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The Ultimate Guide to How to Remodel Your Basement

How to Remodel Your Basement
Your basement is often a cold, dark, clammy place filled with boxes of memories and the things you no longer really want, but don’t want to throw away. It doesn’t have to stay that way though, with a bit of effort and some money your basement can become a cozy new bedroom, or a fun gaming room for your family. Learning how to remodel your basement isn’t that hard. By following some simple steps and putting a bit of thought into the process you can easily manage this remodel yourself.

Before you begin any sort of remodeling project the first thing to do is decide what your end result will be. What do you want this space to end up as? The answer to this question will drive every major decision that you make going forward. The layout for a bedroom, or family room will be much different than a game room or kids play area. Code requirements differ according to the intended use of the space as well. So sit down and ask yourself “what do I want to do with my basement” before you do anything else.

Once you know what you want to do, then you can start doing it! Don’t let the task overwhelm you and follow the steps to a successful project that we give you below.

Design Phase

In the Design phase of your basement remodel you will begin making the plans for your remodel. For a basement remodel to be successful you must have a complete plan and a design that you are going to try to stick too. Some of the things to make sure get accomplished in this phase are…

  • Determine how much money you have to put into a basement remodel. Unless your basement remodel is part of an overall home remodeling project avoid overspending and making your basement much more luxurious than the rest of your home.
  • Check the ceiling height against local code requirements. While not universal at ceiling height of 7 ½ feet is often required to include the renovation as additional square footage in your home.
    • If your ceiling isn’t high enough you may be able to dig deeper to get the required height. This may be an expensive option though, and is not something to plan for without engaging a contractor to do the work.
  • Look for any code violations that may already exist. Unless you are the original owner of your home there is no guarantee that what has already been done has been done correctly.
  • You will need to incorporate egress windows to make your remodel additional square footage in your home. An egress window is one large enough for a person to get out of the space through. This will also normally require window wells. Window wells are area’s dug down to allow people the ability to exit through the window.
    • An oversize window well can bring in more natural light into your basement and give your basement a more normal feel.
  • Examine the existing basement. You are looking for anything that you need to include on a fix-it list. Cracks in the walls and floors will need to be filled. Any repairs to the underside of the floor above will need to be planned for as well.
  • Check your moisture level and look for any leaks in the walls or the floor. This is best done after a few days of rain if at all possible. If you check your basement for moisture problems and leaks in the middle of a drought you aren’t likely to find any water leaks.
    • Look for stains to determine where leaks are if you are in a dry spell. Stains on the walls and floors show where water has been leaking over time.
  • Make a detailed design of your intended finished remodel. Include materials, colors, and fabric choices to be as detailed as possible.

Pre-Construction Phase

In the pre-construction phase you are going to complete your plans and get everything ready for the actual construction phase. The best way to save money and to ensure your remodel comes out great is to spend a lot of time making decisions. Rushing into the construction phase of your remodel often results in having to redo mistakes, fix problems you didn’t take the time to address, and can run the costs up significantly. Things to do in the decision phase include…

  • Hire an architect to create the actual scale drawings required to apply for any permits that may be required. This may require him to inspect the area to include anything that currently exists.
  • Coordinate with the permitting department of your city or area. Find out how many permits you will need and what the costs will be. Don’t forget to get the price of any inspections that may be necessary as well.
    • This step is one that can’t be emphasized enough. As much of a pain as permitting may be, and however expensive it is, failure to obtain the proper permits can be catastrophic.
    • In the worst case if you go to sell your home you may be required to remove your construction so they can inspect wiring, framing, and anything else that should have gotten a proper inspection at the time of construction.
  • Talk with a real estate professional and an assessor to determine how much your project may change your property taxes. Decide if you can shoulder the additional tax burden.
  • Make a detailed budget based on your design notes, and the architectural plans. This budget has to be as in depth as you can possibly make it. Remember to leave about 15% of your total budget for contingency costs. Things will always come up that you didn’t expect.
  • Determine how you are going to do your remodel. Are you going to do it yourself, hire a general contractor, or hire individual contractors for parts of the remodel.
    • The benefit to a general contractor can include less hassle, some savings, and a dedicated professional that will ensure all aspects of your remodel come off smoothly. A general contractor will bid on the job as a whole, freeing you from needing to know how much to budget for nails and supplies you may not have even heard of.
    • Hiring individual contractors saves you the cost of a general contractor. It gives you a bit of flexibility in finding your own contractors and may result in more savings. The need to coordinate construction times between different contractors can be a time intensive proposition though.
    • Completing your basement remodel yourself is the cheapest way of pursuing your basement remodel. If you are not very handy this is not a good option. There is also a tendency to think it will be done sooner than it actually will be able to be completed. Decide how long you think it will take to complete something, and then double that estimate.
  • If you decide to use contractor(s) put the job out for bids and decide which contractor(s) to use.

