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How to finish your basement in style, on a budget

July 28, 2016
Home entertainment systems are a favorite addition to basements.

The basement of a home is synonymous with darkness and disarray, but it doesn't have to be that way. Why let the potential of an entire floor go to waste to store some boxes and that treadmill you never use? Bring out the best in your basement and transform it into something that you'll actually want to use.


Before beginning your remodeling spree, make sure the basics are covered. Basements are notorious for being damp and leaky, and this will spell disaster for any improvements you bring if left unaddressed. DIY? Network recommends you seek out and identify any wet spots or leaks in your basement before anything else. If possible, find the source of the water intrusion. One common culprit is downspout water seeping into the ground around a home. Fixing this may be as simple as diverting water farther away from your walls, as This Old House suggests. You can also manipulate the soil around your foundation so it slopes and diverts water away from walls. Otherwise, a professional may need to find and seal any gaps or cracks in the walls.

Once you've done the requisite triage on the most glaring issues, look into any building codes you need to adhere to. Usually, any serious work dealing with electricity or plumbing will require a permit. Neglecting these regulations could mean headaches down the road in the form of failed home inspections or other issues, especially when it's time to sell.

"Basement redesigns can add serious value when done well.”

Once that you have that hammered out, begin planning the layout of the space. The main factor in this process is deciding how you will ultimately use your basement once it is finished. Will it house a home theater or an office? Do you want to include a guest bedroom? Deciding how the space will be utilized is a key part of the remodeling process. This Old House recommends taking a variety of factors into account, including natural light sources and windows, before making choices.

Putting it together

Now the hard part:  How much time, effort and money are you willing to put into finishing your basement? According to HGTV, a thrifty DIYer may get the job done with as little as $10,000, while professional contractors could cost upwards of $50,000. HGTV further notes that homeowners shouldn't put more than 10 percent of their home's value toward a project. A home appraisal will typically value basement square footage at a lower rate than floors above ground--at about $250 per square foot compared to $500 according to HGTV. If adding value is more of a concern than adding utility, try to keep the possibilities broad. Avoid overly specialized spaces that only fit one particular niche, and instead opt for an adaptable, functional area. A basement with its own exit can really make the house shine, especially if there's room for a patio or other gathering space.

If you're going the budget route, an experienced handyman can do a lot with little investment. This Old House recommends insulated stud walls for the savings conscious, as they are easy to install and much cheaper than most alternatives. If you have the headroom, consider hung ceiling tiles to cover up wires and ductwork. These are just two options for those not looking to spend a fortune on their basement remodel.

Safety first

If your basement isn't a walkout, most local codes require some method of exit in case of an emergency. One of the best ways to accomplish this is through the installation of an egress well. This dug-out enclosure surrounds a window and allows for easy escape in the event of a fire. It may be required by law if your basement doesn't have any windows or lacks a better escape route. This may be an advanced project to accomplish on your own, but it isn't impossible for the experienced home remodeler?.

If you're adding a bathroom, make sure a plumber installs a backflow-prevention valve. If a pipe bursts or a flood disrupts the local sewer system, it will have disastrous effects on your basement without proper protection. Installing at least two sump pumps for water removal is also recommended. If you have one pump that's powered by the water supply, it's still a good idea to have another one available, just to cover the worst-case scenarios.

Don't leave an entire level of your home unused. A basement is a space that's all too often wasted. Use these tips and ideas to transform your basement into something you'll be proud of.