How to Renovate Your Basement

Project Planning
November 14, 2019

The possibilities for renovating your basement are endless. A basement can simply be a clean, open storage area, a cozy den where the family gathers to watch a movie, or it can serve as an office away from the busyness of the main living spaces. 

Cramped in the upper quarters? Finishing your basement can mean adding an extra bedroom or bathroom for functional reasons. Plus, if you have your basement finished to include a kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom, you might be able to rent it out.

Whatever its purpose, a finished basement increases your livable space and gives you the chance to open up your home and improve it so that it better meets your needs.

Steps to Renovating a Basement

Renovating a basement can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming if you break it down into manageable steps. Even though you probably won’t be doing any of the construction yourself, it’s good to be knowledgeable about the process. 

1. Find Some Inspiration

Before you start your basement remodel, gather ideas for the look, feel, and structure of the space you want. Check out Pinterest to see what others have done to improve their basement. This is a great way to get inspiration for decor, unique storage ideas, color palettes, and lighting solutions.

Another approach to prepare for your project is to talk to friends and family who have done a basement renovation. Not only can you get ideas from their basement redesigns, but you can get better estimations of cost if their projects were similar in scope to yours. You should also ask for referrals to local contractors, plumbers, and electricians. An important part of any home remodel is deciding which professionals to use, so a trusted opinion from someone you know is priceless.

2. Design and Plan Your Basement

Basement game room

The next step is to decide what you’re going to add, remove, or repair in your basement. You should sit down and come up with a concise plan that includes the answers to the following questions:

What do you want to get out of your newly finished basement?

  • Kids’ playroom
  • Man/woman cave
  • Rec room or family game room
  • Home office
  • Home theater
  • Personal gym
  • Guest suite
  • Bar or wine cellar
  • Craft room 
  • An apartment-style suite you can rent out

Before committing to your plan, consider the space limitations of your basement. For example, a smaller basement might not function very well as a gym if there isn’t room to fit equipment, but maybe it can serve as an office or a reading nook for your kids instead.

Deciding what you want out of your basement will give you a better idea of how involved and extensive the project will be. After you know what you want, set a budget. Your contractor can work with you to know how realistic your proposed basement redesign is based on your budget.

3. Permits and Inspections

Any project that involves electrical, plumbing, or turning the basement into a livable space will likely require a permit. 
It’s in your best interest to get help from a contractor who can help check all the boxes as you go through the process of construction to avoid penalties.

Tips for finding a contractor: 

It’s recommended to compare bids from at least three contractors. And remember, the cheapest price may not be the most ideal. Read into what the bid includes like materials, timeline, and other pertinent information. 

Go through these steps as you work toward choosing a professional contractor:

  • Check review websites to get an idea of their reputation.
  • Ask, “Have you done a project similar to mine before?” If the contractor has done a similar remodel before, they probably also know the tradesmen and pros to use.

Pro-tip: If you need major cleanup work done, for example, to remove mold or asbestos, get a certificate that says it happened. This might be useful later if you sell the property.

4. Waterproofing

Because basements are located below grade and surrounded by soil, they can be at risk for water damage. Before starting on your basement renovations, you’ll want to double-check that your basement is waterproofed. 

Waterproofing may have to be done on both the outside as well as the interior of the basement. This could mean repairing cracks and holes or redesigning drainage pathways. Your contractor should work with you to identify and implement any necessary changes. This could also include: 

  • Redirecting downspouts away from your foundation.
  • Changing the grade of your lawn so that water drains away from your basement.
  • Applying sealant to the walls and floor.

5. Framing Basement Walls

If you are dividing your basement into separate rooms, you may need additional framing work done. If you don’t want permanent wall separation in the basement, you can also consider running a curtain system or simply use wall dividers to designate different rooms.

6. Plumbing

Is your renovated basement going to include a bathroom? Your contractor may need to handle particular plumbing issues. 

It’s recommended to keep pipes in their original position because it can expensive to change the layout. Communicate with your contractor and plumber so they know about each appliance going into the basement such as a water heater, shower, toilet, and sink. Your appliances will need to be positioned so that they allow for the proper slope so water can drain. 

It’s also recommended to install the water heater close to the appliances that will require hot water because the farther away the pipes are from the source, the more heat loss will occur.

7. Electrical Wiring

Your electricity and how it’s wired is an important consideration that will arise during your renovation. Your contractor may need to reassess your wiring in the basement as you add more lighting and additional outlets to make the space more functional. 

Here are some red flags that may have to be fixed and replaced during an assessment of your wiring: 

  • Faulty fusing
  • Loose, hanging wires or staples wires
  • Wires that have been improperly spliced
  • Bare or frayed wires
  • Disorganized electric panel 
  • Outdated wiring systems

8. Drywall

Basement remodel

Once the walls in your basement are framed, your contractor will likely install drywall. There are many different kinds of drywall, including moisture-resistant drywall which is commonly used in basement projects.

There are also other wall-finishing systems that avoid the more labor-intensive installation of drywall. These prefabricated designer systems were created to help make basement conversions easier, but can cost more.

9. Finishing Touches

The finishing touches of a basement remodel are arguably the most fun part for homeowners. You’ll get to choose your flooring options, paint colors, furniture, and accessories.
Here are some ideas for those last touches that can turn your basement into a cozy oasis:

  • Add area rugs for color and texture.
  • Add functional storage spaces like shelving.
  • Paint cinder blocks, brick or concrete with paint or even a mural.
  • Put up curtains to divide space.
  • Add tile or laminate, or carpet rather than hardwood, as hardwood isn’t the optimal floor material choice for basements due to high moisture levels.
  • Add a kitchen to turn your basement into a rentable space.
  • Install an entertainment system and purchase reclining couches to turn your basement into a cozy at-home theater.

Pro-tip: Keep receipts of all of your purchases.

10. Enjoy Your New Basement!

The last step to renovating your basement is actually getting to use and enjoy it. Invite family over to check out your newly renovated space. Throw a party to celebrate and invite your nearest and dearest to see the new basement. 

You might also want to leave your contractor a detailed review. This not only helps the contractor, it also helps other people understand that the contractor has been vetted by real people.

Final Thoughts on Renovating Your Basement

Whether you’re looking to turn your basement into a man cave or a guest room, a finished basement can add extensive value to your home. In addition to helping increase the resale value of your home, it can add a real, functional space you can use in your day-to-day life. With these tips and tricks, you’ll be on your way to having the basement of your dreams.