Planning a basement remodel

If your basement is limited to storing the artificial Christmas tree and several pieces of discarded furniture, you could be neglecting your home’s potential for additional living space.

Basement remodeling could transform this space into an entertainment area with a kitchenette, a wet bar, a home theater, a guest suite, a rentable living space, a crafts area or a kid’s play room. With the help of an experienced basement remodeling contractor, you can explore an array of possibilities to fit your needs in your finished basement.

When undertaking a basement remodel, follow these steps to ensure that you’re prepared for the basement remodeling process:

1. Evaluate the space. Be sure to consider potential obstacles to your basement remodel like low ceilings, excessive moisture or ventilation concerns. Determine if your basement needs to be professionally waterproofed before spending tens of thousands of dollars to renovate it as neglecting  to address moisture issues will simply result in expensive damage repairs.

2. Determine its use. Meet with family members to determine how a remodeled basement could best fit your needs. Do you need space for your teenage daughter and her friends? Or do you need a guest bedroom for relatives? Would you want a kitchen or a bathroom space that would require plumbing?

Be sure you check for legal requirements in your area that may go along with the purpose you choose for your basement. For example, a bedroom may be required to have an egress window in case of fire, and bathroom plumbing will need to be up to code.

3. Set a budget. List your needs and wants and be aware the cost of a basement remodel project can range from $15,000-$100,000 with an average cost around $28,000 depending on the details you choose. Installing a bathroom in your basement, for instance, could significantly add to the total cost due to the complexity of adding plumbing below grade.

4. Interview basement remodeling contractors. You may be tempted to try and save money by managing a basement remodel yourself, but it's most likely worth it to hire a professional. Check affiliations, licensing and referrals and/or reviews from neighbors and friends before interviewing contractors for the final selection to be sure to avoid choosing a bad remodeler. Contractors who specialize in basement remodeling may be better equipped to handle your project.

5. Understand the scope of the project. Although the basement may be out of sight, if you don't have a walk-out basement, anticipate workers constantly walking through your home with materials to accomplish the project. Also, the project could take four to six weeks.

A finished basement increases the home's value

Finishing the basement increases the value of a home, and since a remodeled basement is attractive to many buyers, it may help sell the home more quickly. Depending on the location of the home and local regulations, a finished basement with the proper features can usually be included in the official square footage of a home's for-sale listing.

Homeowners likely to see the best return on their investment are those who make the newly finished basement attractive and functional, rather than highly personalized.

Spending extravagant amounts of money will not expand the pool of potential buyers. Most buyers look for finished walls, ceilings and floors in a remodeled basement as well as proper wiring to accommodate televisions and computers.

Many buyers have specific plans for the basement, such as media and game rooms, and providing an impersonal, functional space will allow them to personalize the basement to their own tastes and needs.

If you're adding a wet bar, kitchenette or bathroom to your finished basement, consider where the plumbing will need to go. (Photo by Joe Zago)

Basement flooring options

Basement floors can be troublesome as they may be uneven, prone to moisture or just plain cold. So be sure to take proper steps to level your basement floor, add vapor barriers or consider heated floors to enjoy your remodeled basement.

You may also want to take into account a flooring type’s ability to survive a flood, burst pipe or other high water issues to which basements can be victim. But once you settle those concerns, you have plenty of options for basement flooring from the classic carpet and vinyl to more modern cork and floating floors.

Concrete

Increasing numbers of homeowners decide to enhance the existing concrete in their basement instead of covering it up. Stained and painted concrete floors offer many benefits, including their suitability for people with allergies. Skilled contractors can reproduce the look of slate, tile and marble, or they can apply dyes, paints and stencils in a variety of designs.

While decorative concrete may cost more than some other types of flooring, its proponents point to the long life expectancy of this material. Even cracks in the floor can be considered an attractive rustic feature as long as they do not reflect structural problems. Those concerned by the slippery nature of high-gloss sealers can add a non-slip additive to sealer or stain before application.

Carpet

Carpeting remains a popular flooring option for finished basements because of its warmth underfoot. As long as the basement is moisture-free, carpet is a practical option for many homeowners. The cost of carpet and padding varies widely, depending on quality.

Benefits of carpet include the variety of colors and styles available, its sound-muffling qualities and many pricing options. Drawbacks include wear in traffic areas, increased maintenance in comparison to hard flooring options and it’s inability to survive a flooding event.

Ceramic tile

Reasonably priced ceramic tiles come in a multitude of styles and colors and can be arranged in a custom pattern of the homeowner’s choosing. Flooring tiles are very durable, stain-resistant, impervious to moisture and easy to maintain. Drawbacks include coldness and the tendency of grout to discolor over time.

Cork

Cork is an eco-friendly flooring material that can be installed over an existing floor or concrete. Cork is derived from the bark of the cork tree, meaning trees are not cut down during harvesting. Cork flooring is durable and has good insulating qualities, but if you choose cork flooring for your basement, make sure you choose a type that is recommended for a basement environment as not all cork flooring is appropriate for basements.

It resists mold, mildew and rot and is easy to clean and maintain. These floors require an acrylic finish to prevent scratches. A polyurethane coat will extend the life of this flooring, and it should be reapplied after 10 years in situations featuring normal wear and tear.

Engineered wood

Engineered wood consists of layered plywood that looks like hardwood but is thinner, more durable and water-resistant. Advantages include the ability to expand and contract with changes in moisture and temperature. The fact that it comes pre-finished is a benefit for many homeowners.

