Finding more space for storage, bedrooms and a place to hang out in your home can seem like an impossible task.
But a basement, even if it’s currently an empty space with a concrete floor, bare walls and exposed ceiling, gives you some flexibility to expand the usable square footage of your home. There are plenty of opportunities to finish a basement and create a wine cellar, movie theater or home office. Of course, the process can be lengthy and expensive, depending on the necessary work and your plans for the space. But if the project gives you much-needed living space and adds value to your home, it's a worthy undertaking.
Here’s what you need to do to finish your basement:
- Ensure the basement is waterproofed.
- Add an egress for a bedroom if necessary.
- Get proper permits from local municipality for your basement design.
- Insulate pipes and make sure electrical wiring is properly covered.
- Insulate and frame walls.
- Install floor.
- Install interior walls.
- Put ceiling in place.
- Complete decor and furnishing.
How Much Does It Cost to Finish a Basement?
Making a bare, unfinished basement habitable requires a lot of time and money. HomeAdvisor reports the average cost to frame out a basement and install walls, ceiling and floor is $15,000 for a 2,000-square-foot house. The more elaborate your basement plans, however, the higher the cost. A professional full-bathroom installation will cost between $10,000 and $15,000, according to HomeAdvisor. Adding an egress point, a door or window large enough for someone to get out in the event of a fire, to put a legal bedroom in the basement will also be a costly endeavor because it involves drilling into the foundation of the house.
However, a more realistic expectation may be higher than the recorded averages. Larry Janesky, founder and CEO of Total Basement Finishing and Basement Systems Inc. in Seymour, Connecticut, says homeowners can expect the cost to finish a basement to start at $20,000 and climb depending on the size of the space and how elaborate the plans are.
Here’s a breakdown of what you need to do to finish your basement.
Mold Mitigation and Waterproofing
Before starting construction in your basement, be sure the space isn’t letting in water that will damage any new floor or ceiling that you install.
There are a few ways to determine if your basement is effectively waterproofed, which is best interpreted by a professional. Mike DeGirolamo, owner of Triad Basement Waterproofing Inc. in Frederick, Maryland, says water marks on the walls of an unfinished basement can reveal that a basement isn't properly waterproofed, and in an already finished basement, you'll likely see water damage or mold on flooring or interior walls. “If someone has 3 inches of standing water, it’s a pretty clear sign that it’s not waterproofed,” he says.
Waterproofing a basement involves installing exterior drainage and sump pumps to prevent flooding. Often, a sump pump system will include multiple backup pumps in the event the first one fails.
If your basement isn’t already waterproofed and water isn’t getting in the basement, you may not need to go through the costly process. DeGirolamo says waterproofing a standard basement can be as much as $7,000 or $8,000, and the cost can climb to $15,000 for larger basements.
With flooding concerns taken care of, you will still have to combat higher humidity levels in the basement, which can cause damage and encourage mold growth. Janesky stresses that it's not a matter of whether humidity is high in your basement, because it's expected in any underground space: "The answer is yes, your basement does have moisture issues." A dehumidifying system can help keep your basement from being too moist, which is most common in the summer.
Permits and Inspections
If your plan for a finished basement includes adding a spare bedroom, you’ll need to create a second exit from the basement that goes directly outside, as is typically required by law for fire safety. This egress can be a complete set of stairs outside that leads to a door, or it can be a window large enough for a person to escape in case of a fire.
Additionally, many local governments require permits prior to construction and inspections to ensure plumbing and electrical work are done properly, the space is properly insulated and floors and walls are installed to ensure safety.
Even if the required number of inspections slows the project timeline and feels unnecessary, it’s important to keep in mind that the proper permitting and final approvals are important for when you sell your house in the future. Also, insuring your home for higher value because you finished the basement will likely be impossible without the right approvals and inspections from the city or county.