Procurement Phase

Your preparation phase is where you put all of your planning and decisions into action. The procurement phase combines all of your planning and decisions into actual physical action. You can often spend months in the procurement phase ensuring you have everything needed to begin the actual construction.

  • The procurement phase begins with filing for any necessary permits and waiting for them to be approved. Purchasing anything before you have an approved permit can result in purchases that may need to be changed if the permitting department won’t approve your plans.
    • This can be a time consuming and frustrating procedure but be patient and wait for the permits to all be approved before proceeding. A little patience at this point can save you time and frustration later on.
  • If you are using contractors this is the point where you finalize all of the contracts and allow the contractors to purchase supplies and move to construction.
  • If you have decided to do the work yourself this is where you purchase all the materials necessary to accomplish your remodel. If you have the space it is often better to buy everything at once and wait for delivery. This streamlines the construction process by removing any wait times for materials to be delivered.

Construction Phase

The meat and potatoes of your remodel is the construction phase. This will be where all of the actual work takes place. It is also where most of the problems will occur. So be prepared for things to not go according to your carefully detailed plans. Be flexible during the construction phase and allow yourself some leeway to get the best results.

  • Begin by addressing all of the issues you identified earlier. Fill any cracks, address any moisture issues, get everything properly sealed and ready for construction.
    • This can often include addressing drainage issues outside of your home. The best way to keep moisture out of your basement is to try to make sure it doesn’t stay close to your foundation.
  • Place an impermeable barrier material against the exterior walls to prevent moisture intrusion.
  • If you decide to put in subflooring, construct the subfloor or use premade options.
  • Place rigid foam insulation boards against the exterior walls.
  • Construct the perimeter walls slightly inboard of the exterior walls to allow yourself space for additional insulation and to ensure walls are plumb.
    • Your perimeter walls will not be flush and plumb with exact 90 degree corners. Your new interior walls need to correct these issues.
    • This also gives you enough room to run any electrical or network cabling.
  • Insulate your exterior walls.
    • Although fiberglass batting may suffice, spray foam closed cell insulation will help seal your basement and provides a higher insulation value with less required space.
  • Complete any behind the wall work including electrical and any plumbing necessary.
    • 3 way switches are great options for the tops and bottoms of your stairs. Otherwise if you forget to turn a light on or off you must trudge up or down the stairs to hit a switch.
  • Construct any partition walls that will be needed in your new basement layout.
    • Don’t drive nails or wall supports through the existing concrete slab. There are brackets and other methods to secure a partition wall without compromising the concrete slab.
    • Include framing in any doors as well.
  • Finish your walls and ceilings.
    • Leave access panels over anything that you will need to get at such as valves and important plumbing and electrical connections
    • Leave a gap between the base of your drywall and your concrete floor to avoid the problem of moisture wicking up through concrete and into drywall.
    • The ceiling may need to have access points as well to plumbing and electrical lines.
      • If you have enough clearance consider a drop ceiling.
      • Another option is to paint the existing joists, plumbing, electrical all the same color and not put a true ceiling in at all.
  • Add trim work and paint the new walls and ceilings. Doing this prior to your flooring reduces the chances of damage to the floor while you are still working.
  • Complete any floor finishing and baseboards.
    • Leave a small gap between the baseboards and any unsealed concrete.

Occupancy Phase

  • Inspect all work to ensure everything has been completed according to plans.
    • Do not accept or give a final approval to a contractor without a thorough inspection of their work.
  • Ensure any final inspections are conducted.
  • File all necessary documents related to your property taxes.
  • Put any warranty documents with your existing home documents.

That’s the end of the process, and you can now enjoy your new basement for years to come. Now that you have tackled one room and turned it into the space you always wanted, think about the other rooms in your house. Take a look at our other remodeling guides to help you turn the rest of your rooms into the places you always wanted.