With how frequently basements are finished in Colorado, it is odd to me that there seems to be very little forethought regarding their function when the home is designed. Often there is a great deal of tweaking and adjusting required to make the spaces work.
One thing that must be considered is head clearance. In order for a basement to be considered habitable, most municipalities in the Denver region require a minimum head clearance of 7’-0” throughout the entire area proposed for living space. This can be a challenge in older homes when the basement (or cellar) was intended only for coal storage or other utilitarian functions. Some municipalities also stipulate that only a certain percentage of the ceiling in each room can be permitted at 7’-0” (or whatever their regulations require). With the use of dropped beams this can be a serious challenge even in newer homes. The key is to do some pre-planning research so you don’t have to pay for costly redesign fees. Of course, most architects and residential designers will perform this task before a pencil is set to paper.
The next consideration is head clearances at doors or doorways. The code requires that all doors, doorways or openings intended for passage are to be a minimum of 6’-8”. Some municipalities allow for exceptions in finishing basements, again, because of the standard and common use of dropped beams. Others are more stringent and will not allow for this exception. This could be a real issue and must be addressed before any design work is to be considered. This is also something that can easily be overlooked in design review and create major problems during inspection. At that point you are entirely at the inspectors’ discretion, which is not always in your favor. Planning ahead and placing doorways away from dropped soffits and beams may be inconvenient, but it could save you a lot of headache and expense later.
Even with the challenges of designing around beams, the basement can add some much needed space and function.