I work as a professional builder and remodeler in a community about 50 miles northwest of Chicago. Recently, after years spent working almost entirely on other people's homes, my wife and I decided that it was time to get a new place for ourselves. We bought a fixer-upper on a nearby lake. The 50-year-old ranch was in need of some major repair and updating, but the price, location, and good interest rates convinced us it was a worthwhile investment.

Given the lot's natural slope and the great view of the lake, we figured a walkout basement would be a big improvement. Part of the downstairs space was finished, including a fireplace and a three-quarter bath, but there was no door to the outside and the tiny windows didn't offer much light or ventilation. So, we decided to add a patio door...

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