Now that the weather is turning cold, many DIYers are turning their thoughts to the great indoors. Homeowners know that there are always plenty of projects on the to-do list, and one of the most popular home remodeling projects to tackle during the winter months is a basement makeover. Whether you want to add a spare playroom, a guest room, or a “man-cave,” the basement can be the perfect location for additional living space.
Like any DIY renovation, proper planning before you start a can save a lot of headaches – and unexpected expenses – down the road. While it’s certainly more exciting to think about installing a big-screen TV or a stylish bar, keeping your basement warm and dry should be your first consideration. With that in mind, we’ve put together 10 basement remodeling tips to help keep your basement cozy, energy efficient, and waterproof, so you can enjoy your new space for years to come!
1. Don’t start until you’ve checked the building code and obtained all necessary permits.
Your project could face serious consequences if it’s not up to code, and you could be putting your home and your family in danger. This is particularly important if you’re planning plumbing and electrical work, which may have to be inspected. Know and follow the building codes. If you have questions, concerns, or you’re not sure your skills are up to the task, consult a licensed builder.
2. Check for moisture problems.
Moisture issues are a common basement concern, and if you don’t address them before starting your renovations, you could be setting yourself up for costly repairs down the road. Mold, insects, and high levels of humidity are all signs that you could have a serious basement moisture problem that’s beyond the fix-it skills of the typical DIYer. If you’re not sure what to look for, our experts can provide you with a free basement inspection and recommend the best waterproofing option for you.
Even if you don’t have a serious moisture problem, adding a vapor barrier to both the walls and floors prior to framing and finishing off these surfaces makes good sense. Lay down the moisture barrier, wait a day or two, then check underneath to see if and how much moisture may be coming through before continuing. If there’s still residual moisture after adding the vapor barrier, create a slight offset from the outside wall by adding thin slats of wood or metal called furring strips. These strips can also be used to help level out a wall that may be “wavy” to create a flat surface for adding framing. When it’s framed and insulated, face it with mold-resistant drywall.
3. Don’t skimp on the insulation.
Insulation will not only help control the temperature inside your basement, it will add another layer of moisture control. Plus, it will help dampen sounds coming in from the outside. Choose an insulation that includes a vapor barrier on both sides. Spray foam insulation can also be effective for basement walls, but check code requirements to ensure it allowed in your area.
4. Seal around rim joists.
Uninsulated rim joists (the joists on the outside edge of your basement walls) can create big energy losses. They can also be an easy entrance for mice or other pests. Insulate them with rigid insulation cut to fit. 2” extruded polystyrene is a good choice, but make sure it’s up to code. If you have a table saw, use it to cut strips equal to the depth of your joists. Then use a fine-tooth handsaw or utility knife to cut the strips to length. Fill small gaps with caulk, and the larger ones with expanding spray foam.
5. Seal around pipes and wires.
Seal small cracks around pipes and wires with high-temperature silicone caulk, and larger gaps with flame-resistant expanding foam. Close openings around chimney flues or other large openings by nailing sheet metal over them and sealing the edges with caulk. While they’re exposed, slip foam insulation sleeves over hot-water pipes to prevent heat loss and over cold-water ones to prevent condensation from dripping on the inside of the drywall or ceiling.
6. Add a drop ceiling.
A drop, or suspended, ceiling hides your plumbing and electrical lines, yet provides easy access to them if needed. Remember that drop ceilings will reduce the amount of overhead space available, so keep that in mind when planning your renovation.
To soundproof a drop ceiling, add fiberglass batts above the ceiling tiles, but make sure your tiles can bear the added weight. Although batt insulation is relatively lightweight, it can put enough stress on think drop ceiling tiles and break them. Don’t use fiberglass ceiling tiles – they can’t support the weight of insulation. If you’re thinking of using wood-and-gypsum ceiling tiles, they will need to be at least 5/8 inch (15 mm) thick to be used safely with batt insulation.
7. Make sure your flooring is waterproof.
You may be tempted to add carpeting or wood flooring to your new space, but that can be a bad idea. Even a waterproofed basement can fall victim to a malfunctioning sump pump, and one flood can ruin an expensive floor (see #10).
That doesn’t mean you have to be stuck with a drab floor of gray concrete. Here are a few great basement flooring options:
- Epoxy floor coatings are good if you can live with a hard surface flooring. Epoxy coating is inexpensive, comes in a lot of colors, is totally waterproof, and easy to apply.
- Ceramic tile comes in an almost endless variety of colors and styles. In fact, you can even buy tile that looks amazingly like a wood floor! It’s unaffected by moisture and goes directly onto concrete that’s smooth and free of cracks.
- Vinyl tile and sheet flooring also goes directly over prepared concrete and will withstand even minor flooding. A vinyl floor can provide some cushioning underfoot, and it’s fairly inexpensive.
- Engineered wood flooring gives you the warmth and beauty of real wood with the stability and moisture resistance of laminate construction. Click-together tiles and planks are DIY-friendly and easy to install as a floating floor system. Check to make sure the type you choose is rated for below-grade basements.
- Rubber flooring comes in sheets and DIY-friendly tiles with interlocking edges. Rubber floors are nicely cushioned and come in a wide variety of colors, making them a good choice for basement playrooms.
Remember, no matter what flooring you choose, it’s important that you take steps to keep your basement as dry as possible. That means grading out foundation soil so it slopes away from foundation walls at least four inches over 10 feet, adding extensions to your downspouts so water exits at least five feet away from your house, and keeping gutters in good repair.
8. Consider your heating options.
Tying into an existing HVAC system will usually makes the most sense (and save the most dollars on remodeling costs). Remember, warm air rises, so it makes sense to install heating vents at floor level. For this reason, baseboard heating is also good option.
If cold basement floors are a problem, you can warm them up with electric heating cables or mats. This type of heat doesn’t warm the room much, but it makes floors much more comfortable.
9. Don’t remodel the utility room.
Keep the area around HVAC units and water heaters clear, open, and unfinished. These spaces have specific code requirements for spacing and framing. Plus, you’ll need access for inspection and/or repairs.
10. Have a backup plan for your sump pump.
It’s best to have both a battery backup for your main pump, in case of a power outage, and a second pump, in case the first one gives out. You can also install an inexpensive, battery-operated alarms that detect water to notify you if there’s water on your basement floor.
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