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UNDER CONSTRUCTION

When a St. Petersburg man wanted more room, he thought of the property right under his nose. His new house will have a basement.

Lyle Stevens wanted more room, so he's building a new house.

With a basement.

In St. Petersburg.

He'll have 8-foot ceilings in the 700-square-foot basement under the one-story home being built in the 4300 block of Burlington Avenue N.

He may use the space as a recreation room or as a workshop: "I've got a lot of tools; I like to work with wood."

The original house on this spot, built in 1928, wasn't big enough, so when Stevens decided to tear it down and start anew, he wanted to build a house like those he was familiar with up North. Stevens is from the Watertown, N.Y., area, near the Canadian border.

"I built houses there and worked in roofing and siding for 14 years in Syracuse," he said. Now he works full time in maintenance and is building the house in his spare time.

The basement was a little more expensive than he expected, coming in at "over $10,000," he said. He dug down 6{ to 7 feet below ground level and has a hole dug for a sump pump if he needs one, but "it's still dry," he said one recent afternoon at the site.

He estimates that it will take him a year to complete the house, with 1,680 square feet of heated and cooled living space, at a cost of about $70,000. By October or November, he hopes to have finished the kitchen, bath and master bedroom so he can move in and complete the work while living there. Now he's staying in a mobile home he owns in mid-Pinellas County.

Stevens' basement is "the first one I've seen," said Sam Acosta, the city plans examiner who handled Stevens' application and has lived here 14 years.

A basement in this area "is unusual but not unique," said Rod Fischer, executive officer of the Contractors & Builders Association. "Plenty of houses have them in Pinellas, but it depends on the topography of the land and the water table."

It's conceivable that a homebuilder in a typical subdivision could build a house with a basement, assuming the water table was low enough to permit it.

"I guess in the "olden' days, people came down here, trying to uncomplicate their lives and get rid of all that stuff they had up North," Fischer said by way of explaining why Florida homes seldom have basements. "But more than anything else, it's the water table and the moisture problem."

Builders, he said, "would probably advise against it" for that reason.

Fischer recalled that he almost bought a house with a full basement, years ago, on Bee Pond Road, just south of the Highlands of Innisbrook in Palm Harbor.

Stevens' home site is not in a flood zone, "so there are not a lot of water concerns where he's building," Acosta said. In this high-ground area, between 40 and 45 feet above sea level, there is no hydrostatic pressure (i.e., water pressing in), so Stevens needs to be concerned not so much with waterproofing as with damp-proofing. To do that, he coated the exterior of the basement's walls _ 12 courses, or rows, of concrete block _ with Drylok, a sealant by Dyco Paints.

"It was easier to design this one" than a basement in an area with a higher water table, Acosta said. "There are a lot of areas of St. Petersburg where you would have to be concerned."

Acosta likens a basement to a swimming pool and noted that in lower-lying areas, water pressure may make an empty swimming pool crack or even pop out of the ground. That should not be a problem in Stevens's high-and-dry area, he said, where the lack of hydrostatic pressure and the weight of the building itself will go a long way toward holding the basement in the ground.

Stevens is hoping the house is done enough for a New Year's Eve party, and he says his wife, Bonnie, is eagerly awaiting the bay window at the front of the house.

"I enjoy this," Stevens said as he paused on the job site. "You get a sense of satisfaction to look back and see what you've done."

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