5 Things to Do Before Finishing Your Basement
Maybe your basement would be a great play area for the kids, or maybe you’re tired of looking at gray cement walls when you go downstairs. Whatever the reason, you’ve recognized the potential value of that extra space in your home.
If you want to begin using that below-grade area confidently for storage, living or entertainment purposes, you also likely know that finishing a basement is no small project. And it may require a bit of creativity to work around a furnace, water heater, washer and dryer that are typically housed down there.
Some advance work, though, can help make sure your project goes off without a hitch. Here are five things you should consider before refinishing your basement.
1. Identify Water Issues
Start by checking for water issues, the DIY Network suggests. Look for pools of water, dripping walls, water stains on walls or cracks in the foundation. It’s also a good idea to check on appliances, such as water heaters and washers, and exposed water lines to identify any potential issues before you begin any work. It’s typically easier and less expensive to make necessary repairs to these appliances or pipes prior to finishing the basement.
A more rigorous method of inspection, suggested by This Old House, includes taping squares of plastic sheeting to the floors and walls. If, after a couple of weeks, condensation develops under the plastic, you may need to seal your foundation. Moisture on top of the plastic, however, may suggest a need to dehumidify the basement.
2. Look Into Waterproofing
The next step is to remedy areas of concern. The Family Handyman suggests starting outdoors by grading the soil to slope away from the foundation. This Old House also suggests extending your downspouts to divert water at least 10 feet away from your house.
Inside, you’ll want to repair any problematic cracks in the foundation, and install an efficient sump pump, according to This Old House. Consider both a battery back-up for the main pump and a secondary sump pump that will kick in if the primary pump conks out. You may also want to look into vapor barriers and mold-resistant drywall alternatives to help prevent any potential water issues in the future, says This Old House.
3. Check Permit Requirements
As with many home improvement projects, a basement renovation may require a permit. The DIY Network suggests asking local officials whether you’ll need one and whether an inspection is required.
You should also make sure that you understand local building codes, says This Old House. For example, the minimum basement ceiling heights and maximum stair height are often dictated by code.
4. Run a Radon Test
One step that may get overlooked amid the bustle of working with contractors and picking out decor is a radon test. However, it’s something the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advises homeowners to do on the lowest lived-in level of their homes, because the naturally occurring gas is linked to health risks. Fixing a radon problem is typically easier and less expensive before a basement is finished, says the EPA, so testing now may help keep expenses in check. Do-it-yourself test kits are commonly found in home improvement stores, the agency says.
5. Research Your Finishing Materials
Finishing a basement used to require layers of materials and lots of custom work, and typically used moisture-prone lumber and drywall. But, homeowners have new options these days. For instance, This Old House says you can save steps with interlocking insulation panels that have the studs to support drywall, and channels to accommodate electrical wiring, already built in.
The Spruce notes that you can take things a step further with a basement system — a suite of components ranging from insulated ceilings and walls, to trim and lighting — which is pre-designed and pre-cut for your space.
Of course, you can still go the custom route, with individual components — but This Old House says you should use moisture and mold-resistance options if you do.
Sure, a basement renovation can feel a bit more complicated than an above-grade remodel. But these five steps may not only help ease the process, they may also help protect your investment and ensure peace of mind.
Originally published on April 10, 2013.