Finishing a Basement 1 - Intro and Planning

A finished basement with orange carpet and white walls.

Finishing your basement can provide you and your family with all kinds of extra living space at a relatively inexpensive price. The basement already has walls, a floor, and a ceiling; therefore, a basement remodel is cheaper than building an addition for extra space.

If you were to hire a contractor to finish your basement, you would be looking at a price in the range of up to $25 per square foot. It could cost more depending on the design and materials you choose. You won’t be able to build an addition to your home anything close to that price. If you do the basement remodel yourself, you will save even more money. That makes finishing your basement the most cost-effective addition you will ever complete.

As an added bonus, a properly finished basement can be used for just about any purpose. A home office, game room, home theater, or just a place where your kids can hang out with their friends are all possibilities. Even a separate finished suite for aging parents is an option when you finish your basement.

Full Project Overview

To finish your basement from start to completion, you will have to follow a sequence of tasks. Clear out your basement so that you have an unobstructed work area. Then moisture proof the walls and floors. Once the space is protected from moisture, you can safely install a subfloor, lay out your walls, and rough in electrical, plumbing, cable, and telecom equipment. Once that is complete, you must have the work inspected to guarantee that it meets both electrical and plumbing codes.

Once you know that the room meets local building requirements, you can install insulation and a vapor barrier. The hang the drywall, lay the flooring, and install the light fixtures. Paint the space and you will have renovated your unfinished basement into a usable space.

Planning for a Basement Renovation

Deciding how you want to use your finished basement. Different uses will influence both the design and materials. A kids' playroom will have different requirements than a home entertainment center, so while you can make minor changes as the project moves along, it's best to have a clear idea of how you are going to use the new space.

Measure the area and play with ideas of where to put things. Don't forget to measure the height of your ceilings, which is the distance from the floor to the joists as well as from the floor to bottom of any ductwork or supports. You will need plan around these obstructions in your final design.

Determine what you feel comfortable doing yourself in the renovation and what might require a contractor. Finishing a basement demands skill in carpentry, electrical wiring, plumbing, insulation, drywalling, and painting. Even if you are comfortable with your skills in each of these areas, you still need the time and energy to stay with the project to completion. For a do-it-yourselfer, finishing a basement is probably at least a 6 month project that dominates evenings and weekends. A contractor could likely do the same job in a few weeks.

Once you have developed a construction plan, draw a detailed and scale blue print of your basement. Include the existing doors and windows, as well as any obstructions such as support posts, plumbing stacks, ductwork. Count the electrical outlets, switches, light fixtures, and plumbing fixtures to determine what hardware you will need. Also calculate how much lumber and insulation you will need. Purchase or rent the necessary tools if you do not have them already.

Your local home building supply store will likely have a computer programs that you can use to calculate the quantities of the materials that will be required. Take advantage of their knowledge and use this information to prepare your budget. Finally, depending on your local building codes, you will quite likely need to obtain a building permit. Click here to read Part 2 of the series, which covers moisture proofing.