Plan a successful basement remodel
Here's how to take your underground floor from dungeon to dream space, without nightmares.
© National Geographic Image Collection/Alamy
Does it seem like your home is shrinking? Are the kids growing up and accumulating more stuff? Is your teenager demanding a room of his own? Has the college grad come back to the nest? Are you looking to provide room for an elderly parent or rent out space to help makes ends meet? Regardless of the reason, the space solution may be right under your feet. (Bing: Tips to clean up flooded basement)
Basements typically comprise about one-third of a home's available space -- 600 to 800 square feet in the average home. While some basements have been finished to create more living area, most of these spaces are used as makeshift laundry rooms, home offices and storage repositories for everything from spare freezers to pantries, paints and paperwork. In other words, most basements are underused.
Considering a basement remodel has definite benefits:
- Unlike with a room addition, there is no need to excavate for new footings or worry about structural loads.
- Utilities, including water, electricity, gas and sewer lines, are typically close at hand, further reducing costs.
- Heating and cooling loads for basements are relatively light.
- Basements almost always have stairs leading to them, unlike many attics, another popular house-expansion candidate.
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However, converting a basement is not without its challenges. Below-grade spaces are subject to water and moisture, two common enemies of home construction. Mold and mildew are also common, and natural light is limited. Overhead pipes and ductwork can add further challenges, and if you didn't anticipate a bathroom when the house was built, the basement toilet may have to flush up.
- On our blog, 'Listed': The future of housing may be in your basement
Dealing with the wet and damp
Before embarking on a basement conversion, get serious about waterproofing. If water periodically wells up between the slab and foundation wall, or if there are cracks in the foundation, you will need to call in a contractor or basement waterproofing company for advice. They will be able to tell you whether the source of water is easy to stem — it can be as simple as gutters and downspouts not doing their jobs — or whether it's more serious.
In many cases, a below-slab perimeter drain leading to a sump pit with at least two pumps -- primary and backup — is the answer. The sump pit should be installed in the lowest part of the room perimeter and set up to discharge water outside in the most efficient manner. Many finished basements build a closet around the sump pit. Regardless of how you conceal it, be sure to allow for easy access.
Groundwater isn't the only source of dampness and moisture in a basement. Plumbing leaks and condensation are two other common sources. A good waterproofing contractor can install water alerts in your laundry area and near water-heater tanks to warn you of a leak before it can cause major damage. He can also recommend a self-draining, high-capacity dehumidifier to further remedy moisture issues.
Building with waterproof materials
When finishing a basement, it's smart to use materials that can stand up to water and moisture. Conventional materials such as drywall, wood framing and MDF moldings are not necessarily the best choices in below-grade applications. That's why several companies offer complete basement-finishing systems that include waterproof wall panels, moisture-proof drop ceilings, mold-proof PVC moldings and water-resistant underfloor systems — everything to reduce the risk from water damage.
Owens Corning offers an insulated wall panel for basement conversion composed of compressed fiberglass lined by vinyl on the finished side. It attaches to block and poured-concrete foundation walls with special channels. If you need access to electrical wires or plumbing behind the panels, you can remove them. The panels are nonflammable, impact resistant, won't trap water vapor and don't support mold. They may, however, be damaged in a flood if left standing in water for any length of time.
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Total Basement Finishing offers a highly impact-resistant cement panel backed by rigid foam insulation. It's strong enough to support anything you'd hang on a conventionally framed wall. Precut channels make wiring easy. A linen-look vinyl skin in white and beige covers the finished side.
TBF panels can be installed in floor and ceiling tracks independent of the foundation wall, or they can be attached directly to foundation walls. The system is versatile enough that you can leave a portion of your basement unfinished or divide the space into rooms, or even erect closets. In addition to various versions of its wall panels, TBF offers a menu of other basement-remodeling products, including finished stair kits, drop ceilings and waterproof flooring. The parent company, Basement Systems, is a nationwide network of waterproofing contractors, so it's likely that the TBF dealer in your area will be able to help with basement waterproofing, too.
Do-it-yourselfers looking to save some money will want to consider basement wall panels made of magnesium oxide, like those from Wahoo Walls. When adhered to polystyrene insulation, MgO boards insulate to R-11. They are well-suited to damp areas, are mold- and mildew-resistant and are easy to cut and install. Plus, they can be painted. The boards install in L-shaped steel brackets screwed to the slab and joists; the brackets have pre-cut wiring and cable channels. Panels for interior partitions are also available without the insulation. The company offers excellent installation instructions.
