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How to Design the Perfect Basement Remodel

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Is your basement a cold cement hole full of forgotten boxes and seasonal items that only see the light of day a few weeks each year? Millions of Americans have homes with basements, but many of those basements go mostly unused. What if you could turn your basement into added living space? Imagine an extra bedroom, a game room, or a home theater. When you reclaim the square footage in your basement, you can add things to your home you never dreamed of. But before you head down there with a hammer and some drywall, here are our tips for designing the perfect basement remodel.

Preparing Your Basement

Before you can turn a dungeon-like cement hole into a lovable, livable home extension, you'll need to do some prep work. One of the most dungeon-like features of many basements is a dank, moldy smell. Even if you don't have a severe mold problem, any amount of moisture in your basement could spell disaster for a basement remodel project. So before anything else, you need to solve the water problem.

Sealing Your Basement

To test for water issues, you can tape a few 2x2 foot piece of clear plastic sheeting to the basement floor and wall. Wait two weeks and then check the sheeting. Water droplets under the sheets mean your basement needs to be sealed. Water droplets on top of the sheets mean your basement needs to be dehumidified.

To seal your basement, first look for any cracks in the walls. The treatment depends on the size of the crack. For very small cracks or small gaps around pipes and other penetrations, use some concrete patching compound. For slightly larger cracks, fill them with hydraulic cement, which expands as it cures to create a tight seal. If you notice cracks that are wider than a pencil, it's time to call out an engineer. They can inspect the cracks and make the necessary repairs.

If the plastic sheet test indicated that you need to seal your basement, you can use a paint-on sealer. Just don't apply it too thinly. The sealer is supposed to fill every tiny crack and pinhole to create a continuous moisture barrier. Cover the whole basement once, then apply a second coat.

Keeping Out Water

In addition to sealing your basement, it is critical that you keep water out with a working sump pump. If you are going to finish your basement, there is no room for error. Even a little water could be catastrophic. Builders often recommend a sump pump with a backup battery in case of a blackout, plus an additional backup pump in case the first one fails. If possible, use a backup sump pump powered by pressure from your municipal water source instead of electricity.

How to Design the Perfect Basement Remodel [infographic]

Layout

The layout you choose for your basement remodel is critical to the failure or success of your project. Many of your choices will be determined by the amount of space you have. But whether you have a large space or a somewhat smaller area to work with, some rules hold true.

First, as much as possible, avoid too many dividing walls—the last thing you want in an underground labyrinth of hallways and connecting rooms. Instead, opt for a more open concept layout. If you need to divide spaces, consider half walls, walls with cutouts, or strategically placed furniture. You will probably have some support beams to contend with. Rather than fight to work around them, incorporate them into your layout. For instance, connect two support beams with a half wall to create separate spaces without cutting off the line of sight.

Strongly consider adding a bathroom in the basement. It means giving up some square footage and likely running new plumbing. But the benefit is that you don't have to run upstairs every time nature calls.

If you plan to add a bedroom downstairs, you'll want the privacy of a closed-off room. You likely won't have space for a large bedroom, so plan to make efficient use of a smaller space. Incorporate built-in storage. Use wall-mounted light fixtures to provide light with character but without using up floor space.

Avoid large game tables. A pool table sounds cool, but consider that you would need room not just for the table but for space to move around it with an outstretched queue. A pool table is a huge space hog. Instead, opt for a smaller, multi-use game table.

Ceilings

Ceilings are one of the most challenging aspects of basement remodels. Typically, the ceilings in a basement are not as tall as other rooms in the house. Most building codes require ceilings at least seven feet tall. The typical ceiling height in most residences is nine feet, so seven feet can feel a bit cramped, though it is definitely high enough that very few people will have to duck. A good way to visualize seven feet is to picture a doorway. Most doorways in homes are 80 inches tall. A seven-foot ceiling gives just 4 inches of clearance above a doorway, including the door frame. If you can get a few inches more headroom, that's great. But if you can't, don't stress too much.

How you construct your ceiling can significantly affect the amount of noise transfer from the floors above. To reduce noise, you need to reduce the amount of vibration that transfers from the floor above to the basement ceiling.

One of the best ways to reduce vibration transfer is to insulate the space between the floor above and the ceiling below and hang the ceiling so that it doesn't directly touch the joists. First, fill the space between the joists with fiberglass. Then run resilient channels every 12 or 16 inches (depending on local building codes) perpendicular to the joists. Attach the ceiling drywall to the resilient channels so that it is never screwed directly into the joists. The floating ceiling effect dramatically reduces vibration and noise transfer from the floor above.

You will likely have to contend with ducts and pipes as you enclose your ceiling. In some cases, you may have to drop the ceiling a bit around ducts. Before enclosing pipes, cover the pipes with insulating foam tubes. It will retain heat for hot water and prevent condensation on pipes carrying cold water.

Floors

There are a few ways to approach the floors of your newly remodeled basement. Wall-to-wall carpeting is a popular option because it keeps floors warm and dampens the noise of footsteps, which can get echoey in a basement. However, that is far from the only viable option.

Another way to get a warm look without the downsides of carpet is with wood-look flooring. Wood-look flooring comes in various materials, from laminate to ceramic. However, one of the most popular wood alternatives today is luxury vinyl tile (LVT). Wood-look LVT is printed with a wood pattern that very closely mimics the real thing. It is also much more durable than real wood. It is quieter underfoot than other wood-look options, which makes it great for basements. Its construction allows it to be a bit softer than other wood look floors, too.

Basement floors are notoriously cold. Carpeting helps combat the cold. But if you don't want carpet, you may consider heated floors. Heated floors do little to heat the room above them, but they make walking on the floor much more comfortable. Heated floors have winding electric heating cables underneath, between the subfloor and the flooring material. You can install the cables themselves, or lay down a mat that has the cables already installed.

Another option to warm up the floors is to lay down a plastic dimple mat between the concrete subfloor and the flooring material. These mats separate the floor from the cement, providing a moisture barrier and an air pocket between the cold concrete and the floor.

Walls

Try to keep walls to a minimum. Maximizing sightlines will make your remodeled basement feel more open and airy. The most significant walls in your basement remodel are the perimeter walls attached to the cement walls of your basement. The most common method is to place a moisture barrier against the wall and then install rigid insulation panels over that. Once the insulation is installed, you can build a traditional stud frame and drywall. Other options include interlocking panel systems for a thinner wall and prefab systems that can be installed by professional builders.

Finding the Right Builder for a Basement Remodel

There are always plenty of contractors out there waiting to take your money for a basement remodel. But how do you know who to trust? You could use a site like HomeAdvisor or Angie's List, but as we have reported, they make absolutely no guarantees about the quality of the service providers listed on their sites. You could try a local home improvement store, but do you really know what you're getting? If you really want to find a builder you can trust, the best place to go is TrustDALE.com. You can find a TrustDALE certified basement remodeling specialist here.