Why Remodel Your Basement
We use basement remodeling to extend your living space or make it more inviting for occasional use, and even raise the value of your home. So, here I will tell you what is important and address some common concerns. An amazing transformation is possible with a basement remodel; we love the results, and you will too!
You may want the space more accommodating as a laundry area, for storage, or an exercise room. Or it can be transformed into a home theater, bedroom and bathroom, rec-room, office, TV-room, man-cave, or a hangout for the kids and their friends. Alright, let’s move on to the particular upgrades that will create this transformation.
You need finished walls, inspiration for the ceiling, improved energy efficient LED lighting, a dozen or more electrical outlets and maybe an additional circuit to the breaker box. And finally, you’ll need a clean attractive floor.
You may want to group your mechanical systems into a single closet. To do this you’d gather both the water heater and HVAC unit into one corner and enclose them into a utility closet. This could mean moving either the water heater or HVAC unit so they’ll be together.
Now let’s address managing some of the problems that are inherent with a basement remodel. This means controlling water, humidity, temperature, and air quality. These are mostly accomplished by wall and floor moisture management, air circulation and heating.
Basement Remodeling and Moisture Problems
All basements have moisture problems either as water vapor forcing it’s way through the walls, or older homes have issues with the floors as well. Houses built before 1990 didn’t have a vapor barrier installed under the concrete floor during construction. So, in older homes vapor pushes it’s way through the concrete floor and comes inside the basement as moisture.
On older homes we can install a vapor barrier on top of the concrete floor before installing the flooring. This will prevent water coming through the concrete floor and reaching your newly installed vinyl flooring.
On the walls we’d like to attach some kind of moisture barrier to prevent water from reaching the framing, insulation and drywall. And depending on the type of construction you have, the remediation will change.
For a more thorough understand please see my article: Moisture Management in Basement Remodel.
Basement Remodeling Means Managing Air Quality
Balancing CO2 and Oxygen
Air circulation is necessary to get rid of the stale air because we breath in oxygen and exhale carbon-dioxide, or CO2. If the goal of your basement remodeling project is to spend time in the basement, then this issue needs to be addressed. So, in overcoming stale air, we’ll be introducing fresh air from the outside.
There are devices available that circulate in outside air while attempting to save the out-going air temperature, thus conserving energy. Or you can use an exhaust fan and a separate inlet vent. Alternately, the circulation of fresh air can be accomplished by your HVAC system.
Your HVAC technician can incorporate a return duct in the basement (basements don’t usually have return ducts). And they can also adapt the system to incorporate fresh outside air.
Any of the offered solutions will lower CO2 levels and raise oxygen levels.
OSHA currently sets 5,000 parts per million (ppm) as their Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) for occupational exposure to CO2. The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) currently recommends that CO2 levels be maintained below 1,000 ppm.
How healthy your basement air is? You can buy a small inexpensive rechargeable testing unit that measures CO2 and humidity. The CO2 level proves your air circulation strategy, while the humidity reading may advocate for a dehumidifier.
Also, I saw an interesting article on lowering CO2 in your home that recommends an air purifier with an activated charcoal filter to improve basement air quality, including dust, mold and CO2, and indoor plants.
All this moisture from the floor and walls gives rise to high humidity, which is unhealthy. To correct the problem you’ll follow a two-pronged approach. The first part we just discussed, which is introducing fresh outside-air circulated into the basement.
Introducing fresh air into the basement will help, but it may not lower humidity enough.
Adding a basement return duct to the HVAC system will move humid air from the basement to the rest of the house. So, in a complete HVAC circulation solution, you’ll want to add a dehumidifier to the HVAC system.
If the basement has an independent fresh air circulation system, you’ll want to test the basement humidity. If the air is still too humid you can always add an appliance dehumidifier.
Heating the Basement
If earth completely surrounds your basement walls, you’ll have an even temperature of 50-60 degrees year round. But if your house is on a slope, and some basement walls are exposed, then there’ll be more variation in temperature.
Yes, you’ll need some plan for supplementing heat in the basement. If you have forced air heat, you can add a duct or two, else you can plan on radiant baseboard heat or employ a portable room heater. But you’ll probably not leave the portable heaters on when no one’s in the room.
Also, if some walls are exposed to air you’ll need air conditioning in the summer. Once again, you can get a window AC unit or let your HVAC system handle everything.
Framing the Walls
After working out the details of our basement remodeling plan and knowing exactly how to proceed, we can begin construction. But, of course, before framing the walls we’ll have to install a moisture barrier against the basement walls.
