Finish Out Your Basement The Right Way

Published September 20, 2017

Has your underground space been turned into a junk collector full of memorabilia, holiday decorations and old sports equipment that you will never use? Do you need more living space for a growing family?

Finishing out or rejuvenating an old basement adds valuable living space inside the existing footprint of your home while significantly reducing the amount of time, energy, and money required to otherwise expand your family’s living space.

Before you can move forward with a basement-remodeling project, you need to have a clear idea in mind as to what you are trying to accomplish. Do you intend to remodel only a portion of your basement for an extra bedroom, workout area or home office while leaving the remainder unfinished for workshop space or storage? Are you thinking of installing a basement bar for entertaining friends? Do you want to do a complete basement remodel to create a family media room, an entertainment area, second kitchen or extra bedrooms for when family and friends come to visit?

Think long-term and consider the future use of the basement space you are creating. If you are thinking of creating a space for teenagers to have their friends over and entertain, will the space be adaptable to future use when the kids are off to college?

To ensure the highest return on investment, it is important that the quality of the basement renovation be equal to the rest of the house, mimicking architectural design and types of materials.

Points To Consider

While turning unused basement space into additional living space will make your home roomier, it also presents unique remodeling challenges in regards to moisture control, ventilation, insulation, natural lighting and air quality. Low ceilings, heating and air-conditioning ductwork and a shortage of egress windows may pose building code and permit problems.

Dark, damp and dreary is how most people think of basements. The lack of natural light is the biggest complaint of basement dwellers. When remodeling a basement, do everything you can to capitalize on available natural light to make your underground retreat an enjoyable place to spend time. Extend window wells, especially on the south side of the home, to allow additional light to enter the space. Consider installing fiber optic lighting or solar tubes to direct natural light into the basement.

Replacing old metal window frames with wood or vinyl frames eliminates a major point of heat and cooling loss and adds valuable natural light. Building codes require that a basement must have at least two exits in the case of an emergency. Be aware that installing windows to satisfy code specifications may require major foundation work.

If your basement does not have an exterior exit door, is it feasible to add one? An exterior basement door adds significant value when it comes time to sell. An exterior exit door in the basement is a big safety feature in the event of fire and it makes it easy for the family to go in and out of the basement from outdoors without tracking through the house. An exterior exit is also a bonus if you ever consider renting out the basement or turning into a “mother-in-law suite.”

Check with your homeowner’s insurance agent to determine if your remodeling project is covered under your homeowner’s policy. Some basement additions are not. While a basement remodeling can provide additional bedrooms and more living space, basement bedrooms may not be counted when it comes to appraising your home for sale or loan purposes.

Determine if your present heating and air conditioning system is adequate to heat and cool the basement. Adding under-the-floor heating can make a chilly bedroom floor warm and cozy.

If you are building a media room or entertainment center in the basement, consider adding soundproofing or extra insulation to the ceiling to dampen noise that would otherwise bother people in other parts of the house.

Test For Radon

For safety’s sake, have your basement tested for radon prior to starting any remodeling activities. In some areas of the United States, radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas is a serious concern and a proven cancer risk. In fact, the United States Environmental Protection Agency warns that radon gas is the second-leading cause of cancer after smoking.

Because basements are located below grade, their orientation may result in a build-up of trapped radon gasses. Basements may also hold other noxious contaminants including pesticides, mold, creosote, lead or asbestos that will require removal by a professional abatement company.

If radon is detected, your basement finishing contractor can employ a diverse array of radon mitigation systems such as self-priming drains or gas traps, sub-slab ventilation or sealing of walls and foundation.

Plan to install radon, carbon dioxide, and smoke alarms in all areas of the basement.

Choosing A Basement Remodeling Contractor

Now that you have decided to rejuvenate the underused space in your basement, it’s important to do the research necessary to locate a reliable basement remodeling contractor that will “get the job done right, on time and within budget”. The Better Business Bureau warns consumers that home improvement contractors have the highest amount of customer complaints. Ask your homeowner’s insurance agent for a referral and verify references. Check on contractor’s reputations on the Internet and with the Better Business Bureau.

Be sure to select a contractor with an established reputation and a portfolio of satisfied clients. Statistics from the United States Small Business Administration reflect that the majority of home remodeling contractors (96 percent) go out of business within five years of start-up. Down the road, if you need your contractor for modifications, additions or to honor warranty work, you and your billfold will be happy you chose one that is still in business.

Choose a reliable company that specializes in complete basement finishing rather that having to cope with the hassles and headaches of hiring an assortment of general contractors. Selecting a basement renovation contractor that can do the entire job including waterproofing, installation of energy-efficient dehumidifiers, lighting, heating, cooling, windows, walls, floors and ceilings as well as any plumbing or electrical modifications, will save both time and money. A “one-stop” contractor will pull all required city or county permits and handle any required inspections.

Dealing With Basement Moisture

Is your basement subject to flooding? Does it feel damp or humid? Moisture in the basement is a common problem. The American Society of Home Inspectors, headquartered in Des Plaines, Illinois, estimates that in the United States 60 percent of homes have wet basements, and 38 percent run the risk of basement mold.

One of the most important steps prior to commencing any basement remodeling project is to determine that there are no moisture, mold or mildew issues that could cause future problems. Your basement finishing contractor will inspect the home to make sure the ground is sloped away from the foundation and that guttering and downspouts are in good repair. Clogged gutters or poor soil drainage can cause moisture to collect that could seep into the basement. An interior inspection will reveal the presence of dampness or mold.

If moisture is a problem, the problem must be addressed before going forward with the project. The EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Administration) advises, “Too much moisture in a home can lead to mold, mildew, and other biological growths. This in turn can lead to a variety of health effects ranging from allergic reactions and asthma attacks to more serious illnesses. In addition to health problems, severe moisture problems can lead to rot, structural damage or premature paint failure.” Moisture in the basement also attracts carpenter ants and termites to take up residence.

Dependent on the extent of the problem, your contractor will remedy the moisture problem by plugging holes and leaks, installing a dehumidifier or coating the exterior walls with a moisture barrier. In extreme cases, an in-floor sump pump, perimeter drains or in-floor guttering may be required. Make sure that you choose a basement waterproofing company that is a member of the National Association of Waterproofing and Structural Repair Contractor and offers a warranty that your basement will remain dry for the life of the structure.

Use only moisture resistant building materials in your basement remodeling project and avoid wallpaper or carpet that traps and harbor moisture.

Use Eco-Friendly Building Materials

Create an environmentally friendly underground space by using green building materials. Request that your contractor only use sustainable or recycled materials and low or zero volatile organic compounds (VOC) caulks, sealants, adhesives and paint. VOC-containing paints and finishes can give off cancer causing fumes for months after application.

Stress that your contractor uses formaldehyde-free products and avoid the traditional building materials such as particleboard or fiberglass insulation that can emit gasses into the indoor environment. Avoid the installation of any pressboard or particleboard that will absorb moisture over time. Install only solid wood cabinets and counters. Ask your contractor to install low-maintenance, high-quality materials that offer a warranty that they are moisture-proof and will withstand a future flood or other water damage. Properly planned, improving your unfinished basement space adds welcome living space and significant long-term value to the home.