Your home lacks an office.
A man cave. A media room for your kids to spend time in. What are you going to do about it?
You’re going to remodel that basement. Make an in-law suite, make some rental income; whatever you want to do. I can’t direct your creative narrative.
But what I can do is bring you through the crash course in basement remodeling, and turn you into a DIY warrior by the time you’re done reading this.
I want to outline the scope of your project, and let you know what you’re in for. Renovation projects are always met with “Oh yeah, I can do this!” and later devolve into “What have I done? How did I get here?”.
I don’t want you to have any of that dread. Let’s get you comfortable with the idea of remodeling your basement.
- 1 Turning Your Basement Into a Usable Space
- 2 Why Basements Are a Tricky Space to Work With
- 3 Costs of Basement Remodeling
- 4 Waterproofing vs. Sump Pumps for Finished Basements
- 5 Making the Perfect, Ultimate Basement Space on Your Own
Turning Your Basement Into a Usable Space
There are a million Pinterest boards dedicated to basement remodels, a thousand different ways to use the same fixtures, and so many more methods to make your space great.
I don’t know what you intend to use it for, but I can give you a checklist of what is and isn’t a usable space.
If you’re trying to make a livable space, you need a plumber. Even if you just want to add a half-bath, or a sink, or a bar, you’re going to need a plumber.
Most basement remodeling ideas include something along these lines. If you can’t do the plumbing yourself, hire a professional to get pipes installed after your space is cleaned up, but before you begin hanging up drywall.
If it’s going to be a wreck room for your teenagers to game in (y’know, to free up that sweet flat screen in the living room), or someone’s going to be living down there, you have to understand that there is no soundproofing pre-installed in an unfinished basement.
Sound is going to travel through the flooring, it’s going to be heard upstairs, and it’s going to get on your nerves. Soundproofing the walls and basement ceiling is going to be critical.
If someone’s going to be living in it, you need two points of egress. Basically, two ways out in the event of a fire is a suitable way to look at it. You need a door leading outside or upstairs, as well as a window that directly leads outside which a person could fit through in an emergency.
Why Basements Are a Tricky Space to Work With
Remodeling a single bedroom or a living room is arguably twice as simple as remodeling a basement. Why is that?
Because you have less creative freedom with a basement. You can’t just knock down walls (usually), so you have to work around what’s in front of you.
There are a lot of obstacles that you might not even be considering. If it’s unfinished, you’re not really renovating – you’re cleaning out a space and turning crap into gold. You have a lot to work with, and a lot to work around.
An unfinished basement comes with a plethora of problems, many of which are not obvious to the naked eye, or the non-DIY friendly homeowner.
Unfinished basements commonly have mold issues, poor ventilation, and are not ripe for plumbing, since most are made out of concrete. We’ll get into these issues one by one in just a moment.
Lastly, you can’t really size up the cost effectively. A small project in your home can be reduced to a single price point, or a short range gravitating around it. Remodeling an unfinished basement commonly comes with unwanted surprises and unexpected expenses.
This one is perhaps the biggest problem. Without proper ventilation, you’re going to have moisture pockets all around the room, which can lead to mold (more on that next).
If you aren’t ventilating your basement effectively, concrete dust buildup can also be a huge issue, and can cause respiratory issues as well.
It isn’t enough to just have a fan in here blowing the air around the edges of the room. You should have some form of ventilation system that pulls air out of the room, filters it, and puts it back in.
These can be standalone units, or installed air filters in the wall that displace the heat outside (which is your best option). Ventilation is an absolutely critical component of an effective basement remodel.
I’m writing this while suffering from adult asthma, caused by being in a home with mold issues while growing up. We had no idea.
Mold is quiet, until you uncover it and find that it’s been growing in the walls. In a basement, it doesn’t take much to create an environment that allows it to grow and spread.
This is something you’ll know about when you get a basement inspection, and once the conditions are right, it’s something you can prevent with proper ventilation.
Make sure the walls are installed properly, and any cracks in the concrete or drafts are addressed before you come to the end of finishing your basement. Otherwise, you risk health problems that can linger long after you’ve moved out of that house.
Wide Open Space
There’s just so much room. A big wide open space, and you don’t really know what to do with it all.
That’s tricky. When you remodel a living room, you can say “Okay, this is 12 x 12, so I can do X, Y, and Z,” but there’s so much potential for an unfinished basement that it can be a little bit overwhelming at times.
Wide open spaces generally have support beams or banisters that are meant to support the floor above.
