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Big Dig: From Crawlspace to Theater

By Lisa Montgomery
High school kids cart 200 tons of dirt from a crawlspace to make room for a theater.

Big-time movie buffs Jack and Hilary Wilson had always planned to have a home theater: They just couldn't find the right place for it. The family room was out. So was the master bedroom.

I really wanted something that was authenticsomething that felt like you were sitting in an actual cinema, says Jack. So with pickaxes and shovels in tow, the family headed to the only free space in their daylight rambler: the crawl space.

At 960 square feet, the area certainly had enough floor space to accommodate a home theater system. However, the ceiling would pose a problem. In most spots, the ceiling was so low that you had to crawl on your hands and knees, Jack explains. We had always thought about digging it out, but it wasn't until our son hit high school that we decided that shoveling would be a great summer project for him and his buddies.

After getting the go-ahead from a soil engineer that it was safe to dig into the home's foundation, Jack put the boys to work. Depending on what they had going on, they would work a few nights a weekusually just enough for gas money, Jack says. Over the course of three years, the amateur excavation crew removed 170 cubic feet of dirt, enough to fill 17 dump trucksand to raise the ceiling to a comfortable height of 9 feet.

This newly acquired headroom would be able to accommodate a 6-inch concrete floor, a riser for a second row of seats and a ceiling-suspended video projector. For those projects, though, the Wilsons would hire several seasoned professionals. My general contractor and I would spend hours talking about how to make the room water-resistant and soundproof, Jack recalls.

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