To accommodate their two growing kids, our clients wanted to add a media room and another bedroom and bath. But because their house is on a tight Atlanta lot with no room for an addition — and we’d already expanded upward with a previous master-suite addition — they faced a simple choice: Find another house or finish the basement. They didn’t want to move, so going down into the crawlspace appeared to be the only option for creating the additional 1,000 square feet of living area.

We’ve taken on some interesting projects in our 29 years in business, but this was the first time we ever had to remove 300 cubic yards of dirt from underneath an existing house — by hand. If the lot had been larger, we might have used the conventional approach — cribbing the house, removing the existing foundation, mechanically excavating the...

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