If you’re refinishing the ceiling in here (rather, if you’re adding a ceiling), you’re increasing the weight that bears down on the supports. You might need to upgrade those support beams, and then find an attractive way to cover them.
Plumbing is its own set of nightmares when it comes to refinishing a basement. On the one hand, many people can get by without having to do any plumbing at all. You can simply not make a half-bath down here, or have a dry bar instead of a wet bar during your installation.
However, a lot of us have washer and dryer access in the basement, so you have to account for upgrading or extending these hookups when you remodel the basement. You don’t want one unfinished corner where a washer and dryer are just sitting, do you?
The plumbing has to be insulated as well, to prevent excessive moisture buildup in the wall around the dryer vents. I know that’s not technically plumbing, but it’s a problem that’s literally right next to your washer, so it’s worth mentioning.
For your washer, you don’t want the hot water hose running too hot in direct contact with exposed wood or drywall paneling, so more work is involved there.
Costs of Basement Remodeling
Remodeling anything is costly, but basements might actually be some of the most expensive (behind kitchens). Take a look at your basement right now: does it need entire walls? Do you have to provide soundproofing? Do you even know where to start, or is it all just one big mess in front of your eyes?
Let’s figure that out together.
You have to start here. First, you inspect your space and write down what you believe you need. Is there currently flooring? Is it warped to hell and back? Where do you start?
Ideally, you will hire an actual inspector. With no background in remodeling, renovation, or carpentry in the slightest, you should absolutely hire an inspector.
They’re not going to provide you with a materials list for your remodel, but sometimes, an inspection can tell you things that were completely invisible to the naked eye.
Termites, dry rot, leveling issues – there’s a lot that can go wrong in your basement, things that can prevent you from actually remodeling it right away.
This is a pain in the rear end, but it’s better to know this for the entire safety of your home rather than spend money on a remodel, only to have to remove sections of it to repair the issue in the future.
A full home inspection (the kind you get before buying a home) can usually run about $1,000, but for just a basement inspection, you might run into $300 up to $500. Trust me, it’s money well spent.
Once the inspection is done, you’ll have an inspection report that details any issues with your home. Ideally, you won’t have any major problems like mold or water damage, but either way, you’re still going to need permits.
This can vary from state to state, or even county to county. Your local municipality will have more information on the exact permits that you need, but most commonly, you’ll need simple building permits.
If you’re doing plumbing work, that might require an additional permit. If you’re also running new writing and doing electrical work, you’ll need a permit as well.
Plumbing and electrical work are best handled by professionals. You don’t want a leaky pipe to flood the basement, or a socket to run hot and cause a fire risk, which is why I always advocate to go with a professional in these instances.
You will have to have permits for them to do any major work on your home as well, so be sure to have those in place before you call anyone to come in.
Permits can take twenty minutes to acquire (if you bring the right paperwork to town/city hall), or up to two full weeks. Account for the latter so you aren’t hit with a surprise.
Permits typically run anywhere from $10 up to $50 depending on the type of work. Keep in mind, those are for individual permits.
Electric Wiring Costs
Okay, so this one is tricky. You should have all the information on your electrical panel and system handy before you even pick up the phone, or inquire about a quote online.
An electrician can cost you about $40 per hour (apprentices), but usually on the higher end of $70 to $100 per hour. Thankfully, they’re pros, and they won’t take days to achieve simple tasks.
If you’re simply running two new 110v outlets so you can plug in a TV, mini fridge, lights, and things of that nature, you’re looking on the low end of the cost spectrum.
When you account for the wiring and outlet components that you’ll have to pay for, it runs about $220 up to $500 per outlet. That includes the electrician’s time, and keep in mind, $500 is not average – it’s the higher end of the spectrum.
If you feel comfortable doing it yourself, and you’re certain you can comply with fire and electrical codes (maybe get that inspector in here for it), then go for it. Outlets can be as low as about $50 in this instance, accounting for short wiring distances, outlets, and outlet covers.
This is such an abstract, per-project cost that it’s hard to say. Most plumbing fixtures installed in basements are sinks and toilets for a half-bath, or a sink for a wet bar. Something of that nature. Let’s look at the average prices for both of those.
You have to factor in sewer pipes here, which is where it gets expensive. Because of this, you end up looking at around $600 to $1,400 juit for the toilet plumbing. That isn’t including the actual toilet itself, mind you.
If you already have a sewer connection in the basement (not common, but it happens), you can save a good amount of money. Just be sure that the pipes are inspected and connected before you start dumping bodily waste down there.
