A bulkhead door is a sloping door, set just above the ground, that covers a set of stairs into the basement from the outside. Bulkheads are most common in the Northeast and in older homes—because originally cellars were dismal places (not family rooms or home offices) that were entirely cut off from the rest of the house. The outside entrance might be the only entrance to the basement.
Once you open the bulkhead doors and go down the stairs, you face a regular door into the basement. So if you ever did want to renovate that basement, you would have a separate entrance already built in.
Depending on the age of the house and its most recent renovation, the bulkhead doors might be wood or metal. Steel bulkheads are better at keeping out moisture and drafts and are far less attractive to insects. They usually come with their own flashing.
In either case, they are as likely to decay as any other exposed part of the house. The WORKS team recently replaced the metal bulkhead in an Ipswich, MA home built in the 1980s.
We started by completely removing the old bulkhead. We then dug out all the old caulking and recalked any voids between the foundation and sill plate and between any of the walls. We removed old flashing and replaced sills. Then we installed a new metal bulkhead, starting with the frame and then finishing with the doors.
Eventually, the siding around the house will need to be repaired and painted. But for now the homeowner has a new bulkhead that is secure, water-proof, properly installed, and ready to last for years more.
In some regions, it is fine to completely remove the bulkhead doors to a below ground basement, as long as there is proper drainage. In other parts it is illegal. In New England, it is also impractical—too much rain and snow would gather in the opening and clog any drain.
If you are worried about the integrity of the bulkhead to your basement, know you need to replace it come spring, or want to build a bulkhead where one doesn’t exist, contact WORKS and schedule your project today.