Want to elevate the lowest level of your home? Don’t overlook these details when planning your basement renovation.
(Above) Tracy and Gordon’s basement remodel added living space to their small footprint
There are multiple benefits of flipping a dark (and possibly damp) basement into an actual living space. For starters, a basement renovation can add a lot of square footage to your home, as well as resale value. Plus, remodeling a basement provides families with revitalized spaces for entertaining loved ones, working from home, or relaxing.
In order to plan your basement remodel efficiently, you’ll need to manage several key factors. Details like current ceiling height, local egress regulations, and insulation needs will influence how long your basement renovation timeline will be, and how much it will cost.
Good news: On average, investment in a basement renovation adds value to a property. Sweeten general contractors have worked on basement remodels starting at $20,000. This price point would update an already finished space and include painting, flooring, a new closet, and lighting. For a raw space that is being renovated to a finished living area, expect the average cost to come in around $75,000. For this budget, a bathroom, a kitchen, and HVAC can be added.
Keep in mind that the existing condition of the space will impact the budget. Sometimes the floor needs to be dug deeper so the ceiling appears higher, and the walls could require underpinning. Sometimes electricity and plumbing need to be installed, especially if there is no existing bathroom and that’s a crucial part of your plans. Installation and waterproofing can also be a significant cost if needed.
More good news: According to Sweeten contractors, there are no deal-breakers when it comes to basement remodels. Any problem—bad plumbing, lack of natural light, high humidity, a low ceiling—can all be sorted to make your dream basement happen. Ultimately, it will all depend on how much you are willing to pay. “It’s a balancing act to how much you want to put into the house before you exceed what value it brings,” said Alan, a Sweeten contractor. “You also have to decide if cost value is important to you or is it more important to have a home you want to live in.”
Here, Sweeten, a free service matching homeowners with vetted general contractors, outlines the key factors to consider when planning your own basement renovation.
Although building regulations vary from town to town, Sweeten contractors say the height requirement for the ceiling will be between six and seven feet. About 50% of basement jobs require the floor to be dug lower to allow for additional ceiling height, according to Kareem, a Sweeten contractor in Philadelphia. (He would know since he is 6′ 6″ tall!) This process involves cracking open the existing concrete floor, removing the excess dirt, and re-laying the concrete.
A second form of egress
Do you envision more of a living space for your basement (rather than a laundry and storage area)? If so, it’s likely that you’ll need a second exit, or egress. “To be comfortable and have no problems with building inspectors, you will need that second form of egress, such as a window or a door with steps leading outside to ground level,” said Kyle, a Sweeten contractor. That usually means digging down to make an open passageway on one side of the building so there is a way to get in and out.
Often, homeowners will add a half or a full bath to their new basement space. The plumbing for this usually goes under the concrete flooring. This will help avoid flooding if any of the pipes burst, according to Kareem. Since your basement living space will probably be below sewer lines, you’ll need a pump to get waste out, said Kyle. Of course, adding a bathroom will also add to the budget, but for many, the convenience is worth it, he said.
The amount of square footage you can add to a basement will impact your renovation costs, as well as the value it will add to your home. The smallest basement renovation Kyle worked on only added 400 square feet of living space with the owners using it as a kids’ play area. The typical size of a basement is about 1,000 square feet, he said. And don’t forget: If you have equipment—like your home’s boiler—in the basement, a mechanical room could take away a few hundred square feet from the livable space.
Waterproofing and insulation
Basements have a reputation for being damp. In fact, they account for the majority of your home’s indoor moisture, according to Alan. On top of the general humidity in your basement, flooding in your basement could also be an issue. So, pay attention to your lowest level when it rains next! “Rain and leaks tend to be a big source of water issues that you don’t have to deal with in the rest of the house,” said Alan.
The answer to this common problem is often insulation and waterproofing. And there are intelligent products that can help. If a conversion involves a bedroom, which is a room where many hours are spent, it is ultra important to keep toxic mold at bay, which is fed by moisture. In-wall products like CertainTeed’s MemBrain is an accessory to regular insulation that allows the buildup of moisture to escape while preventing moisture from entering in the first place. Its 2-step process will add a few extra days to a renovation timeline.
Even with intelligent products, insulation requires multiple products and systems to stay on top of heat, cold, and humidity, according to Ted Winslow, a representative from CertainTeed. This could mean using spray foam to fill in cracks and seal windows and doors, along with typical insulation products.
To prevent toxic mold, the humidity of living spaces should be below 60 percent, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s why ventilation, along with insulation, is important. Relying on natural air flow from windows is possible, but its subject to the weather and seasons. Extending your home’s existing HVAC system will help ventilate the basement area, said Kareem. However, the ideal situation is to remove the humidity. He suggested exhaust fans installed into the wall or window. They push damp air out while circulating the remaining air around the entire house. This system can either turn on when the lights are switched on or be equipped with sensors that switch the fans on once humidity gets above a certain level. A humidifier could also be used, but be prepared to pump that waste water up to the sewer lines.
Renovating your basement might be the easiest way to add another floor of living space to your home. Like any home construction project, a basement renovation requires planning, creativity, and expert help. In the end, your home’s value will increase, while giving your family a refreshed space for play, work, or relaxation.
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