By Baruch Tenenbaum
Anyone who has lived in Israel for a while knows what a chalal (lit: space) is. Finishing your chalal is often a cost-effective way of gaining more room in your home—especially compared to selling and buying a larger place. This article will address some of the issues involved.
Try explaining this one to a relative abroad; just imagine the conversation: “Did you hear? We started renovating. We’re finishing our space”. “Huh?”. “You know, the space the contractor gave us when he built the building”. “But if he gave it to you, then why are you only finishing it now?”. “Because it’s behind a concrete wall”. “So how do you get to it?”. “We cut a doorway in the concrete wall”. “That’s great. But why can’t you just start using it?”. “Because it’s filled with dirt.” “Huh?”
So what does “chalal” refer to? A better way of saying it in English is potential space that you can finish. There are several types; I’ll describe a few in brief and then re-visit the first one in more detail. (1) Buildings are often built terraced on the side of a hill. This means that apartments lower down have the potential to be dug into the side of the hill. They will already have a concrete ceiling in the chalal because that is the floor of the neighbour above, and they might also have side or back walls. (2) Chalal kaful, or two-story space. This occurs in a duplex apartment when the living room ceiling is six meters high rather than the typical three. In this case, the bedrooms are located on the upper floor, and the kablan who built the apartment purposely did not put a floor above the salon and adjacent to other bedrooms or a hallway upstairs. He will often install a window and electrical outlets up there as well. This is all done in preparation for a renovation contractor to come along at a later date, install a floor, break a wall upstairs, put in a door, and voilà, you’ve got an additional bedroom! (3) Storage room with a lowered ceiling. This room is either inside your apartment or adjacent to it. Break down a wall or two, remove the lowered geves ceiling, add a little paint, and presto, you’ve got a room of a normal height!
It goes without saying that the client should check with the relevant municipal authorities for proper planning permission prior to starting such any chalal project. Assuming permits are in place, the client chooses a contractor. One of the conditions of the building permit is to use a kablan rashum, registered contractor, so make sure the contractor you choose has these credentials. The contractor assesses the job, examines access to the location and gives a price. Sometimes this is tricky because the contractor doesn’t know what’s behind the wall—whether the space will be filled with dirt or empty.
Working off the architectural plans, the contractor performs nissur, concrete cutting with a wet saw, on the wall where a door will eventually be located. He uses this as his access point to get in and out of the chalal. Because the building contractor built another floor on top, he filled this area with dirt, so it’s up to the renovation contractor to now get rid of it.
If access allows, a bobcat is brought in, sometimes in conjunction with other heavy-duty digging equipment. This certainly is the quickest way to clear out the dirt. If this is not possible, the old-fashioned method is employed—one bucket at a time—to a ballah (canvas sac) for crane disposal, or to an awaiting dumpster. On one particular job my workers filled 8 dumpsters with dirt! Sometimes this chalal area will be empty and no dirt removal will be necessary. It all depends on your luck (and how the building contractor built it originally).
Waterproofing & Structural
At this stage, the contractor refers to the structural diagrams from an engineer. The area being finished is underground, and proper waterproofing must be done to prevent ingress of water or moisture. He also needs to build concrete retaining walls to prevent dirt from the sides or back from caving in. I have unfortunately seen jobs where an unscrupulous contractor dug 20cm beyond the dirt, built a block wall, and called it a day—no waterproofing, no retaining wall, no nothin’! The structural plans dictate the steel and concrete required to build these components. The contractor needs to pump in concrete via a special pump located on the street, as a regular pump truck cannot be used.
Once the dirty work has been done—clearing out the dirt and creating a safe structure—the contractor finishes the area like any other renovation. He works according to the architectural plans and builds interior walls, bathrooms, plaster, flooring, drywall, painting, etc. Some challenges relating to this type of chalal are getting natural light in, finding a waste plumbing point to attach to, and ventilation. I have worked with very talented and creative designers and architects and together, we have come up with solutions to all of the above challenges and more.
Chalals are certainly more challenging than most projects, but with proper planning and an experienced contractor, you can be enjoying your enhanced chalal, er, space, in no time at all.
ABOUT BARUCH TENENBAUM
Baruch Tenenbaum, owner of Quality Home Improvements, is a professional local contractor, providing, high-end jobs with proper Anglo service.
He can be reached at 050-674-1976