Letter Re: Advice on Constructing a Hidden Basement Room

Greetings Jim,
I am finally closing on my house next week and have been putting together a plan (on paper) for turning the back half of my basement into a secret room accessible via a hidden staircase from one of the main-floor bedrooms. The basement is currently accessible only via a door in the floor of a utility room on the back side of the house and I plan to build a closet over the door to conceal it. However, making another hole in the floor to add a staircase leading to the basement will require far more skill than I am capable of if the structural integrity of the floor beams around the secret entrance is to remain intact.

At the same time, I’m concerned about any would-be construction workers knowing about the very project I’m seeking their help on–how many home-construction workers have enough knowledge about certain homes and homeowners that they could be an OPSEC risk to the homeowner?

So what’s a homeowner to do in an instance like this? My fiancee is disabled and uses a wheelchair outside the house, so I could frame the issue from that perspective, but that still doesn’t address possible OPSEC problems.

It’s an old house–built in the 1890s–and I’m guessing that there would have to be some kind of steel support structure around an added stairwell leading into the basement. But I’m neither an architect nor even much of a handyman at this point, so I certainly wouldn’t want to try something like this on my own. Any advice you can give me would be greatly appreciated. God Bless, – S.C.

JWR Replies: I recommend that you simply hire a carpentry contractor who lives at least 40 miles away to do the job. At least that avoids any local talk. Then hire a different contractor to construct the closet and/the basement partition.

Tell the first carpenter that you want a “framed laundry chute hole with a 24-inch square opening”, since your wife-to-be is disabled and cannot walk up and down stairs. You should be able to handle much of the rest of the work yourself. That should include the ladder that leads down from the “laundry chute” aperture, the partition in the basement, and a secret door between the two halves of the basement.

Build the ladder and the concealed shelf unit/door last, after the carpenters have finished all of their work and won’t be back in the house