Drawbacks include cost and the fact that it may be refinished only once due to the thinness of its veneer. Maintenance consists of vacuuming and damp mopping. Standing water must be mopped up immediately.

Linoleum

Linoleum is another environmentally friendly flooring option for basements. Homeowners looking for numerous design options and ease of maintenance will enjoy linoleum. Drawbacks include a tendency to stain because of its porous nature and a lack of warmth under the feet. This flooring material is durable, but when damage does occur, repairs can be difficult.

Finished basement ceiling options

Finishing a basement ceiling can be a challenge as more than likely, you will need to work around duct, plumbing and electrical work, all while trying to maintain a comfortable room height. A qualified contractor may be able to reroute some of this hardware, but you will more likely lose some headroom to accommodate these fixtures in your finished basement.

When you do put a ceiling over ducts, pipes and wire, remember to leave yourself a way to access them in case of repairs rather than permanently closing them off. Here are some of the most popular ways to finish a basement ceiling.

Drywall

Homeowners in search of a warm, professional look for their basements often turn to drywall. Drywall ceilings help the basement look as good as upstairs living areas. Drywall can be treated with a variety of textures that are applied by roller or spray applicator. One difficulty associated with drywall ceilings is the necessity of framing in duct work.

Installation can be difficult since most of the work must be performed overhead. Another drawback is the fact that service panels must be installed to allow access to wiring and pipes. Problems with plumbing involve cutting out, reinstalling and finishing the drywall.

Suspended ceilings

Suspended ceilings work well in basements featuring adequate head room. These ceilings contain a hanging grid into which tiles are placed to form the ceiling’s surface. The chief advantage of a suspended ceiling is the access it affords to plumbing, wiring and ducts.

It is also easy to add insulation on top of the tiles, which offer sound-muffling qualities of their own. Ugly acoustical tiles are a thing of the past, with faux-metal, vintage tin, wood, faux wood and plaster-look tiles widely available. Most tiles offer easy wipe-clean maintenance.

Disadvantages include the tendency of some tiles to sag over time and the loss of about 8 inches of headroom.

Surface mount grid systems

Homeowners with low basement ceilings might consider a ceiling grid system, which generally takes away only an inch of head room. Easily installed panels that are made of vinyl or PVC look like tile and offer access to pipes and plumbing. Panels can be installed over drywall, plywood or open studs.

Wall options for a finished basement

Walls are another thing that may be tricky in a basement remodeling project as you may need to add in studs or other materials to be able to finish walls along your concrete foundation, as well as add in extra walls for room divisions. These are options for materials you can use to finish your basement walls.

Interior Walls

Partitioning your basement into separate rooms transforms it from a storage and utility area to an inviting, warm living space. Framing the basement walls and ceilings makes a tremendous difference in the basement’s appeal. Installing interior walls in a large basement helps to hide expanses of empty space, instantly providing a feeling of coziness. Rooms that can be used for a media room, home office or bedroom will result in extra square footage, increasing the value of the home.

Homeowners wishing to enclose basement appliances should take note of air-supply requirements for both the furnace and water heater, which are powered by electricity or natural gas, oil or propane. Fuel-burning appliances use room air for combustion and require an unrestricted air supply. Any enclosure requires installation of a louvered door between living areas and the furnace room to ensure an adequate air supply and ventilation in your basement. Without sufficient air, a house may fill with dangerous gases, including carbon monoxide or radon.

Beadboard panels

Beadboard looks like wood paneling but is thicker. It can be made of wood, wood veneers or medium- or high-density fiberboard. Beadboard comes in 4-by-8 panels and must be installed on furring strips attached to the basement walls. Advantages of beadboard include ease of installation, relative durability and its upscale look.

One drawback is that dirt is easily trapped in the beadboard grooves. Application of high-quality polyurethane will make cleaning easier. Leaving small spaces between the boards allows for future expansion, ensuring the continued attractiveness of the paneling.

Drywall

Drywall is the traditional material used for finishing basement walls. It gives a professional, finished look to basement rooms and maintains continuity with above-grade areas of the home. Drywall installation on walls is relatively easy, and the material is durable and easily repaired.

Drawbacks include the porous nature of drywall, which is conducive to mold growth. Drywall that has been damaged by water must be replaced.

Stucco

Stucco can be applied directly to cinderblocks, and the process is fairly easy. Since masonry walls are strong, a support system is not required. All that is needed is application of a concrete bonding agent. Traditional application requires a scratch coat, brown coat and finish coat. Advantages of stucco include the unique patterns and textures that can be created to add interest to the basement space. The material is durable and able to accept numerous colors.

Drawbacks include crumbling and improper drying if the right ratio of materials is not achieved during mixing. Any shifting in walls will cause cracks in the stucco. Painting stucco walls is not recommended because of the amount of paint required and uneven results.

Wall finishing systems

Wall finishing systems are rapidly gaining in popularity. These systems feature fiberglass panels and pieces of trim that fit into PVC framing. Panels covered in fabric offer an attractive finished appearance to the basement without the work of drywall taping and painting. Advantages include durability, moisture- and fire-resistance and the ability to remove panels for access to water pipes and electrical wiring.

Drawbacks include the higher price tag compared to drywall and the inability of many systems to fit homes with lower-than-normal basement ceilings.

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