Depending on the situation, sometimes the subfloor will be installed before the walls. When there’s water, that we intend to direct to a floor drain, we’d put down a hard plastic dimple material, followed by tongue and groove OSB subflooring. This allows the walls to be built on top of the subfloor permitting water behind the walls to flow towards the drain.
But normally we build the wall structure before doing anything with the floor. We’re going to frame one wall at a time, framing separate rooms and closets according to our plan. All your closets and rooms are enclosed by doors, and the doors hung.
To cut VOC’s wherever possible, we won’t be using PT or pressure treated wood. Instead we’ll lay 6-mil plastic sheeting shield down in contact with the concrete below a conventional lumber base plate.
Insulating Walls and Ceiling
The foundation walls, being surrounded by soil, are cooler than room temperature and also usually rise several inches above grade, and thus are exposed to outside air. For this reason we recommend wall insulation as part of our basement remodeling project.
When we use 1-inch thick foil-backed foam board as a moisture barrier, it has an R-value of 4, which is probably enough. But when we use 6-mil plastic sheeting it has no insulating value, so insulation between the studs is advised.
The best batt insulation for a basement is Rockwool Stone Wool Insulation, or something similar. When when using batt insulation, we advise installing 6-mil plastic sheeting to the face of the studs as a vapor barrier. This will prevent moisture, that collects behind the walls, from getting to the drywall.
Because the floors above the basement are usually heated we haven’t said anything about insulating the ceiling. But the joists above the basement foundation around the perimeter are exposed to outside air and can be insulated. You would only want to this if you were planning on either drywall or a drop ceiling, because it has a rough appearance.
How to Finish the Ceiling
There’s no right or wrong answers when it comes to finishing the ceiling during a basement remodeling project. There are plumbing pipes that run between the joist that have shutoff valves, which can leak over time. And a shutoff valve has a function right, to shut off the water for service or in case of an emergency.
Also, consider that HVAC ducts run across the joists at some point, which means they run below the joists. Sometimes people pay to have the ducts run between the joists, where possible. That can be an expensive option, but will definitely give more head clearance.
A common sense approach is to keep access open to shutoff valves. When drywalling, only drywall over an area where there is no shutoff valves, or shower, bathtub or toilet drains. And if you do drywall, install a standard drywall access panel, usual about 16 inches in size.
One more point about drywall I should mention. It’s very common, as was stated, to get some moisture behind the walls. But, with ceiling and walls sealed together, there’s no way for moisture to evaporate and escape, possibly fostering an unhealthy mold growth.
But there are other alternatives, like a drop ceiling or spray painting the entire ceiling. When you might need access in the future, like for other planned upgrades, a drop ceiling is a good choice. And spray painting the entire ceiling blends all the different elements together in a rather pleasing way – while not restricting access!
Basement Remodeling Electrical and Lighting Upgrades
As the most time consuming and expensive upgrade of your basement remodeling project, running new wires and circuits makes a vast improvement in usability, from low to extremely high end.
Installing outlets every 10 ft makes it convenient to design the ultimate high-tech room. Again, we have to plan what the electrical loads will be, so we know how many circuits to install. Dehumidifiers should be on a 20 amp circuit while electric baseboard heaters will be on a dedicated circuit.
Two or three banks of lighting can be planned to allow flexible lighting options and save energy. With LED lighting there is some range of color temperatures available. And there’s the likelihood you’ll want 3-way switches so banks can be turned off from upstairs, just in case someone forgets.
Rough In Any Needed Plumbing
At the outset of the project you’ll have the opportunity to move the laundry tub or drain to a preferred location. If there’s an existing powder room there’s little plumbing involved, as it already exists.
But if you’re adding a new facility, plumbing for hot and cold water supply lines and a drain will be needed. If the large 4-inch sewer pipe in your basement disappears into the floor, then the floor can be dug up and a gravity fed drain installed. However, if your large waste line exits the basement through a wall, then you’ll need a waste-line pump installed.
Also, sometimes it’s possible to re-route supply lines to make them less intrusive to the living space, either walls or ceiling. When that’s possible, you’ll reap increased living space and a less cluttered appearance.
Finally, if hot-water radiant baseboard heat is planned, you’ll need to rough in the plumbing for it now.
Finishing Drywall, Floors and Trim
Hanging and Finishing Drywall
The remaining tasks for our basement remodeling project finish the room’s appearance. They’re hanging and finishing drywall, spray painting the ceiling (or however you plan to finish it), doing any planned upgrades to the stairs, installing the flooring, baseboards, and finally painting. And maybe we’re are halfway done now, so let’s keep going and finish up.
