Tips on Remodeling Your Basement

A basement remodel is an easy and cost-effective way to add living space to your home without cutting into your yard or garden. A basement remodel usually costs about a third as much as an addition, and can be completed much faster because the mechanicals, foundation, and outside walls are already in place – and there’s no need for re-landscaping. One of the first things to consider is how you intend to use the new space. Perhaps you have some ideas in mind, but there are many options. Dividing the space into more than one room can give you more flexibility.

How will you use the space?

The remodeled areas can be transformed into new living quarters, a guest room, a playroom for children or a retreat for teenagers. You can remodel your basement to give you additional areas for entertaining or for family activities. The space could be used as an office, games room, or home theatre. Or set up a home gym or spa, complete with sauna, steam room and hot tub. The possibilities are endless. That’s for you to decide. But how you intend to use the space will guide the remodel.

Cheap Way To Finish Basement Walls
Cheap Way To Finish Basement Walls

A basement doesn’t have to feel like a basement

Keep in mind that just because you’re remodeling the basement, doesn’t mean it has to look, feel or smell like a basement. Many basement remodeling contractors advise you to remodel the basement to look and feel like the rest of the house. And it doesn’t have to cost much extra. Wood paneling is only one of many options. But whatever you choose, there are some key decisions you’ll need to make regarding the ceiling, walls, floors, and lighting.

Let there be lots of light

Since basements tend to be dark and gloomy, lighting is extremely important and should be considered before anything else. If you can, try to increase natural lighting as much as possible by adding or enlarging windows. If this isn’t an option, use artificial light abundantly to brighten the space. Floor and table lamps can be used in addition to ceiling lights to create bright, warm spaces. Another option is to use glass blocks between rooms to maintain privacy but still allow light to pass through.

Hard or soft ceiling?

The biggest decision you’ll need to make for the ceiling is whether you want a hard or soft ceiling. A soft, or suspended, ceiling will hang below the height of the pipes, ducts and wires, concealing them from view, but allowing ready access for repairs and alterations. This is a very practical option, but to some, not the most attractive. And with this option you’ll lose at least 8 inches of height, so if your ceiling is low to begin with, it may not be a realistic option.

If you want the basement to feel like a continuation of the rest of the house, a hard (i.e. wallboard) ceiling is the only way to go. Plan carefully and you won’t have to worry about access to the pipes and wires. Before the ceiling goes up, work out high- and low-voltage wiring and lay the lines. Also, wrap both hot and cold water lines and the gas lines to protect against condensation dripping and ruining your ceiling. And have your contractor allow for physical access to valves and j-boxes. Other hard or semi-hard ceiling options include acoustic ceiling tiles and tongue-and-groove wood boards.

The Industrial look

One way to eliminate the ceiling controversy altogether is to go with the industrial look, which has become popular in many urban restaurants, art galleries, warehouse-style condos and other hot spots. Leave the pipes and ducts exposed. You may even paint them a different color from the ceiling for effect (although you’re advised not to paint the gas lines and some electrical wiring. Consult your contractor or a building inspector prior to painting).

Insulation is key

No matter what type of walls you choose, make sure that you have proper insulation to regulate the temperature and to keep out moisture. Your contractor will be able to advise you of various techniques to reduce moisture – a common problem in basements that not only produces that musty “basement smell,” but can invite molds, mildew, dust mites and other allergens. In many areas of the U.S., you can arrange to have an expert from your local utility company come to your home to advise you on insulating and weatherizing, and offer tips for reducing your energy bills. This is often a free service. Ask them about low- or no-interest loan programs you may be eligible for, and whether state or federal tax credits apply for this type of renovation.

Flooring options to consider

There are many options for flooring. Tile, marble, and other natural or ceramic finishes can be cold. But area rugs can help keep feet warm. Or consider heated masonry, which is more expensive, but also helps reduce humidity. Vinyl floors are a cheap, quick and easy option, but they often look that way too! Carpet has its proponents and detractors. Some recommend carpeting because it’s warm and soft, and comes in a variety of styles and colors. Others advise against carpeting your basement because it retains moisture, making it an ideal place for mold, mildew and dust mites to live, and contributing to “basement smell.”

Plastic and hardwood floors are other options, but don’t even consider hardwood if your basement is prone to water leaks. And finally, if you’re going for the industrial look, consider simply painting the concrete floor and adding a few area rugs if you wish. There are paints specially formulated for concrete floors that are available in a variety of colors. Ask your basement remodeling contractor or interior designer for their input.

Control moisture first

Before beginning any basement remodeling, make sure that all problems with moisture and water leaks have been taken care of. Be sure to discuss this with your contractor.

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