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Finishing or remodeling a basement is a great way to increase the living space in a home. Builders often construct newer basements with finishing in mind. They include higher ceilings, roughed-in plumbing, and mechanical systems located out of the way. Some common uses include recreation rooms, home theaters, children’s playrooms, wet bars, spare bedrooms, and home offices.

Remodeling a basement presents some unique challenges requiring careful attention to detail in order to complete it correctly. Since the floor, walls, and ceiling already exist, finishing a basement can cost less than adding a new addition.

Designing and Planning a Basement Renovation

Careful planning and setting a realistic budget are critical first steps for a basement remodel. Determine how you want to use the space and develop a design that supports those goals. Survey the existing conditions to anticipate any structural changes, such as moving ductwork or plumbing. Research estimated costs for materials, labor, permits, and contingencies to set your budget.

When planning the design for a finished basement, take into account:

  • Ceiling height
  • Heating and cooling needs
  • Supporting walls and posts
  • Existing ductwork
  • Location of existing furnace or water heater
  • Existing wiring
  • Potential problems with moisture
  • Location of plumbing pipes and drains
basement under construction
Image credit: Canva

It’s also important to consider the return on your investment should you decide to move. According to Remodeling magazine’s Cost vs. Value website, the average 2008 basement renovation in the U.S. cost $61,011 and returned about 73% of the money invested upon selling the house.

Planning for the future is an important part of basement design. For example, when planning a children’s playroom, consider how you can convert it into a game room once they’re older. Creative approaches to concealing existing ductwork and plumbing include built-in storage benches and innovative ceiling designs.

Varying the height and shape of the ceiling can also help to break up long expanses in large, open rooms and add an interesting element to the space.

Dealing With Leakage and Moisture in a Basement

While basements have a reputation as dark and dank, they don’t have to be that way. However, potential leakage from the outside and moisture or condensation can be problems and should be dealt with before work on the interior begins.

This could be as simple and inexpensive as diverting rainwater and runoff away from the foundation or as difficult and costly as removing the soil around the perimeter and waterproofing the exterior walls.

Certain materials, such as hardwood floors, should be avoided in basements due to the potential for swelling and warping.

Today’s Homeowner Tips

If high humidity continues to be a problem, consider installing a dehumidifier in the basement to reduce it.

Basement Windows and Stairs

Be sure to research your local building codes for egress windows and staircases requirements. Most municipalities require a window with a minimum width and height for emergency escape. Staircases must meet code standards for dimensions like stair width, handrail height, and head clearance.

Today’s Homeowner Tips

Natural lighting and proper emergency exits are important considerations when remodeling a basement. If doors to the outside are not available, you can install egress windows to provide light and act as emergency exits.

If the basement is fully underground, you can remove soil and install a retaining wall to allow for windows.

It’s also important to be sure basement staircases meet building codes for width, tread-to-riser ratio, and handrail. When installing a finished floor in the basement, ensure all stair risers are the same height to avoid a tripping hazard.

With proper design and planning, a basement renovation can add useful living space to your home without increasing the footprint on the lot.

So, Are Finished Basements Worth It?

Remodeling a basement takes careful planning and often higher up-front costs than finishing an above-ground room. But it can add a valuable living area to your home at a better return on investment than building an addition. With careful moisture control and access to daylight, a renovated basement can be a dry, comfortable extra space.

FAQs About Basement Renovations

How much does it cost to finish a basement?

According to HomeAdvisor, expect to pay $2,800 to $34,000 on average to finish a 400 to 1,500-square-foot basement.

What increases basement renovation costs?

Factors like finishing bathrooms, wet bars, egress windows, exterior excavation, and specialized humidity control systems increase costs. Fully custom designs also have higher price tags than more cookie-cutter basement buildouts.

Should you insulate basement walls?

It depends. If the basement is consistently dry, fiberglass batt insulation in the stud cavities is sufficient. Damp basements may require closed-cell spray foam or rigid foam boards that resist moisture.

What type of flooring is best for basements?

Tile, laminate, vinyl, and stained concrete are good basement flooring options. Use mold-resistant drywall. Avoid carpet or unsealed wood that may warp from dampness. Refer to concrete drying times when installing flooring.

How much does it cost to waterproof a basement?

Basement waterproofing averages $2,000 to $7,000. Severe leaks from the foundation footing may require excavation and drainage system installation, increasing costs to $10,000 or more.

Editorial Contributors
avatar for Jonathon Jachura

Jonathon Jachura


Jonathon Jachura is a two-time homeowner with hands-on experience with HVAC, gutters, plumbing, lawn care, pest control, and other aspects of owning a home. He is passionate about home maintenance and finding the best services. His main goal is to educate others with crisp, concise descriptions that any homeowner can use. Jon uses his strong technical background to create engaging, easy-to-read, and informative guides. He does most of his home and lawn projects himself but hires professional companies for the “big things.” He knows what goes into finding the best service providers and contractors. Jon studied mechanical engineering at Purdue University in Indiana and worked in the HVAC industry for 12 years. Between his various home improvement projects, he enjoys the outdoors, a good cup of coffee, and spending time with his family.

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