How Do You Replace a Bulkhead (aka Cellar) Door?


Depending upon where you live in the country, if you were to ask someone if they had a ‘bulkhead’ on their home, they may provide somewhat of an odd stare back at you.

Bulkheads are a term used to describe an entrance to the cellar from the exterior.



Another way folks refer to these are ‘Cellar Doors’.

In many parts of our country, cellars purely do not exist as homes (for a variety of reasons) are built on cement slabs.


Homes in New England are where you are certainly apt to find a basement.

Building code can vary from place to place [as local building code (believe it or not) will supersede even International Building Code] but in many situations, it is required to have an exit to the outside from the basement.

Sometimes this is required, but at the time the home was built, it may not have been and folks decide to add the exit later on.

If someone is adapting their basement for any type of finished purpose at all, at least two forms of egress are a must.

This may be in the form of a bulkhead, a window, or an alternate type of entrance but would be absolutely critical to exist.



After a bulkhead has been in place for a number of years, naturally, it may run the course of its useful life.

When this occurs, what typically happens is the weather/elements cause the bulkhead to rot out over time.

Even when properly maintained,
it is not unusual for the bulkhead to gradually deteriorate.

Signs of this type of deterioration are recognized by the evidence of moisture and/or creepy crawlies (mice, snakes, etc.) being found within the bulkhead opening.

As the time to replace the bulkhead arrives, it is important to ensure that the bulkhead is changed out correctly, and as with many things, there a number of ways this can be done.

What is available on the market today, is perhaps much different than what was available when the bulkhead was first installed years ago.

As an example, there are fiberglass models today where the technology was not in existence to make them years ago in this fashion.

Sometimes people get creative and transform what previously was a bulkhead into something much more elaborate (example: a fully built structure attached to the house with a roof over it, etc.).


For those wishing to stick with a more traditional bulkhead model,
there are a couple of different options.

One option is to use an “off-the-shelf” model, these are usually able to be purchased from one of the box stores or through your local lumberyard and are available in a number of standard sizes.

The challenge with this option is that although one of the standard sizes may fit properly, they may not fit “like a glove”.


The other option is to have one of these traditional steel units custom-fabricated
(this is the way we do it).



The biggest advantage of replacing your bulkhead door with a custom-fabricated steel unit, is that the new bulkhead can literally be made to fit EXACTLY how you need it to.

This is able to be done whether the unit is one that is installed by sitting on a cement apron or one that is a pre-cast unit (which is a version that extends wholly underground).

No matter what type of bulkhead is installed, it is extraordinarily important that it is flashed into the house properly, that the area around the bulkhead looks as natural as possible as things are completed, and that the install itself looks as seamless as possible (preferably as if it had always been there).

Although not something needed to be wary about in a good portion of the country, the importance of a properly maintained bulkhead and correctly replacing one when it is time to do so, should be a home maintenance item that is not overlooked if your home happens to be one that has a bulkhead associated with it.



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