Finishing a basement can bring you a double bonus. It provides additional living space for a fraction of the cost of an addition to the house – the walls are already there, electrical and plumbing lines are easily accessible, and no additional foundation supports are necessary to start construction. Also, a well-finished basement can add value to your house when you go to sell it – just don’t expect to get back all the money that went into it.
The average basement remodel recoups about 69% of the original cost, according to the “2015 Remodeling Impact Report” from the National Association of Realtors. As with most remodeling projects, rarely does anyone get a 100% return on their investment. Improvements should be done to both enhance your lifestyle and to increase your homes’ selling potential.
Finished basements are particularly conducive for use as media rooms, music rooms, a home office or a recreation room. In all of these spaces, separation from the main living areas can be a plus!
Before you get started on your renovation, here are several things you need to know:
Know the Code
It would be great to convert unused space to additional living space, but does your basement meet the building code requirements for livable space? You must be in compliance with codes for ceiling height, and egress windows and/or doors. It’s also time to check with your local municipality to see if you’ll be required to get any permits. This is particularly important if you’re planning plumbing, heating and electrical work, which most likely will need to be inspected.
Keep It Dry
Check for any water issues in your basement before beginning the planning process. Obvious signs are pools of water or drips coming through the below-grade walls or around windows and the bilco door. Check outside to make sure the ground is graded away from your foundation. Also look for cracks in your foundation walls and repair that damage if necessary. If there is a continuing water issue, there are a number of remedies available – from sump pumps to perimeter French drainage systems.
As mentioned above, ALWAYS get necessary permits and know the building codes before you start a basement renovation (even if your contractor says it might not be necessary – it will become necessary when it’s time to sell). If you have concerns about ceiling height, consider installing a drywall ceiling rather than a drop ceiling. Drywall ceilings will give you a few more inches of headroom. Costs are comparable. Inserting plastic access panels into a drywall ceiling will provide easier access to valves in the pipes above.
A drop or suspended ceiling offers a way to both conceal and provide access to electrical and plumbing lines via the removable tiles. These ceilings will reduce the amount of overhead space available, so keep that in mind when planning.
Egress Windows and Doors
Basement living space requires emergency escape and rescue openings. Whether it is an egress window or an egress door, it has to open to the outside and open easily without the use of keys or tools. It must also follow code requirements for the height and width of basement egress windows.
Keep Out the Cold
Even after taking care of any moisture issues, your basement can become a damp place. Check with your contractor to see if you’ll need to add a vapor barrier to the walls and/or floors prior to framing and finishing off these surfaces. You may also choose an insulation that includes a vapor barrier on both sides. Adding insulation will not only help control the temperature inside your basement, it may also add another layer of moisture control. Other options include a spray foam insulation. Be sure to check code requirements for this type.
Recessed lighting in a basement is a good option because it doesn’t take up valuable overhead space that a light fixture would. It’s also easy to install if you decide to opt for a drop ceiling.
The Utility Room is Not for Finishing
Any space housing an HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) unit or units and water heaters need to remain clear, open, unfinished and ventilated. These spaces have specific code requirements for spacing and framing, plus you’ll need access for inspection and/or repairs.
A finished basement can be terrific “found space” but before you start daydreaming about all its’ potential, make sure your basement is a good candidate for renovation – if not, there’s nothing wrong with extra storage!