Prior to installing any walls or flooring, you want to ensure you’ve sealed the basement as much as possible to reduce drafts and loss of energy. That includes spray foam around the rim joist – where the ceiling meets the foundation of the home – replacing cheap basement windows with energy-efficient panes and installing a vapor barrier and insulation along the walls.
Some basement walls are first framed out with wood, and drywall is installed to complete the room. However, with elevated humidity levels below ground, you run the risk of mold growth, Janesky says.
Instead of wood and drywall, Janesky says his companies use foam insulation and cement board with a vinyl finish for the walls. These products help prevent mold growth and significant water damage, he says.
“If you’re going to modify a house, how long do you want the improvement to last? If the answer is, ‘Well, as long as the house,’ then you have to make it durable,” Janesky says.
When planning where you’ll place walls and create separate rooms for your basement, be sure you’re leaving plenty of space for ventilation surrounding the water heater, furnace, washing machine or any other major home appliances in your basement. While utility rooms can be separated from the finished portion of the basement, be sure any doors installed have a vent to keep air freely flowing throughout the space.
The ceiling is where Janesky says drywall doesn’t pose much of a risk. But if you’re looking to have easier access to the plumbing, wiring and ducts that run along the basement ceiling, a drop ceiling with removable panels may be your best option.
If your basement isn’t particularly tall, you may not be able to install a ceiling in order to meet local code requirements for head room. In this case, Janesky recommends having the ceiling – including any exposed joists, plumbing or ducts – spray-painted black for a formulaic look that helps mask the different textures, materials and imperfections in an exposed ceiling. He notes the walls and flooring will still make the space look finished, and the solid-colored exposed ceiling adds “a more industrial look.”
It’s not uncommon to see carpet or even a wood floor installed on a subfloor in a basement, which raises the floor above the colder concrete below. However, Janesky notes a subfloor can be dangerous because if the framing and plywood get wet, they will warp, sag and grow mold – and any flooring on top of the subfloor will be damaged as well.
“One little water event and it’ll buckle, and it’ll never dry under there,” Janesky says.
Instead, Janesky recommends vinyl materials, which can be made to look similar to hardwood or tile. For baseboards and trim, plastic is often a better choice than wood.
A renovation project for each season
Homeownership comes with a never-ending list of home improvement projects, and being able to time them right can be tricky. Ultimately, the best time for a home improvement project is when you have the time. But if you’re eager to plan projects to set yourself up for success, consider which season has the right weather patterns, minimizes future maintenance issues and makes it easiest to hire professionals. Read on for the best time of year for 12 home improvement projects.Interior paint
Best time of year: Winter
The benefit of painting inside is that you have air conditioning and heating. “We paint interiors all year-round because of that climate control,” says Tina Nokes, co-owner of Five Star Painting in Loudoun County, Virginia, which is a part of Neighborly, a network of home service providers. Your biggest concern when it comes to a quality indoor paint job is humidity – so if you’re in the middle of a humid summer, it’ll take longer for a room to dry and it will dry unevenly. If you’re worried about humidity levels inside, paint your interior rooms during the winter, when the air is driest.Electrical updates
(Paul Bradbury/Getty Images)
Best time of year: Winter
Electrical work can happen just about any time of year, unless it’s during rain or a thunderstorm, for obvious safety reasons, explains Dennis Burke, owner of Mr. Electric of Southeast New Hampshire, which is also a Neighborly company. What truly makes winter a winner for electrical updates is that you’ll be avoiding the bulk of competing homeowners. Burke says late spring and early summer see a big influx of requests from clients, as well as late summer as people go on vacation. “Labor Day to Thanksgiving is also really busy,” he says.Building a deck
Building a deck
Best time of year: Winter
An outdoor project like a backyard deck seems like a natural undertaking for summer, but it’s actually just the opposite. Deck builders and contractors report that pressure-treated wood, which is best for building a deck, stabilizes best when humidity is low. Additionally, the increased sun exposure in summer can cause the surface of a deck to crack, and cloudier winter days help avoid early damage. If you live in a particularly cold climate, aim for early winter to avoid the bulk of snowfall and temperatures that are too cold for contractors to work outside.Full-room remodel
