Finishing the basement in your home is a great way to increase your living space without disturbing your home’s footprint. Basements can make great family rooms, recreation rooms, media rooms, or home gyms, which makes them a fantastic option for growing families that need a little more room to spread out. Before undertaking a basement remodel, however, you should be aware of some of the conditions unique to basements that can affect how you can remodel the space.

What’s Different in a Basement Remodel

In some ways remodeling a basement can be a lot like remodeling other areas of your home. You’ll need to finish the floors, walls, and ceiling, and you’ll select new materials and make decisions such as how to layout space and what you plan on using it for when it’s done. There are also a lot of ways in which a basement remodel differs from the rest of your home improvements, however, that you need to consider before you get started.

Below Grade

By definition, your basement is located below grade or beneath ground level. Being below grade means that your basement is going to be subject to a lot more moisture than other levels of your home. So, any refinishing of the area needs to have a vapor barrier put in to help stop the transfer of moisture into the finished space. This vapor barrier needs to go over the studs of the walls and under your finished flooring.

You may also be restricted in what type of flooring you can put down. Solid hardwood floors, some types of stone, and laminate flooring cannot be installed below grade due to this moisture issue. Engineered wood floors, porcelain, ceramic tile, and some types of vinyl can all make great choices. You can also choose to paint or polish your existing concrete floor as well.

Being below grade can also affect other areas of the basement. For example, if you want to put a bathroom in the basement, any wastewater will need to flow up to exit the house, rather than down. You may need to have a pressure assisted toilet installed or special pumps and backflow devices to help keep water moving in the right direction.

Ceiling Height

Ceiling height in the basement can also be a concern in some homes. If your basement doesn’t currently have a finished ceiling, you need to take a look at the pipes and ductwork that are visible and measure their height off the ground. The most frequently used ceiling choice in the basement is a dropped ceiling because it can give you access to those pipes later on if there’s a problem. Dropped ceilings lower the height of the finished ceiling, however; if your pipes or ducts are already low, dropping a ceiling could make the finished rooms feel cramped. In this case, you may need to leave some of the lower pipes or ductwork exposed and finish the higher areas. Painting the pipes and ducts is an option to help give your ceiling a more finished look.

Limited Lighting

Some basements have small windows that can let in a limited amount of natural light, but others have no windows at all. This can make the rooms of your finished basement seem dark or small if they aren’t properly lit. During your remodel you may want to spend some time considering different light sources including ambient and task lighting. If you have space in a dropped ceiling, canister lights make good choices for distributing even light throughout the space. Otherwise, consider track lighting to help illuminate every area of your finished basement.

Do Your Homework

Basement remodels can be a great way to add extra living space to your home, but they can also go terribly wrong when conditions unique to the basement aren’t addressed. Be sure to work with a builder, architect, or design firm to find out what the conditions of your basement are before you begin planning to make sure you get the best possible results.