Archive for the ‘Building’ Category

How to Keep a Cellar From Turning Into A Basement

by Donald A. Schallock – Architect

Cellar or basement- what’s the difference?  If you have a residence and are thinking about adding or improving ‘below ground’ space, the distinctions are significant.  Local planning departments are beginning to apply floor area restrictions to subsurface additions that significantly impact the overall appearance of the house.  This is particularly true in downtown and adjacent urban areas where real estate is most expensive and lot size is limited.  As more of the cellar space walls become visible above ground level, the house will look more massive.  It becomes more visually intrusive to the street scape and to the neighbors.

Los Gatos planning code permits subsurface construction without regard to floor area limits if the ceiling height projects no more thean 4 feet above the surrounding ground level.  This is termed a “cellar”.  If the construction results in a ceiling height more than 4 feet above the ground, it is termed a “basement”.  In that case, the new or remodeled area is counted and subtracted from the total square footage allowed for the property.

Imagine a 5,000 square foot lot with an allowable floor area ration of 40% – or 2,000 square feet.  If there is an existing 1,800 sf house, only 200 sf remain for an addition..  This situation would definitely require taking advantage of the cellar technical requirements to add anything larger than 200 sf.

Many technical issue remain for any comfortable space to be  built below ground level, but meeting this particular code restriction is a good place to start.

Donald Schallock is one of Los Gatos’s leading architects.  He can be reached by email at or at (408) 395-2720.  Also do check out his website at www. for additional informations and ideas.

Coming up in the next few weeks is an article on  foreclosures and short sales  “Are Foreclosures and Short Sales Really a “Good” Deal?  Before jumping into the foreclosure and short sale pot, you need to read this article.