Best time of year: Winter or spring
Remodeling or updating a well-loved room in your home can happen any time of year, but it’s best to be proactive and avoid higher labor costs or jampacked contractor schedules during the summer months. HomeAdvisor reports that July is the busiest month for bathroom remodel requests, with 48 percent of homeowners indicating they’re ready to hire and start work immediately. Avoid the rush by scheduling your remodel earlier in the year.Cleaning out gutters
Cleaning out gutters
Best time of year: Early spring and fall
The gutters along your roofline collect leaves, twigs and other debris over time. When they get too full, the drains can clog and cause water to sit along the edges of the roof and get inside the house or continue to weigh down the gutters. Avoid any problems by cleaning out your gutters in the fall, when leaves are most likely to make their way in, and again in early spring so the path for water is clear before April showers roll in. If you're not comfortable on a ladder or you have a high roofline, consider hiring professional help that will take proper safety precautions.New floors
Best time of year: Spring or fall
The best time to install wood flooring is during parts of the year with the least extreme conditions. In spring and fall, you'll avoid peak humidity and dry air, both of which can cause problems like bowing and warped wood or cracking in too-dry conditions. Plus, you can open windows to ventilate the smell of wood stain or carpet adhesive, and you’re least likely to have the heat or air cranking in spring and fall.Updating a deck or fence
Updating a deck or fence
Best time of year: Spring, summer or fall
The wood on a deck may fare better in winter, but staining a deck or painting a fence often requires additional weather consideration. “Decks and fences are a little more finicky (than painting a house exterior). We need it to be even warmer, around 40 to 50 degrees,” Nokes says. A good deck staining or painting company will recommend a timeline specific to temperatures where you live to avoid an incomplete, delayed or flawed project.Exterior paint
Best time of year: Late spring, summer, early fall
New paint will freshen up the look of your exterior walls, and painting is a doable project for a decent chunk of the year. Temperatures have to stay above 35 degrees for exterior painting, so in the early days of spring and late days of fall, weather-dependent work may be delayed if temperatures drop. For this reason, Nokes keeps clients on a watch list: “If we get a warm snap, I’ll call them right away,” she says.Home addition
Best time of year: Late spring, summer, early fall
For outdoor work, it’s best to avoid the seasons that will bring inclement weather and delay the project. Plan for the project to begin after the chance of snow in your region has passed, and shoot for a completion date before the frost returns in the fall to reduce the chances of delays. But be sure to schedule all professionals well in advance. In fact, Burke says a month to two months’ advance notice is often needed for electricians to complete an estimate, plan a contract and schedule work.Roof repair and replacement
Roof repair and replacement
Best time of year: Summer, early fall
It’s a given that you don’t want people working on your roof in icy or wet conditions. As a result, the best time of year for roof repair or replacement is also when the professionals are busiest. Be sure to plan roof replacement a month or two in advance to avoid having to wait with possible leaks causing damage to the inside of your home.HVAC care
Best time of year: Early fall
Any repairs to your heating, ventilation and air conditioning system should be done as soon as you notice an issue, but if you’re planning to do routine maintenance, schedule a professional long before you’ll need to turn on the heat. That way, any potential problems that could leave you without heat are found and fixed before the first cold nights of the season. The same goes for air conditioning in the late spring and summer.New appliances
Best time of year: Fall
Consumers can expect everything from washing machines and oven ranges to refrigerators to sport discounts leading up to the holidays. Even if you’re not updating your kitchen until May (and your home can accommodate an extra oven or fridge for five months), keep an eye out for deals. Stores that sell appliances like Sears, Lowe’s and Home Depot are known to regularly offer holiday weekend deals.Read More
She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.
Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at email@example.com.
Teresa Mears | May 3, 2019
Conventional wisdom says 20%, but you can buy your first home with much less down.