Expert Tips for a Successful Basement Renovation
By Jacquelyn Nause
Homeowners who want more space are opting to tap into the potential of their cold and cluttered basements. But being below ground presents its own challenges for DIYers and contractors alike. Here are our must-know tips for ensuring a quality basement renovation.
Determine the usage of the space, as well as any existing features like windows, furnaces, pipes and heating. As you plan social or bedroom spaces, consider areas with more light or windows. Keeping a TV area darker helps reduce glare. Many homeowners prefer to have a dedicated storage area in the basement as well. It is recommended to keep the floor plan as open as possible to avoid limiting future use potential.
Ceilings will need to be 7 to 7 1/2 feet tall to be up to code. Check with local municipality building standards before proceeding. It may be possible to dig out the floor to lower it, but that is a complex and expensive undertaking. Moving existing ductwork and pipes may help increase the ceiling height.
As you consider the ceiling height, also take into account lighting needs. Pot lights or track lighting are great low-profile options for tight basements.
What to Inspect Before You Start
Consider any potential obstacles to the remodel, including low ceilings, furnaces, water heaters, pipes, heating ducts and water storage tanks. Check for gas lines, cables and sump pumps as well. Inspect the foundation for signs of leaking. Should it be professionally waterproofed? Small holes and cracks can be sealed with a concrete patching compound or quality carbon fiber crack repair. Larger holes can be sealed with hydraulic cement, but cracks wider than a pencil should be inspected by a structural engineer.
It is also important to consider the outside of the foundation in waterproofing a basement. Be sure that gutters are diverted 10 feet away from the foundation, and that the grade of the soil slopes away from the home. Seal any exterior points of entry for pests. Be sure existing insulation is up to code, and insulate pipes and ductwork with foam insulation to prevent condensation and moisture issues.
Permits and Codes
Check with your local municipality for building codes and pull all necessary permits for the project.
Building standards for ceiling height, egress windows, stairs and plumbing are important considerations for basement remodels. The exact types of permits will depend on the scope and scale of the project, the zoning rules and regulations in a particular municipality, and what type of home you are remodeling.
Kitchens and Baths
A homeowner may not want a full kitchen , as mini fridges and microwaves go a long way in providing enough snacks for basement entertaining. But for income-producing rentals or in-law suites, a kitchen and bath may be necessary. Even if no kitchen is currently needed, a homeowner may want you to rough in a kitchen for future potential.
Be sure to consider a backflow prevention valve on the main drain line to prevent backups into below-grade sinks or tubs. An efficient exhaust fan is key in removing excess moisture from bathrooms. Minimize pipe runs by having plumbing share the same wall whenever possible. A full bath in the basement will also need a sewer ejector system with tank and pump.
Wall and Flooring Materials
Choosing the right flooring and wall materials for a basement is key in keeping the space dry and pest-free. Well-insulated inorganic materials help prevent deterioration from moisture and dust mites. Consider the likelihood of flooding before choosing materials for finishing walls and flooring.
The look of finished cement flooring is increasingly popular for its low maintenance and longevity. However, untreated concrete is porous and can allow moisture to pass through into the basement. Be sure to fill holes and cracks, followed by applying a sealer and finishing with an epoxy paint.
If your client wants a more traditional flooring material, be sure to install a proper subfloor with a high R-value, which helps deter moisture buildup, and insulate below the flooring. Add a vapor barrier over a level basement floor before adding subfloor and then a final flooring option, such as tile, laminate or carpet. The look of finished cement flooring is increasingly popular for its low maintenance and longevity. Untreated concrete is porous and can allow moisture to pass through into the basement.
Walls can be painted wood paneling or moisture-proof drywall made for basements, but special considerations need to be made for any wall options. Floating walls with a vapor barrier and proper insulation keep the wall material from touching the foundation walls and prevents deterioration.
Thoroughly inspect potential issues, thoughtfully design the layout and put in the extra time to fix moisture problems before starting any basement renovation. With proper forethought and planning, a basement remodel can increase the livability and value of a home.
Jacquelyn Nause is a contributing writer with specialties in real estate, parenting and wellness. She enjoys traveling with her husband, being a doting mother to her two incredible kids and enjoying the beautiful Pacific Northwest playground.