Hanging and finishing drywall is rather straight forward, the only caveats being around the doorways we’ve created. Do you want finish-moldings around the doorways, or a less cluttered flush look. The advantage of leaving them off is in maintaining a flat “wall” appearance rather than featuring the doorways with door trim.
Without moldings we can wrap the drywall around the door jam for bifold doors. This will give them a finished flat appearance, which minimizes the doors themselves. By our knowing what you want ahead of time, we can finish the drywall according to plan.
Finishing the Ceiling
If any sections of the ceiling are getting drywall, that will be installed while the rest of the drywall is being hung. But, if you want the ceiling spray painted that can be done as soon as the drywall has been finished. And any sections that are getting a drop ceiling will wait until the end, after the walls have been painted.
The cost is about the same for finishing the ceiling with drywall or drop ceiling, a $3 a square foot upgrade. But spray painting is the least expensive alternative.
Upgrades For the Steps
Are the step treads original or are they in nice shape? Since we are doing basement remodeling maybe we should replace all the treads, or just some of the treads, depending on what your plan calls for. If you plan to finish the steps with vinyl stair-tread caps, only replace the ones that aren’t structurally sound.
Vinyl stair treads come in a variety of colors to match the vinyl plank flooring you’ve chosen. These are expensive though, so with installation expect to pay around $2000. Whereas to replace all the steps and risers with new wood will cost less than $1000.
But if you’re staying with the wood steps look, then replace them all to make a uniform appearance. The wood that supports the steps, stringers, can also be replaced if something appears to be out of whack. But that will bring the replace wood steps and risers job from $1000 to $2000.
Installing the Flooring and Baseboard
Vinyl plank, after all preparations are made, seems to be the choice for basement flooring. Don’t use anything below grade that isn’t 100% waterproof. Newer homes don’t need it but homes built before 1990 need a moisture barrier against the concrete.
The very last step is to finish the flooring with baseboard. And we’re always glad to see the smile on the homeowner’s face when the basement turns out the way they wanted, Oh Yeah!
Building Codes for Basement Remodeling
The only concerns we have with building codes in basement remodeling is the requirement for egress windows in bedrooms when there’s no other exit other than the stairs to the first floor. Every separate bedroom must have its own escape window. If you have a door leading outside in addition to the stairs to the first floor then you won’t need this.
But I like this egress window because of the light that it brings into the basement.
With installation this window will cost $4,000.
Even if you’re not planning on a bedroom, having a full-size window or two, and the natural light that provides, helps the transformation of your basement into additional living space and raises the value of your home. So, consider this as an option also.
Cost of Basement Remodeling
For a 500 square feet basement with outlets every 10 feet, recessed lighting, framed, drywalled and the ceiling painted, expect to pay $6,000 to $7,000.
That price typically includes labor for installing the vinyl floor but not the material itself. Besides the vinyl flooring all other routine materials are normally included.
A vapor barrier for the floor isn’t included because not everyone needs that feature. A 6-mil sheeting moisture barrier for the walls is included, substituting foam board on block walls will cost more. No between-the-studs wall insulation is included because if you use foam board on the walls, it may be unnecessary, so adding it is another upgrade.
Are you a do-it-yourselfer, how much of this can you do yourself? Remember you don’t want to start construction by framing the walls, but with your plan for handling moisture.
For walls that are not perfect you’ll want to use 6-mil sheeting draped down from a board attached near the top. Or for block walls you may attached foil-faced foam board directly to the wall. Either of these you can do yourself, if your so inclined.
Framing and hanging doors you might want to leave to the professionals, because it’s difficult. Likewise with hanging and finishing drywall, if you want a professional looking job, leave it to the professionals.
For installing new stair treads and risers, use of a table saw makes ripping boards to width convenient. Likewise a miter saw makes more accurate cuts in the length giving consistent results.
I wouldn’t recommend doing the electrical work yourself unless you’re confident you know what you’re doing. The key here is tight electrical connections. Wrap the wires clockwise, tuck them in around the screw, and make sure the connections are well tightened.
Installing the vinyl flooring and baseboards may be something you can do yourself, again if you’re so inclined. This and installing the moisture barrier on the walls are the two places I feel the homeowner can jump in, if they need to do some of the work themselves.
All this work is very time consuming, and keeping the project on schedule will be challenging. If you intend to the entire basement remodeling project yourself, plan to work four hours every evening for six months to complete the project.