Do not confuse basement finishing systems with finished basements of the past.
Previous Finished Basements
"Old school" finished basements were typically built from scratch, using lumber and drywall. Whether or not they were DIY affairs or built by a contractor, these finished basements were largely custom-built and relied heavily on limiting the moisture in the basement, since the building materials did not hold up well against water.
The Basement Finishing System
Basement finishing systems place emphasis on the "system" part. They employ building materials specially designed for basements to resist moisture. Little or nothing about these finishing systems is from scratch; almost everything is pre-designed and in some cases is even pre-cut.
- No Drywall on Walls: Wall panels made of non-organic materials which dry out quickly, in the event of flooding or even normal basement moisture. By contrast, drywall is faced with an organic material (paper) which easily develops mold.
- Insulating Material on Walls: Built-from-scratch drywall finished basement walls have no insulation. As drywall provides almost no insulation, extra insulation must be added. Since basements are either completely or partially underground, temperature control is of major concern.
- Built by Installers, Not DIY: One way the basement finishing companies make money is through installation, not materials. So, they also sell you on the installation.
- Suspended Ceiling: A suspended ceiling is the most expedient way of adding a ceiling to your basement, while preserving access to services located near the joists (wiring, etc.).
- Flooring Optional: Do not assume that flooring comes with the basement finishing system. Their main product is the wall paneling, not the floor or ceiling.
- Cost: Higher than you might imagine. The cost of the average basement finishing system is less in the range of a DIY- or even contractor-built finished basement, and closer to the cost of an addition. So, depending on the size of your basement, these are certainly five-figure costs in the range of $30,000 and upward.
- Franchised: Most basement finishing systems are franchised. Why should this matter? For one, it often means that the salespeople are not kept in check (see next point). But on the good side, it's often the only way that a company can adequately serve all its potential customer base.
- Aggressive Selling: Be prepared. Basement finishing systems fall in that shadowy world of replacement windows, sunrooms, and bathtub refinishing. Be certain of one thing. The salesperson will push hard. The good part is that you, the consumer, can push right back.
- Scam or Not?: Is a basement finishing system a legitimate finished basement? That depends on your view. For many homeowners, "legitimate" means only solid, finished, sanded-smooth drywall on the walls and ceiling. For others, a finished basement is simply one that works.