Ask an Expert: What is a Bulkhead?

By Tom Lopatosky

Bulkheads are the set of doors that lead to the basement of a building (most often located on the rear or on one of the sides of the building).

Sometimes people refer to them as “Cellar Doors” or “Basement Doors”.

Typically they are made out of metal; though there are many that still exist that are made out of wood.

If they are made out of wood, it is very rare to go long periods of time without some type of maintenance issue. However, wood bulkheads can be made by a skilled carpenter so that they efficiently shed water and do not rot out as quickly as one might think.

After all, ‘back in the day’ I would venture to say that wooden bulkheads were much more commonplace than they are today.

Whenever possible, we try and steer people toward metal (steel) bulkheads. Assuming they are properly constructed, there should really not be an issue for decades as long as the metal bulkheads are maintained appropriately.

Metal bulkheads can frequently be replaced with a standard-sized bulkhead.

Many times though, a custom-made bulkhead has to be made by a metalsmith in order to properly accommodate the existing footprint of the home.

These days, when a home is newly constructed, metal bulkheads are what are installed almost 100% of the time. Standard sizes can almost always be used in these applications and rarely is a custom bulkhead needed.

If your bulkhead corrodes to any degree, a metalsmith often (though not always!) may be able to repair it.

Bulkheads are often thought of as valuable features to allow direct access to the basement (while working on the yard, etc.) without having to go into the actual home/building from one of the main entrances.

When maintained properly, your bulkhead should last for years and years!

If you have any questions about bulkheads, their functionality, their maintenance, or perhaps their care in general, feel free to reach out!!

Tom Lopatosky has run his own carpentry and painting business in Providence since 1995; LOPCO Contracting – the “Personable, Particular Professionals” – specializes in carpentry and exterior & interior painting. Recently LOPCO Contracting was named ‘RI’s Finest Painting Contracting Company’ by ShopInRI Magazine. In 2013, Tom was named “Humanitarian of the Year” by the Painting and Decorating Contractors of America (PDCA) and a “40 Under 40” award winner by Providence Business News. He is a member of both the PDCA and RIBA (Rhode Island Builders Association). Tom has weekly ‘Home Improvement Tips’ that air on the radio on 630 WPRO AM (during the weekday morning news) and on television on WPRI 12 (during the Saturday morning news).