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Tips for Remodeling your Basement

Remodeling a basement is no small feat. Unless you live in a newer home that's planned for a potential remodel, most houses aren't equipped with basements intended to be transformed into living spaces. But don’t see this as a setback — it’s simply a matter of understanding how to handle the situation. Consider these tips before remodeling:

Plan Your Exits

Building codes require safe exit routes in case of an emergency, particularly in bedroom areas. A common requirement is that an opening window must be big enough to climb out of, and close enough to the ground to reach, This sometimes means cutting down the foundation and building a window well. The windows in this finished basement not only let in loads of light, but they also provide an easy-to-access escape route in case of emergency. Check with your local building department about your home's requirements.

Stop the Water

If you have any moisture or water coming in through the foundation or slab we recommend not finishing that part of the basement until the source is found and fixed. Covering up a problem will just mean soggy, moldy insulation and sheetrock in the future, along with ruined flooring.

Check the Height

If basements aren't built purposely as a living space, chances are they have low ceiling height, or low-hanging duct work, wiring and piping. We suggest relocating the duct work or waste piping into inconspicuous places such as closets. There are many ways to remove duct work, gas and water piping and other mechanical components from view by re-installing them into the floor joists above.

Can You Drain?

Most basement remodels involve installing a new bathroom, and that means removing part of the concrete slab and connecting new waste lines for the toilet and tub or shower. Your ability to connect those lines depends on how deep your waste lines are below the surface of the concrete floor. You need enough of a slope in the lines, called 'fall,' to allow the waste to leave by gravity. If you don’t have fall or your waste lines leave the building through the foundation, you will need a sewage ejection pump to drain the bathroom waste.

Identify your Hazmat

Basements can be filled with various hazardous materials. Asbestos was often used to seal seams in duct work, and can still be found in the mastic glue used to install many linoleum-type floor tiles in the 1950s. Most pre-1978 homes also have lead paint. Work with your contractor to identify these hazards, and bring in a lab to analyze samples for complete safety.

Retrofit

If you live in earthquake country, don’t finish your basement without bolting down your foundation and installing shear-wall at your pony walls as they are at risk for failure in an earthquake. Standard retrofitting involves nailing plywood to the face of that short wall, as well as connecting it to the foundation and the floor system above, if possible. It’s easy to do when the walls are open, and much more expensive after the fact.

Look Ahead

Don’t finish your basement without thinking about future projects. Because the basement is the heart of most homes’ mechanical systems, you likely will need to get back in there to do any major work on your main floor, or for an addition.

Reduce Noise

Your newly finished basement has the potential to affect the rest of your house with noise, particularly if you create a media or play room. Installing sound insulation into the basement ceiling can help. We suggest using RC channel, which is a long piece of metal shaped like a hat when viewed from the end. Without a sound break, sound travels through the wood right into the drywall. The RC channel is installed across the joists before the drywall. When it’s time for the drywall to be attached, it rests on the RC channel instead of the wood joists, reducing noise transmission.

Choose Your Style

Do you want your basement to match the finishes in the rest of your home, or do you want it to have a different feel? This transitional bath has both traditional and contemporary elements, and the basement has painted trim and doors throughout. It’s a complete departure from the main floor, which is a classic Arts & Crafts home with dark-stained fir mill-work. However, the transitional elements make it compatible with a variety of styles while still giving it a unique aesthetic.

Think Out of the Box

Don’t feel hemmed in by things like posts going down the center of your space, or window and door locations. There are a number of ways to hold up beams while reducing the number of posts, and windows and doors can often be moved without a lot of trouble. Even the stairwell to the basement can be reworked or relocated.