So you are finally ready to add to your living space and want to take that empty basement and turn it into something amazing, but you don’t have an idea of where to start.
Do you want to take on this project yourself or hire a company to do all the work for you? The answer lies within you and how much time and skills you have to complete the project.
Even if you decide to do it yourself, you will still most likely need to hire an expert to handle certain parts of the job as there are code requirements and if you are not licensed you might not know all the code requirements that are floating out there.
A good way to discover which parts of the basement project you can do yourself is to start by researching all of the steps in the construction process. This guide we have created will walk you through the steps of finishing your basement from A to Z.
Step 1: Get Your Creative Ideas Flowing
By now you have been down in your basement a few times and maybe even chalked out your rooms you plan on having. Have your thought of everything? Let’s take a look at some rooms that are options for you.
Bedroom – This is one of the most build rooms in a basement and helps increase the overall value of a house. The best thing about a bedroom is you can make it a guest bedroom or one for the kids, when you design this room, you can make as big or small as you like.
Bathroom – Most basements of 1,200sf or more have at least 1.5 bathrooms, one full and one 1/2 bathroom. If you want a master bedroom down in your basement, you might want to have a private bath and then a 1/2 bath for guests. If you have a 2nd bedroom then maybe a 2nd full bathroom or a Jack and Jill bathroom if for the kids.
Living room – Just about all basements will have some sort of living room/family room area to open up the basement some. This normally will have a couch and a TV.
Hallways – Don’t forget the hallways, you can do some nice things here. It would be nice if you can make them a bit wider then the standard ones so your not so closed in. Maybe some recessed pockets in the wall for pictures or artwork would set the hallways off nicely.
Bar – If you like to have company over, then you might want to put a bar in. This can be done in any shape or size you like depending on how much you will plan on using it. When you have a bar in your basement, it becomes a great place to entertain people.
Theater – If you love movies you can toss a theater in your basement. This can be made from a basic room to a full-blown soundproof theater for 6-8 people. Depending on your ceiling height 8-9 ft would determine what side of a screen you can have and if you do it right, you can make it look and should better then a movie theater.
Wine Cellar – For the wine lovers having a small wine room maybe the size of a small closet with a glass door and side windows would make a great showcase you can show off. What a great way to use that under-stairs space you have no idea what to do with.
Want to make it fancier, then add a light sensor at the bottom of the starts so when you come down the stairs it will automatically turn on the wine cellar lights like a night light.
Home Gym/Massage Room – This is nothing more than a large bedroom without a closet, from a building point of view, it’s pretty much the same for the most part. Maybe for the gym, you might want to have a glass panel door to open it up from the outside more and maybe rubber mats on the floor.
Aquarium – If you are on a concrete slab, you can go nuts here. I have seen people build anywhere from a 200 gallon to a 2,000-gallon aquarium for their reef and take their basement and turn it into something amazing.
As you can see, your basement can be anything you want. The only thing that is going to limit you here is your imagination.
Now that you know what you want, you need to know the details. Such as where do you need the walls. Do you want curved walls or not. Do you want to show the doors or hide them as much as you can?
Step 2: Obtain The Necessary Building Permits
To get a permit to finish your basement isn’t difficult in most cases and isn’t always required but you want to make sure you pull a permit. Yes, there are permit fees and the assessor will add the newly finished basement sf to your property taxes but the benefits of having it permitted outweigh the expense.
One major benefit of having pulled a building permit is you can contact an inspector at any time during the construction process if you have questions or they can come out and do a walk through with you.
Additionally, if you decide later to sell your home, you will want to provide the certificate from the city showing that everything is safe and up to code. If you don’t have that, it can drastically affect the price you get for your home.
Furthermore, if you have homeowners insurance and you did not get a permit for your basement and a fire starts in the basement from faulty wiring, the insurance company does not have to pay for it as there is no way you can prove it was inspected like the rest of your house was.
Step 3: The Necessary Prep Work
Since basements are located underground, you can expect there are moisture and water prep work that you want to prepare for. Depending on how old your basement is you may need to waterproof the basement so you don’t have any issues in the future.
This next part is very important, and that is for older basements, you need to check for mold or other toxins that can harm you and your family. Inspect your basement for signs of mold and if you discover any mold, you would need to get a mold test kit from Home Depot or Lowes. Then you can test it and send it off to see what type of mold you might have and how to remove it.
Another important factor to remember is Radon. Radon is odorless and invisible and can be found in just about any home, no matter the location or the age.
You want to test your basement for radon and find out if there is a problem. If you do have it, you will want to have a professional come out and fix your Radon issue so that you or your family are not exposed to the harmful gas.
Step 4: Frame the Walls
Once you have the layout, you are ready to order your lumber. Where most people go wrong here is they just order the 2×4’s for the walls, but you must remember the top and bottom plate.
If you are on Concrete it changes things a bit as you need to use pressure-treated wood such as timber strand then space it about 4-6 inches and have a top plate better known as a floating wall. This allows the concrete to expand and contract without putting any stress on the upper level of the house.
Of course, you need your 6-inch spike nails and most building code will require it 24-36 inches apart. Even though code allows you to go up to 24 inches I would recommend you stick to 16 inches on center when framing your walls. This is very important as if you do 15 inches or 17 inches it will throw off your drywall hanging and will cost more in labor and materials later so get it right the first time.
