You may want to makeover your basement, but should you?
Basement renovations can be a great way to add extra living space to your home. Before you start tearing down walls and planning your dream basement, there are several things you need to consider.
For starters, what kind of space do you want to build: an upscale movie screening room, kids play space or something else? Once you know the quality of build you want to do, start thinking about whether you can do the work yourself.
Basement renovations don't always have a huge return on investment, so many homeowners attempt DIY basement renovations to save money. While it’s possible to complete some tasks on your own, certain aspects of the job, like plumbing and electric, may best be left to professionals, given that they'll need to meet building code.
How do you know if you should tackle your basement renovation alone or call in help? Ask yourself some important questions.
Depending on the age of your home, the architect may not have considered finishing the basement. Before the mid to late 1990s, homes weren’t designed for living in the basement. They were created to provide structure for the house. If you have an older house, check to see if the foundation is waterproof. If it isn’t — and many of the foundations in older houses aren’t — any building materials you use may turn to mush, or at least get moldy.
Beyond the age of the home, you need to consider the soil conditions around the house, local climate, and the expectations for use. If this is just a space where kids are going to bounce balls off the wall, it may not be a big deal when things get humid. On the other hand, if you’re expecting to have guests over for a dinner party or even poker, you want to make sure the air is fresh and temperate. If you live in a location that gets cold, check with an expert for advice. For example, people in west Canada may want to reach out to a leading basement renovations company in Calgary.
Building in the basement requires calculating for relatively humidity. You have to prepare for potential water events or seepage as a result of storms, flooding and other seasonal issues. Is your house designed so water will drain away from the windows?
Before you get your heart set on an upscale makeover, check if your homeowner’s insurance cover water damage. In many cases, a basement will have a water issue that will require you to use your insurance. Whether a leaky water heater or flood seepage, you have to be mentally and financially prepared for damage.
When you’re thinking about renovating a basement, think about an amount you can afford to lose. Unless you’re willing to spend a ton of money on your basement, you may not get the money back when you sell your house. If you’re finishing a basement in an old house, the return may be lower than you think. A finished basement that isn’t waterproofed always runs the risk of being ruined.
New buyers may be concerned about potential damage and not willing to reimburse the costs for the money you invested. A more luxurious finish will require better materials as well as higher quality protection that won’t be seen by the eye. If part of the reason you’re finishing the basement is return on investment, be sure you’re spending wisely.
New houses may have different issues you’ll need to tackle, such as low-grade wall framing and insulation you’ll need to rip out and replace with foam board, new framing and updated insulation.
What kind of subfloor system do you need?
A subfloor system creates an air pocket underneath the basement floor so moisture can travel away from the interior of the house toward the walls and outside. When it’s dry outside, the water will eventually leave and evaporate.
Does the concrete pad in your floor have a vapor barrier?
If you have a house older than 1995, you may want to dig a small hole and check if you have a vapor barrier underneath the concrete. If you don’t, the house may not be set up for a finished basement. On the other hand, if your basement has “rough in” plumbing (the major pipes set up) then your basement was probably built with the expectation that it would be finished at some point. Ideally the foundation should be shielded with a waterproofing system.
If you don’t have a waterproof shielding around the foundation and decide to go ahead and build, you should understand the inherent risk that goes along with that approach. Water can come up through the floor and flood the carpet walls and other materials. Unless you have a sump pump, it will be tough to quickly remove that liquid.
If you have a pre-’95 house, you probably need a dimpled subfloor that allows air and water to move underneath. If so, water that comes in has the ability to drain and dry out. Once this subfloor is installed, walls should be built on top of it. An insulated subfloor is better on a newer home since a lot of the moisture wicking technology exists in the architecture. Newer homes with unfinished basements have room to add a subfloor, which is particularly apparent at the base of the stairs. Plan for the Flooring Some vinyl flooring with a cork back can go directly onto the subfloor. Wood planks and carpeting will likely require an underlayment or other barrier on top of the subfloor.
Can You Really Do the Wiring and Plumbing?
Not only does it have to be functional, it has to be up to building code for inspection. Unless you have a good amount of experience, you’ll probably want to hire an electrician either to do the work or check what you’ve done before the official inspection.
Of course many more questions need to be answered before you actually break out the hammers and nail guns. Depending on the complexity of the build, you may want to have an architect draw up plans and experts create or oversee parts of the build. Once you have these questions answered, you can move onto more detailed planning.