Finishing or remodeling a basement can be a great investment. It can increase the value of your home, create a new fun space to make memories with your family, or perhaps act as a space for guests to stay in to save them from spending the cash on a hotel. But unfortunately the basement finishing and remodeling process can be extremely stressful and costly. Here is a guide for navigating the stormy seas of basement finishing and remodeling.
How to finish a basement
The key stages for finishing a basement go like this: hire a trustworthy contractor, make a plan and get the permits, get rid of moisture, framing, insulation, electrical, plumbing, drywall and ceiling finishing, and flooring, door, and baseboard installation.
Here is more information on each of those steps:
- Hire a trustworthy contractor
- Framing, insulation, electrical, and plumbing
- Make a plan and get the permits
- Drywall and ceiling
- Get rid of moisture
- Basement flooring, baseboards, and doors
hire a trustworthy contractor
If you are not taking on this project by yourself, you will likely need to hire a contractor. The first place to start is asking family and friends if they or anyone they know have had experiences with any local contractors. A personal recommendation or horror story from them can be extremely helpful. Other places you can turn to for help include the National Association of the Remodeling Industry for a list of local members or asking a building inspector.
Once you have a list of contractors narrowed down, you should call them or meet them in person to ask them the questions that most concern you. You can ask them to provide a list of previous clients. It is perfectly fine to then call any of these clients to hear about their experiences with the contractor. Other ways to learn more about them include visiting the Better Business Bureau online to see if they have a history of client disputes or to actually go to any of their current work sites to see if the environment seems safe and controlled.
Getting an estimate from them is a key step in the process, but do not just jump at the lowest bid. Prices that are too low could be a sign of shady work processes. They should be able to provide a breakdown of the bid and how they came to that price. Finding a contractor that you are comfortable with and who communicates well with you is the most important factor when making your final decision. Once you make your choice, sign a contract that you both agree on and get started.
Make a Plan and Get the Permits
Draw up plans for your basement to submit to your local building inspections department. Make sure they are to scale and include measurements for everything. You will need to submit electrical plans for approval as well. If you are not equipped to create these yourself, your contractor may be able to draw these up for you or be able to find someone who can or you can hire an architect. An architect will be pricier, but they can provide a lot of help determining how to maximize space and the best ways to lay out a room. Once you get your permits and any necessary inspections, you are ready to move forward.
Get Rid of Moisture
Water in the basement can become a very problematic and costly issue. You definitely need to take all the preventative measures that you can before finishing your basement to save you money and suffering later.
The first step in this process is to walk around your basement to inspect the problem areas. If you notice cracks in foundation walls or floor, you or someone you hire will need to fill the cracks with polyurethane foam. If you notice areas where pools of water form after rain or remain constantly damp, here are some of your options: installing gutter downspout extenders to reroute water flow, altering the grade of your lawn so water flows away from your home, installing better drainage in your yard, or installing sump pump. Consult your contractor on what is the best fit for your situation.
If you skip looking into these measures altogether, you may end up damaging your brand new basement materials soon after they are installed. Not only will there be costly damage, but with moisture problems comes mold growth. This can cause further damage to materials and even health hazards to those living in your home.
When you are finishing or remodeling your basement, you have a great opportunity to take preventative steps for keeping moisture out by waterproofing your basement when you have an almost blank canvas. It is much easier and less expensive to install effective waterproofing measures before all of the drywall, framing, insulation, etc. are put in. Read more about general waterproofing tips on our basement waterproofing page.
Framing, Insulation, Electrical, and Plumbing
Now it is time to start framing the space. It is a good idea to leave a little space between the outside wall and the new drywall to help prevent moisture issues as well as provide a space for electrical wires to run. This can be done with wood or metal furring strips that can also help with leveling out a space against a wall that may not be completely flat.
Insulating your basement is the next step. This is required by code in most new houses. It also will help keep your energy costs down in colder months.
In the electrical setup stage of the basement finishing process, all the wiring will be put in for things like recessed lighting, televisions, and outlets. If you are putting in a bathroom, this is also the time to sort out any plumbing issues.
Drywall and Ceiling
After framing and insulation are installed and all the electrical work is inspected and approved, it is time to put in drywall and a ceiling. In another effort to avoid water damage, leave some space between the floor and the beginning of the drywall. If there is ever any water or flooding in your basement, this helps reduce the chances of water crawling up your drywall, which sometimes requires replacement. You can cover up this space later with baseboards.
Once the drywall is complete, the painting process can begin. You can wait until the end to paint, but getting some painting completed before the flooring is installed reduces the risk of errors and spills affecting the new flooring or carpet.
Basement Flooring, Baseboards, and Doors
The next step is installing the flooring of your choice. There is a long list of flooring material options for your basement including tile, carpet, hardwood, vinyl, concrete, linoleum, bamboo, cork, and laminate. Follow that up with putting in the baseboards, doors, and any additional trim work.
