10 Things You Must Know: Finishing a Basement

A finished basement is a great addition to any home. Be sure to read these expert tips before you get started on your renovation.

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Keep It Dry

Check for any water issues in your basement before beginning the planning process. Obvious signs are pools of water or drips coming through the below-grade walls. Check outside to make sure the ground is graded away from your foundation. Also look for cracks in your foundation walls and repair that damage if necessary.

Know the Code

After you've taken care of any moisture problems and have come up with your plan, it's time to check with your local municipality to see if you'll be required to get any permits. This is particularly important if you're planning plumbing and electrical work, which may have to be inspected.

Consider the Fasteners

Basement walls and floors are generally some sort of masonry, cement, block or brick, and a regular 'ol nail or screw isn't going to cut it when attaching framing. You'll need to get the proper fastener and possibly anchors for your wall type. In some cases, you may need to rent a powder-actuated fastener, sometimes referred to as a shotgun fastener. These are similar to a shotgun in that they use a charge to fire a fastener into concrete.

Add a Vapor Barrier

Even after taking care of any moisture issues, your basement can become a damp place. You'll need to add a vapor barrier to both the walls and floors prior to framing and finishing off these surfaces. It's a good idea to lay down a vapor barrier for a day or two, then check underneath to see if and how much moisture may be coming through before continuing.

Create an Offset Space

Despite all efforts, even with a vapor barrier, moisture can still be an issue. 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.

Keep Out the Cold and the Warmth In

Insulation will not only help control the temperature inside your basement, it may also add another layer of moisture control, as well as help dampen sound from the outside. Choose an insulation that includes a vapor barrier on both sides. Other options include a spray foam insulation. Be sure to check code requirements for this type.

Drop Ceilings Provide Easy Access

A drop, or suspended, ceiling offers a way to both conceal and provide access to electrical and plumbing lines via the removable tiles. You may have a preconceived notion that such a ceiling will look more like an office than a home, but there are plenty of attractive options available. These ceilings will reduce the amount of overhead space available, so keep that in mind when planning.

Give Your Lighting a Recess

Recessed lighting in a basement is a good option, because they won't take up valuable overhead space that a light fixture would. Plus, it's easy to install with a drop ceiling.

Add Some Warmth at the Baseboards

Warm air rises, so it makes sense to install heating vents at floor level. Baseboard heating is a good option, but make sure it makes sense for your plan and is easy to tie into your existing HVAC system. For a finished space, you want to make sure you're not relying on space heaters, so plan carefully.

The Utility Room is Not for Finishing

Keep the space housing an HVAC unit or 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. You may be tempted to finish off this area, but keep it simple to avoid problems later.

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