Compensate for limited lighting
Unless you're fortunate enough to have a walkout basement, in which one or more walls are above-grade and can accommodate large windows and glazed doors, natural lighting in your basement is going to be limited to a handful of small windows. Fortunately, dropped or suspended ceilings, common in basements, can easily and attractively accommodate recessed can, track and fluorescent troffer fixtures.
Designers recommend lots of perimeter lighting as well, including sconces, recessed spotlights and fluorescent tubes or LED wall washers hidden behind coves. By lighting the walls, you can simulate natural ambient light and make the space seem bigger.
Dealing with ducts and beams
Accommodating ductwork and beams is often a challenge. Painting them to match the ceiling is a common approach. Another is to paint them in bright, playful colors. So is boxing the ducts in with soffits, or wood-framed enclosures covered with drywall or MDF. Keep in mind, however, that duct enclosures cannot extend more than 6 inches below the minimum 7-foot allowable ceiling height. If there are ducts that are hanging too low, sometimes they can be split into smaller ducts. Wider and flatter replacement ducts can also be installed to gain a few inches of headroom. Whatever you do, check with your local building department before beginning work to be sure your plan conforms to building codes.
When drains must go up
Basement bathrooms, laundries and kitchens, common features in many conversions, are straightforward with regard to hot- and cold-water supply lines, though not always for drainage. If necessary, there are several methods for draining sewage waste and wastewater — especially from toilets — upward to existing drain lines. The least expensive is a macerating bathroom pump, like those by Saniflo. It turns on automatically to pump toilet waste and graywater from sink, shower, tub or laundry to your sewer line. These units are compact and quiet, typically fitting either directly behind the toilet or behind the wall.
Codes and basement rooms
Basement rooms can be used for many purposes: laundry, home theater, game playing, hobbies and crafts, and the list goes on. There are many building codes intended to ensure the safety of occupants that apply to all of the above. They include the use of smoke and carbon-monoxide detectors, GFI receptacles, outside combustion air for the furnace or boiler, materials that resist the spread of fire, minimum room sizes and emergency window-well egress. When choosing contractors to work on your basement conversion, find one who has done the job many times before and who is knowledgeable about applicable codes. Do not work with a contractor who says you can convert a basement without acquiring permits.
The story line is OK, and it does allow home owners to dream of new improvements down under. BUT, the guy who is doing the work with the light weight electric power cord around his neck is looking for more personal injury issues than he is aware could happen. I'm a retired building contractor who has avoided the workers comp claims by being pro-active with my workers. I worked with my insurance company to create a video with my employees. The power cord issue was on the top 10 cause of injury and death. I will tell you what I see in the photo that has possible problems, and what is (one) of the corrections.
1, Power cord around the neck, possible death,
2, Power supply cord has knot tied around screw gun cord to keep it from unplugging. that is over ride of safety feature of the plug. Power supply should also be flat type design, so when stepping on it, the soul does NOT roll and possible loss of footing.
3, Sheetrock hammer worn in the rear, should be worn at side. Blade on hammer could cause deep cut into the spine area. Fellow to right is correct.
4, Over head sheetrock work should be done with safety eye protection because sheetrock has fiberglass and is rock material can cause eye damage and or possible blindness.
5, No nail guards on the studs to protect wires, water / gas plumbing supply and venting from possible nail and or screws contact that could cause fire, electrical shock, and or death. Or burn the structure.
6, Loose wire out of the wall where they are working, is it a live wire or not? Either way, if not live it should be removed, and if live in a box with wire nuts on the ends.
A note that is not safety that I notice, if this project photo is in a basement, and water moisture is an issue, ALL of the sheetrock should be water board, either the purple or green board. This looks to be standard sheetrock and will not last in a wet basement very long. And the dust being caused by sweeping up in that basement photo could have that mold floating about and being sucked into his lungs. No mask !?!?
I reserve the right to be wrong on what I see, you be the judge, and my comments are all from my observations of photos on MSN story by Bob Vila.
I loved this article.. it is right on! I am the inventor of the Impressive Basement System that has been on the market for over seven years and we have addressed all of these issues plus noise control. For more information go to Impressivebasements.com, or call 877 545 9003. We are also looking for dealers to install and market our product.
Something about the guy on the front page with the extension cord drooped over his neck. I used to get reprimanded for doing it.