Five Things to Think About When Considering a Basement Rehab

Do you find yourself dreaming about how you could transform your new basement into a fully functional feature of your home? You’re by no means alone.  

Perhaps it’s an effect of the pandemic, or the recent trend to move for family versus professional reasons. Whatever the case, a study by Houzz.com, which connects homeowners to renovation professionals, reported that home renovations are up 15% over the last year. When you consider that a successful basement rehab can see an ROI of up to 75%, it’s an idea well worth exploring.  

But where do you start? And what do you need to know? Here are some things you’ll want to think about. 

Determine Your Budget and Timeline 

Whether you’re doing it all yourself or leaving the entire project in the hands of a contractor, you need to plan carefully. Think about the entire scope of the project, including where you want to spend money and all the details that will lead to a successful renovation.  

Unexpected problems and changes can quickly drive up costs. A reputable contractor will always build a 3-5% contingency into their estimate to cover anything unforeseen, as well as provide a reasonable project timeline. For do-it-your-selfers, Bankrate.com suggests a contingency of at least 20%. You might also want to consider a phased approach: tackling one area or room at a time instead of trying to do everything at once. 

DIY, Professional or Somewhere In Between? 

Let’s start with the big question — do you hire a professional or tackle the job yourself? If you’ve never taken on a major home renovation, it’s smart to let the pros do some of the heavy lifting, including interior walls, HVAC installations, waterproofing, and electrical wiring. Then, they can leave the finishing touches for you, if you’re so inclined. You should also hire a professional to confirm that there aren’t any moisture issues. And if there are? Get guidance on how to best address them.  

What types of projects can homeowners tackle themselves? For beginners, Realhomes.com recommends tasks like painting, hanging shelves, installing floor tiles and light fixtures, hanging doors, and caulking as ideal DIYs.  

Even a basic DIY renovation should take things like building codes, HOA regulations and above all safety into account. Another word to the wise? If the basement has been renovated before, it’s best to have the electrical wiring and any walls or construction-related features checked out by a professional. It’s not uncommon for home basement renovations to have been done by an amateur or without the benefit of a thorough inspection. That means the work may not be up to code.  

Save yourself hassles down the road by bringing in licensed inspectors to visit your project at key milestones to make sure it’s being done right.  

Look at the Project from a Practical Standpoint 

Basements come in all shapes and sizes. If your home is brand-new or recently constructed, chances are that the basement offers dry, highly workable raw space. If you’re in a quaint old Victorian or an Arts & Crafts bungalow, a renovation might be more involved. 

First things first — check the headroom. Basements in many older homes won’t have eight-foot ceilings. Will you or your 6’3” friends be crouching all the time? 

Also, look at the existing floorplan. Is the furnace dead-center in the room (not unusual in older homes), and will you need to move heating ducts, plumbing or add electrical outlets? Are the floors level, and the windows and walls watertight? Is there a good working drain — and a sump pump, with back-up? You’ll need to address issues like these before getting your hammer out.  

Above all, do you have the time —and the budget — to see the project to completion? You don’t want to be looking at half-installed drywall or a pile of floor tiles in the corner five or six years down the road. The whole point of the renovation is to make your house feel more like home, not create a whole new set of challenges. 

Plan It Out Thoroughly 

Whether you envision an extra bedroom, a game room, gym or home office, plan ahead. No one wants their sleeping quarters adjacent to a furnace or their water heater inaccessible in the dark recesses of a clothes closet. And is there a cellar door that opens to the outside? Ensure your floorplan works well in terms of both safety and aesthetics.  

Also keep in mind that while you are increasing your living space, storage space is also impacted. Consider keeping part of the basement for storing seasonal items like patio or lawn furniture, holiday decorations and other items you don’t use year-round.  

Make It Cozy and Comfortable 

Decorating a basement is a bit different than decorating the rest of your home. For example, flooring should be made of moisture-proof or moisture-resistant materials, such as vinyl or ceramic tile and area rugs versus wall-to-wall carpeting and finished wood floors. Another very inexpensive option is to simply paint the concrete floor with waterproof paint made especially for this purpose. 

Lighting is an important consideration when it comes to cozying up your space. Use track lighting to brighten up windowless spaces, focusing light directly in areas that need it, like over a desk or by exercise equipment. Recessed lighting on a dimmer switch can set a comfortable ambiance, while focal lighting can be used to highlight features like built-in bookshelves and cabinets. As for color choices, HGTV and other sites recommend neutral and cool colors that work well with artificial lighting.  

Keep furniture colors on the lighter side, too. Take a more casual, less formal approach. Modular sofas and bright accent pieces tend to work better than dark, heavy pieces and ultra-traditional takes. Putting together an “idea book” of looks you will want to incorporate is a terrific way to brainstorm and see how everything works together. On a budget? Hit up used furniture and thrift stores for one-of-a-kind finds. 

Looking for tips, advice, and pointers for making your new house a home? Check out our other blogs for moving tips, packing advice, city guides and a wealth of other information to help you settle in.   

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