Basement Bulkhead Doors

Basement Bulkhead Cellar Doors – Their Advantages and Key Features

By Mark J. Donovan

When developing plans for a new home that includes a basement, it is important that the basement include egress to the outside. In many cases a walkout basement is not possible due to the contour of the property. In these cases a basement bulkhead door, or basement cellar door, is the right solution.

Basement Bulkhead Door Advantages

A couple of key advantages of basement bulkhead doors include flexibility in the location of them around the foundation, and the wide standard widths that they are available in.

Basement bulkhead door widths (approximately 4.5” wide) allow you to easily store lawn furniture and tools in your basement, as well enable easy access for servicing your home’s HVAC and electrical systems.

Basement bulkhead cellar doors usually consist of two doors and are made out of steel. However I have seen some wood ones built by building contractors on the job site, as well as others made out of fiberglass. Fiberglass bulkhead doors, or in reality door, open similar to a clamshell.

Basement bulkhead doors typically mount on stairways that lead into the basement. Basement bulkhead doors can be installed on pre-cast concrete stairs that bolt into the basement foundation. It is important that the contractor apply a water sealant between the bulkhead stairway and the basement foundation walls, prior to bolting the pre-cast concrete stairs to the foundation walls. The sealant should prevent water and air infiltration.

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Key Basement Bulkhead Door Features

When selecting a basement bulkhead door or cellar door system look for units that have torsion systems to enable the doors to open and close easily without endangering yourself. Also make sure the doors latch open, so they won’t accidentally close on you. If you have ever had a bulkhead door close on your head, you know what I mean.

Also, for security measures look for basement bulkhead doors that have solid locking systems. The doors should have a slide bolt lock assembly on the inside of the door.

Installing Basement Bulkhead Doors

The basement bulkhead doors mount on top of the pre-cast concrete stairway with bolts. Again, it is important that a water and airtight sealant be applied between the basement bulkhead doorframe and the pre-cast concrete stairway.

Even with the best attempts of sealing around the basement bulkhead doorframe, and pre-cast stairway, air infiltration will still occur through the door seams. To address this situation, I have found it best to install an insulated door at the foot of the pre-cast stairway and foundation doorway.

Depending upon the size of the bulkhead door opening a custom door may need to be built. At a minimum, a doorframe will need to be installed around the inside perimeter of the concrete doorframe. Use pressure treated wood when installing the door frame, and again apply a sealant between the pressure treated wood and the concrete walls.

For more help on Basement Additions, see’s Basement Remodeling Bid sheet. The Basement Remodeling Bid Sheet will help ensure that your hire the right contractor so that your basement remodeling project is done correctly and you get the project finished on time and budget.

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