When all of that is said and done, it is now time to bring in the furniture and accents that will make it feel like home and enjoy your new space!
Key Things to Consider When Finishing a Basement
Leave offset space between the foundation and the basement framing for electrical wires and to reduce moisture risk.
Leave space between the floor and the bottom of the drywall so reduce the chance of irreversible water damage.
Take this opportunity to ask about/install waterproofing mechanisms to help protect your basement from moisture
Allow for access panels in the drywall so you can reach key pipes and electrical wires where necessary.
Determine where the HVAC vents will go and leave space in the drywall for them.
Leaving the utility room unfinished. There are specific code requirements for this area with your HVAC unit and water heater. It needs to be open and easily accessible for inspections, so you must leave a few feet perimeter around this area that is unfinished.
Windows placement. Windows can add light into the room and if you are putting in a bedroom in your basement, a window can act as an emergency exit. This does not only provide added safety but it also allows you to count the space as an extra bedroom (with the addition of a finished closet).
Make sure your utility room and ventilation is inspected to ensure that you do not have carbon monoxide buildup as this can be fatal.
How Much Does it Cost to Finish a Basement
The average cost of finishing a basement can range between $10,000 and $65,000. However this number can rise and fall significantly depending on the square footage of the space, materials being used, amount of plumbing and electrical work, waterproofing tactics utilized, or special woodworking.
The lowest bid from a contractor may not always be the best option. It could mean that they are cutting corners. When comparing bids from contracts, make sure they give you the breakdown of that bid in terms of materials, labor, expenses, and profit.
Typically, materials tend to make up
40 percent of the total cost
… and profits can range between
15 and 20 percent.
A normal contractor payment plan looks like this:
10% when you sign the contract
3 payments of 25% spaced throughout the project timeline
15% when the job is complete
If a contractor asks for too much upfront, there may be reason to worry. It could mean that they are desperate for the extra money or they want more upfront because they do not think you will be happy with the final product.
For those DIYers out there, here are some tools needed for basement finishing/remodeling:
Drill and drill bits
Protective gear: safety glasses, mask, ear protectors
Here are some materials needed when taking on a basement finishing/remodeling project:
Extruded polystyrene insulation
Flooring or carpet
Basement Finishing/Remodeling Ideas
When considering how to use the extra space that finishing or remodeling a basement would provide, think about what would best fit your family’s lifestyle. Below are some ideas for how you could utilize the space.
Lounge/Media Room/Movie Theater
If your family likes to gather for big sporting events or to watch movies together, putting in a media room or movie theater could be a good option for you. Things to consider:
Position TV/seating in dark area away from windows to reduce glare
Installing theater seating so the rows of seats get progressively higher as you go toward the back of the room to allow for better screen visibility
Installing a projector and projector screen
Consult an expert about speaker placement
Extra insulation may be required in this room to keep sound in
If you like to entertain, you may want to consider putting a bar in your basement. This way you can store beverages and drinkware downstairs to save you the trip upstairs. A wine cellar is another cool addition to any basement. Things to consider:
Do you want it to be a wet or dry bar? If you want a wet bar, you will need to install proper plumbing
Putting in a pull out cabinet for trash and/or recycling so you do not need to put out an eye sore trash can
If you want to use cabinet space for your own kegs and leave space for the taps to come up behind the wall.
This could be a good addition for those nights of entertaining. Setting up an area with games is a unique addition that can make for a fun evening. Here are some great basement games to consider:
Adding a guest bedroom and bathroom to your finished basement space is great for visitors, because you save them money on a hotel but they are not invading on every inch of your living space. Having these separate spaces makes everyone more comfortable and there are fewer worries about accidentally waking each other up. In order for a bedroom to be considered a bedroom in your basement it must have:
A finished closet
An egress window less than four feet off of the ground
For those who want to save on a gym membership, putting in their own gym may be the route they want to go. Some equipment ideas include a treadmill, elliptical, set of free weights, bench, medicine balls, rowing machine, pull up bar, and a stationary bike. Things to consider for a home gym:
Are your ceilings high enough to fit your exercise equipment?
Are they tall enough to fit you when you are standing on your exercise equipment?
Can the machines fit down the stairs?
If someone in your household spends a lot of time working remotely from the home or logs a lot of hours working during nights and weekends, it might be beneficial to have a basement home office. This could even serve as the space where you handle all of the family bills and scheduling. Here are some things to keep in mind if this is what you want in the plan for your newly finished/remodeled basement:
Accommodating all of your equipment such as computer, extra monitor, printer, scanner, etc.
Making sure the space is quiet enough so that you can get your work done without distraction.
If you make video calls with clients/colleagues, make sure the space that would be on screen is clean and visually appealing.