These prices are just averages, but based on all the connective pipes and components needed, as well as the sinks themselves, a small basin sink is about $350 to $475, give or take, with the true average resting at about $410.
It sounds reasonable, but it can increase if you’re putting a double bowl sink in, so be choosy with what you opt for.
But what if you’re installing a full bath with a shower/tub?
Well, that’s a different beast.
Shower or Tub
Not accounting for the actual shower itself (tiles for the wall, glass door, etc), you’re looking at about $600 to $1,450 in total. This is roughly the same price for tubs since you’re running a similar length of pipe, so the variables only affect it very slightly.
This cost is usually only justified if you’re letting a child move back home, or renting out the basement as a rental income property (where you need to be able to provide a full bathroom).
Framing thankfully isn’t that expensive. Studs only have to be so close, so you can make them fairly spaced out without having too much of an issue.
This can run you about $770 – $830 if you’re framing a 700 square foot basement, and about $1,110 – $1,170 for a 1,000 square foot basement (average).
You can absolutely do the framing yourself, just be wary of where electrical wires are, plumbing fixtures, and where new ones are planned to be installed.
I would recommend finding a guide on how to frame properly before you just jump in with both feet, but it’s a fairly simple thing to take the DIY route with.
If you can avoid drop ceiling, I seriously recommend that you do. Drop ceiling is only popular because of how cheap it is, and how easy it is to install.for the average DIYer. I’m not putting those people down; it’s very appealing.
But drop ceiling comes with a slew of problems. It’s much better to go for drywall ceiling finishes. Avoid popcorn ceilings, don’t go for anything super crazy beyond crown molding or something along those lines, and you should do fine.
The average ceiling finish cost is about $2.50 per square foot. Ceiling drywall is generally cheaper than panels used in drywall (partially because they have to be lighter), but it’s still a big expense.
If you have a small-sized basement of about 700 square feet, you’re looking at $1,750 just for the ceiling alone, not accounting for the nails, paint, and time spent to install it all.
This one is really up to you. You can opt for peel-and-stick vinyl tiles that emulate wood finishes, and they can work really well in basements.
But a basement is prone to flooding in most cases, so do you really want to go for cheap flooring? Is it going to benefit you in the long haul?
You want waterproof flooring if you can afford it. You want something durable that looks and feels good.
Some awesome flooring materials are the Antique Java Bamboo Flooring from Cali Bamboo, with a 50-year residential warranty, super thick coat for scratch resistance, and a low cost. I’m not sponsored by them, by the way, they just make some seriously stellar flooring that I happen to love.
You can expect to pay around $1.00 per square foot for low to moderate quality, and upwards of $4.50-$6.00 per square foot for high-end flooring.
I don’t know what your plans are for your basement, but an average US home basement is about 1,000 square feet. You can either spend $1,000 in total, or around $4,500 to $6,000. When that’s only part of your remodeling costs, every single dollar matters.
Waterproofing vs. Sump Pumps for Finished Basements
Both can fail. It’s important to know that right out of the gate. There’s no reason to not opt for both of them. Waterproofing can act as a first line of defense, and sump pumps can be a bailout when you need them.
Waterproofing eventually degrades. Whether you’re using waterproofing materials on the outside of your basement windows and entry points or not, they’re not going to last forever. UV rays are the biggest contributors to waterproofing material degradation.
Sump pumps can fail you, although it’s fairly rare. The thing is, they only start pulling water out of your basement after it’s already entered. Yes, it prevents massive destruction and greatly reduces the cost of repairing walls and floors.
Yes, it protects your electronics and fixtures, but if we can avoid the small amount of damage that occurs, it’s best to do that.
Bottom line: go for both, you have no reason not to.
I would just have a method in place for re-waterproofing your basement, or at least inspecting its usefulness, on an annual basis (preferable two to six weeks before wet season where flooding is more of a risk).
Personally, I have a clipboard on the side of the fridge with daily tasks. Two times per year, I inspect the insulation in the attic. Once every three months, I spray outside for pests.
Making the Perfect, Ultimate Basement Space on Your Own
So what are you going to make out of it? Streaming setup for your side hustle on Twitch? Somewhere to build a business right from your very own home?
That part is up to you. But now, you know what you need to inspect, observe, and figure out before you even attempt to bring a hammer and nails down into the basement.
It’s bigger than most people think, but you and I both know you’re ready for it. We have more information on how to get your basement up to your own standards, so take a look around and get inspired. We’ll be here with you every step of the way.