Finishing Your Basement To Create Useful Living Space

There are two nearly foolproof ways to add value to your home. The first is by refreshing it inside and outside with new paint, lighting, fixtures, cabinets, countertops and landscaping. The second is by adding ...

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There are two nearly foolproof ways to add value to your home. The first is by refreshing it inside and outside with new paint, lighting, fixtures, cabinets, countertops and landscaping. The second is by adding space.

The least expensive way to gain living space in your home is by converting your basement. Good basements are inherently great spaces - naturally cool, quiet and private. Also, since much of the equipment for water and heat is located in your basement, it's relatively easy in a basement to add connections to take advantage of both. A professional Long Island basement finishing contractor can often finish your basement for $20-25 per square foot, which is much less than an addition would cost.

Form Follows Function for Basement Refinishing

Deciding how you will use your finished basement is the first order of business, since that will determine materials as well as design. Popular basement conversion goals include creation of additional living and play spaces, such as:

  • Playrooms

  • Living space for guests or long term visitors (older parents, teens)

  • Home Theatres

    Often, homeowners choose to convert or finish their basements to create dedicated space to pursue one or more interests, which may include one or more of the following:

  • Home Office

  • Home Gym

  • Game Room

  • Hobby/Crafts Room

  • Wine Cellar

    Why is it so important to know in advance how you want to use the space? Consider a basement conversion to add a home theatre. In addition to space and layout considerations, less obvious design and practical issues come into play with home theatres. Wire management needs advance planning - those hanging wires from electronics are not only ugly but can be dangerous. For built-in shelving, extra-depth shelves (at least 22 inches) are necessary to accommodate many electronics components. And electronics components can get quite hot - special ventilation systems are a good idea and may even be necessary in a basement.

    Finishing the Basement is Small-Scale House Building

    Complete finishing of a basement requires skill in wiring, plumbing, carpentry, insulation, and dry-walling, as well as painting and possibly waterproofing. Basement finishing is a complicated project, and only a professional basement finishing contractor has the knowledge and experience to do it all well. To help put this in perspective, here are the major steps required to convert and finish basement space:

  • Clear out current basement contents

  • Repair cracks and leaks and moisture-proof floor and walls

  • Install sub-floor

  • Locate and frame walls and install ceiling

  • Rough-in plumbing an electrical connections (and possible cable and telecommunications connections)

  • Install insulation and vapor barrier

  • Install drywall

  • Install flooring

  • Install lighting

  • Install baseboards and trim

  • Paint

    Making Your Basement Suitable for Finishing

    Aside from space considerations such as adequate headroom, making sure your basement is suitable and ready for finishing is mostly a matter of moisture control, especially on Long Island. According to the American Society of Home Inspectors, about 38% of homes have mold and fungus growth due to elevated moisture levels. Molds thrive on moisture, and basement walls and floors are often great sources of moisture.

    Basement moisture must be dealt with before the rest of your finishing project can begin. A basement contractor will best be able to determine the source of new moisture, which may be poor grading (soil around house not sloping away from foundation), lack of gutters, or drainpipes inappropriately placed to direct water too near the house (less than five feet may allow water back against the foundation). Often one or more of these conditions is at fault if your basement walls leak only during heavy rains.

    There is an easy way to check your basement for existing moisture. Tape a piece of aluminum foil or plastic wrap to the basement floor, sealing all edges tightly. Check it after a couple of days. Moisture on the exposed surface (the surface away from the floor) is condensation. A licensed Long Island basement contractor will add insulation and ventilation during finishing, solving or reducing condensation issues. If there is moisture under the foil or plastic, however, it is coming up through the cement. This may necessitate application of a concrete waterproof sealer before flooring is installed.

    Controlling molds, fungi and other contaminants can only be accomplished by controlling the cause. To do that, you must eliminate the source(s) of moisture in your basement. Water-proofing and moisture-proofing are tedious and involved jobs when done correctly, and a professional Long Island contractor has the skills and knowledge to get into and seal all of the pores that can cause surface moisture and leaks, getting it right the first time. This is an essential beginning to your Long Island basement conversion project, to make the space livable and to protect the investment of materials you will be adding during the basement finishing process.

    An interesting side note: One way to reduce moisture and humidity in the basement is to install radiant floor heating during your basement renovation. A heated floor in the basement may sound extravagant, but it's actually quite practical. In addition to the benefit of drying the environment to inhibit molds, fungi and even dust mites, a heated floor will help keep the ambient temperature in your basement rooms warmer, and it feels great underfoot. A licensed contractor can install this feature. A thin electric mat is laid over the sub-floor, covered with a layer of thinset, and then covered with your choice of flooring. Temperature is controlled by a programmable thermostat. Cost is roughly $10 per square foot.

    Tom Mirabella and Bob Roddini are homeowners. Like you, at times they needed help with repairs and remodeling, and have had difficulty finding qualified and reliable contractors. Their goal was to connect homeowners who need remodeling and repair work with prescreened professionals ready to work. They created

    as a one stop resource for Long Island home improvement projects big or small. You can find a directory of contractors and easy access to useful information about home improvement and repair, to inspire and encourage you to get it done, whether "it" is adding a master suite or fixing a leaky faucet.