older family members or physically challenged friends to have to step down seven inches into the living room and then back up the same seven inches to exit the room. My 90-year-old aunt spent the last month of her life here, about 12 years ago, and it was a real challenge to get her in and out of the living room.

And, now, Doug and I ARE older family members.

A few weeks ago, I was carrying something from the living room to the kitchen; and the toe of my Birkenstock sandal caught on the edge of the wooden floor of the entryway, which I now refer to as "the landing."

That incident evoked a confession from Doug that he had taken a similar tumble a couple of months earlier.

But, even before we became officially old, we had reason to question the wisdom of sinking the floor of any room of a house seven inches below the rest of the house. About 10 years after we moved in, during heavy rains on semi-frozen ground, water seeped into the living room at the corners of the room where the low floor joined the higher floors.

We pulled the carpet back, dried everything out, and had the carpet reinstalled. And there were no more water problems for another 10 years. Then it happened again. This time, we replaced the carpet and prayed that at least another 10 years would pass before any more water problems occurred.

But that wasn't to be. This time, the interval between water incidents was only two years. Last May, after heavy rains for three days in a row, the water again came in.

Drying the carpet after the last water damage

We spent the entire summer talking with contractors about solutions and eventually settled on one to do the job. But he was busy with bigger projects and didn't get to our problem before the cold weather arrived, so the outside work had to be delayed until spring.

Knowing that there was a good likelihood of more water problems in the spring, combined with the tumbles we had each taken, we decided to have the sunken living room filled in with concrete.

That work was done yesterday.

Sunken no more

After 23 years of stepping down when entering the living room, it's hard to retrain ourselves. It feels so weird to be able to walk on a level floor from one room to another. But the biggest surprise is the humidity in the house right now as the moisture in the concrete is steaming up our windows and making our house feel like a sauna.

The fireplace hearth is lower; the patio door is lower; the electrical outlets are lower; the patio door curtains are going to have to be shortened; but it's going to be much easier to dust that ceiling fan.


  1. Congrats, Linda... I'm sure you all will love it. Will you carpet the room or leave it like it is???

    I remember those houses --and we rented one one time (in the 60's I think) that had steps everywhere. You went in the front door and had to go up for the main floor or had to go down for the bottom floor... Glad we didn't buy that house..

    I know you are glad that you have 'fixed' that problem in your house.. Hope you don't have water damage again!!

    Have a great weekend.

  2. That floor sure looks waterproof to me. We once lived in a house with a "conversation pit." We came to hate it.

  3. WOW that was drastic. I would have suggested stop wearing Birkenstocks and build a ram...hee hee.
    The pictures look real nice.

  4. Sounds like a sensible thing to do, but it must feel strange! I bet it'll take a while to stop 'stepping' down :o)

  5. Betsy - Thanks. We'll put the carpet back down, but we have to wait three weeks for the moisture to get out of the cement. It's much better already, on the 2nd day.

    Stephen - We looked at a house with a conversation pit once. The house was so cute on the outside but so trendy on the inside that it just wasn't practical.

    GQ - You made me smile with your suggested solution. We did have some friends who put a ramp in their sunken room, but that wouldn't have helped with the incoming water issue.

    Deborah - It's definitely going to take some getting used to. But I think we'll love it once we do.

  6. Oh wow! It looks great and I'm sure you feel much better about it. That's quite a change. Hope you're enjoying it.

  7. Elizabeth - We'll enjoy it more in a few weeks, after the carpet is back down and the furniture moved back in. But I think it's going to be a big improvement. I'm practicing walking into it without stepping down. :)

  8. Sandra - Thanks. It's going to take some getting used to. :)

  9. A sunken living room. I have never seen one in England, so I guess it was just a fashion. I can't see any point in it either. Maybe your contractors can suggest something to deal with the moisture. I'm sure you've done the right thing !

  10. Jenny - Welcome and thanks for the kind comment. The moisture was only a problem for the first day. The sauna-like atmosphere was gone by the second day, and the concrete seems to be drying nicely.

  11. Thanks Linda for explaining just how one goes about filling in a sunken room! Terry had a bunch of now he knows and can even see how you did it!
    Enjoy your NEW room :)

  12. Diane - Our way (cement) isn't the only way to do this job. A wooden sub-floor would work just as well. We went with cement because of the water problem we were having. We didn't want to take a chance on water coming in under the sub-floor.

  13. Now that is drastic and I hope it will resolve both problems. It sounds like it will.

    I suppose you'll have to watch your step for a while going in an out of that room. I suspect the reflex is to brace yourself for a climb up or down and it will be odd to be met with level ground.

    My living room is sunken, as well. Frank's is similar but really his main floor is more what might be called split-level.

  14. Hilary, I did some research on the internet, and I found several people with questions on how to fill in their sunken living rooms. I don't think we're alone. You might be joining us in a few more years. :)

  15. Are you still pleased? I am about to embark on this adventure.

    1. Indeed, we ARE still pleased. We're so glad we did it. I hope you're as pleased with yours.


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