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Basement Remodeling Basics

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Basements that Experience Frequent Flooding are Not Good Candidates for Finishing

Basements that Experience Frequent Flooding are Not Good Candidates for Finishing

Public Domain; WA Military Dep't
Every homeowner finds that at one point or another they need more space. Where to get more space? You can push outward--building an addition--or you can do as the Zen masters advise, and you can look inward.

Look inward? Yes, if you own a home with a basement, there is your space. For most homeowners, the basement is nothing more than a repository for junk, and of course a place for essential services such as a furnace and water heater. There is no reason you cannot clear the junk and build a cozy family room, media room, or auxiliary bedroom or den.

The word of caution here is that basements were never intended to be fully functional living spaces (unless you live in a newer house that already took this into consideration). So, you will have many obstacles to surmount in turning this accessory space into one that is habitable by humans.

Let's look at some of the basics you must consider before turning your basement into a livable space.

Moisture

If you have significant moisture, you may not even be able to finish your basement. By "significant," we mean actual pooling of water. Moisture is the factor that disqualifies most basements. Minor moisture problems can be treated with water-lock paint, and cracks can be sealed with special caulking for this purpose. In parts of the country where the majority of home have basements, you can count on finding companies that will perform this work. Even if you have a trickle of water that runs along the floor and into a drain, you can elevate your flooring by means of a substrate such as Subflor.

Usage

Because of their unique nature, basements are not for every use. Basements tend to be cold, dark, and insular. So, if you are building out your basement as mother-in-law quarters for a woman who loves sunlight, this may not be a good idea. On the other hand, home movie theaters depend on low-light levels and dampened acoustics for better performance, making basements ideal for this usage.

Walls

Walls are installed in basements for a few reasons. They make the space more aesthetically pleasing. They make it easier to run electrical wires, and provide spaces to install receptacles. And walls enhance temperature control. But walls have no structural value in the finished basement. Because of the inherent moisture problems, you may want to choose steel studs because they do not rot and because each stud possesses perfect dimensions. Electrical wires are easily run through steel studs' pre-bored holes, and steel studs have a fairly short learning curve for the amateur home renovator.

Electrical

When finishing your basement, you will most likely be required by code to provide a certain number of electrical receptables. It doesn't matter what you want: you will still have to comply with code. Yet most basements do not have this in place to begin with. Installing walls is a convenient way to run electrical services.

Heating and Cooling

In an older house of ours, the heating and cooling worked out perfectly. During summer, the basement was cool since it was located below ground. During winter, the basement was warm since it housed the furnace. Hopefully, you have such an arrangement. If not, electrical baseboard heaters are a way to provide fast heat. Also, consider the fact that existing HVAC ductwork may be running through the joists of the floor above--which you can tap for your basement space.

Egress

Egress--the exit point besides the doorway--is an important consideration if you wish for the basement remodel to include a bedroom. As a result, many homeowners have been known to unwisely side-step building codes by calling their basement bedrooms by a different name: "sewing room," "workshop," etc. However, building codes are in place for a good reason: they protect individuals, as well as the public at large. A careful check of your local building code will tell you what kind of egress point you need. If so, then you will need to undertake the potentially costly task of creating a sizable window to fulfill this requirement.

Lighting

Most basements have only minimal lighting. But with the height restrictions, you may not be able to install any kind of lighting you want. It is for this reason that "can lights" are popular in basement remodels. Can lights provide a significant amount of light, and they tuck neatly up into the space between the floor joists of the level above.

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