Don’t forget you have to fire block, this is best done with drywall, whereby you seal the top plate to the concrete wall of the ceiling then you can put your 2×4 over that and that would be the fastest way to fire block.
This needs to be done along the external walls of the basement then you need to add blocking every 10ft around the basement and again 1/2 of drywall works well for this.
The walls around the furnace and unfinished rooms need to be blocked off. If there are small areas you can use cans of spray foam or insulation to pack it.
If you have softies, you need to fire block them every 10 ft as well and at both ends.
Step 5: Install the Plumbing
Plumbing is one of the hardest jobs, but you can do it on your own if you have the tools and knowledge. If you don’t feel ready to take it on, just hire a professional to do the work and focus on other aspects of your basement.
If you are the do-it-yourself person, then the first step is the rough-in plumbing. If you are on concrete, you will want to cut the concrete before you start framing so your lines are already cut before you lay your 2×4’s.
You may also already have pipes in place. If you designed your basement layout around the existing pipes, your job is a lot easier but I have never seen this work as needed.
If you have a floating Floor basement, you will need to access your crawl space to get under there to install the new pipes. Remember, there are codes for everything such as what size pipes to use 1.5 inches for bar and sinks, 3 inches for a toilet, etc, you need to have pee traps installed as well as studier vents for ventilation.
When it’s time to inspect the plumbing, it most likely will need to be under a pressure test. Also, plumbing in-ground will need to have gravel/dirt covering most of the pipe except the top so the inspection can see it. No rocks are allowed to touch the pipe as it can break the pipe.
Most homes are built with Pex pipe these days as it’s flexible and holds connections well and you will need an expander to work with Pex pipe.
PRO TIP Never use shark bites in the wall no matter what you do.
Step 6: Electrical and HVAC work
This is a step that you could do yourself but most hire someone. This is simply because wiring can be very dangerous if done wrong. Do you know the difference between 12/2 and 14/2 wire? What about 3/2 wire? If not, then don’t even bother.
Peace of mind says to hire someone to do this for you. Plus most basements will require a sub-panel to be installed and this is a whole different ballgame as with 12/2 you can get a good jolt, but with 3/2 you can get fried.
Also, there are nail plates and staples that need to be used all over the place. Electrical is the easiest inspection to fail for someone who is doing it themselves. An electrician can do your electrical job easily and wire your entire basement safely and efficiently.
The electrician you hire should install all of your switches, outlets, and lighting and after the painting is done, they should come back to hook up the rest of the power and faceplates so you don’t have to worry about that.
You most likely have 1-2 runs in your basement already, but depending on what you want to build, it will require more. One per room and maybe more depending on the side of the room. In the bathroom, you need an exhaust fan (fart fan) and they require separate runs. You also have 3, 4, 6-inch pipes for your heat runs so make sure you know what ones you need and where to tie into it at.
Step 7: Finish the Walls
Once you have all of the plumbing, electrical, HVAC taking care of, you’re ready to turn your framed walls into actual walls. As long as all your inspections have passed, it will be time for drywall. If you choose to hang the drywall yourself though it’s very time consuming and heavy to put up for ceilings. Also, it must be accurate, but it can be done with proper knowledge, help, and patience.
Drywall might sound easy, but it can get difficult very fast to get it all just right even more so if you don’t frame the walls right. After the drywall is installed, it needs tape and mud. This is where it becomes an art and you need an artist to do this as if you mess this up, it will show through the texture and you will have to sand till you’re blue in the face.
This means you will need to make the joint compound very smooth, at least a level 4 finish as now your working on the finished view when before everything you did was being covered up, this is the first step in the finished viewable part.
Once done, you are ready for texture. This is normally a knockdown texture and you can hire a company to come to spray your whole basement for you if you have never done texture before.
Step 8: Paint
Now you are ready to paint your basement, and if you doing this by yourself, you’ll want to make sure you prime your walls first and don’t use the paint from home depot or Lowes. Get quality paint from Sherman Williams to do the job, also if you have a paint sprayer that will help put the paint on evenly and will help save you time.
Step 9: Trim Work
Now that you have the basement painted, it’s time for your trim. You can install the switch plates, mirrors, light fixtures, remove your construction lights, and put in your permanent lighting.
Step 10: Flooring
The largest part of your finishing work is the flooring. You have plenty of options here depending on if you are on a floating floor or concrete surface. You can do hardwood, carpet, tile, vinyl, stained concrete etc, the options are endless for you.
Now that you have the steps to finish a basement, it’s time to decide if you really want to do it yourself or hire a company. If this is your first time doing something like this, then yes, it sounds like it will save you money but maybe not.
For example, if you hire an electrician, they might charge you up to 30K to do all the electrical, yet if you get a basement company, they have electricians on staff so that would cost a much less for that part.
Hiring a bunch of one-off contractors comes with a steep price, so if you are not able to do it all yourself or at least 90% of it, then your better off in just hiring a company like the Basement Sanctuary to professionally do all fo the work for you so you don’t have to lift a finger and presto, your basement is a masterpiece.