Every homeowner finds that at one point or another they need more space. Where to get more space? You can push outward and build an addition, spending a ton of money in the process. Or you can look inward.
If you own a home with a basement, that is available space. For most homeowners, the basement is nothing more than a repository for junk or for essential services such as the furnace and water heater. There is no reason you cannot clear the junk and build a cozy family room, media room, auxiliary bedroom, gym, or whatever you'd like.
But you'll first need to take into account some basics before turning your basement into a livable space.
Get Moisture Under Control
Basement finishing is all about moisture. If you can successfully manage the moisture, you can build practically anything in the basement. Even features that traditionally are not supposed to go in a basement—wall-to-wall carpeting, for one—can be added with no problem.
If you have significant moisture, you may not even be able to finish your basement. Moisture is the factor that disqualifies most basements. Minor moisture problems can be treated with water-lock paint. Cracks can be sealed with special caulking for this purpose. Dehumidifiers draw in moisture-laden air and collect a great deal of that moisture before it can condense on the basement walls and ceiling.
In parts of the country where the majority of homes have basements, you can count on finding companies that will perform this work. Even if you have a trickle of water that runs along the floor and into a drain, you can elevate your flooring using a substrate meant just for basements.
Older basements were never intended to be fully functional living spaces. Some newer homes may be constructed with this build-out feature in mind, but older homes typically used basements as utilitarian spaces. So you will have many obstacles to surmount in turning this accessory space into one that is habitable by humans.
Decide on the Basement's Purpose
Because of their unique nature, basements are not for every use. Basements tend to be cold, dark, and insular.
If you are building out your basement as an apartment for a sunlight-loving family member, you'll be hard-pressed to add enough windows and sun tubes for that person.
But basements are ideal for other uses that don't need much light. Home movie theaters depend on low-light levels and dampened acoustics for better performance.
Home gyms and yoga spaces work well in basements. But since basements tend to have lower ceilings, you won't be able to bring in tall exercise equipment.
Prioritize Wall System Planning
Walls are installed in basements for a few reasons. They make the space more aesthetically pleasing. They make it easier to run electrical wires and provide spaces to install receptacles. And walls enhance temperature control.
Walls often have no structural value in the finished basement. Because of the inherent moisture problems, you may want to choose steel studs because they do not rot and because each stud possesses perfect dimensions.
Foam insulation is preferred in basements, too. Fiberglass insulation can develop mold.
Develop an Electrical Plan
When finishing your basement, you must provide a certain number of electrical outlets to comply with electrical code. If a bathroom is part of the basement plan, that bathroom needs the full complement of electrical work, just like you would install on upper floors: a lighting circuit; a circuit for the bathroom exhaust fan; and GFCI outlets.
Plan Heating and Cooling in Advance
In some homes, heating and cooling work perfectly well on their own. During summer, the basement stays cool since it was located below ground. During winter, the basement remains warm since earth is a good insulator.
But most homes' basements will need some type of supplemental heating and cooling system. Electrical baseboard heaters are a good way to provide fast heat. Also, consider the fact that existing HVAC ductwork may be running through the joists of the floor above, which you can tap into for your basement space.
Incorporate Egress Requirements
Egress, or the exit point besides the doorway, is an important consideration if you wish for the basement remodel to include a bedroom.
Most local building codes will have egress requirements for finished, habitable basements. If you don't have sufficient egress points already, you may need to create a window to fulfill this requirement.
Create an Effective Lighting Plan
Most basements have only minimal lighting. But with the height restrictions, you may not be able to install any kind of lighting you want.
For this reason, recessed or can lights are popular in basement remodels. Recessed lights provide a significant amount of light, and they tuck neatly up into the space between the floor joists of the level above.
Because basements cannot rely on natural light, the bulk of the lighting duties is borne by artificial lighting. Plan for more lighting than you think you'll need. After all, you don't have to use all of the lights: just the ones you need.