The best way to finish your basement

Jun 17, 2015 at 9:00 a.m. ET
Image: GettyImages/BanksPhotos

Make the most of existing, underutilized space with a basement remodel. With solid planning, an understanding of potential challenges and some help from the experts, you'll soon have more square footage that the entire family will enjoy.

First, prepare to face typical basement challenges head-on:

  • Plumbing. Putting a bathroom in the basement can be challenging. Installing plumbing and drain lines, however, typically involves the expense of jack-hammering through concrete, so consult with a professional.
  • Lighting. Since they're partially or fully underground, basements suffer from poor lighting. Nancy Dalton, owner of Baywolf Dalton, Inc., a design and construction company in Seattle, recommends a mix of can lights and lamps to compensate for the lack of natural light.
  • Walls. Dalton recommends hiring a professional contractor to assess the addition or removal of walls. "There may be load-bearing walls you don't want to touch or the opportunity to add a beam to make the space more open," says Dalton.
  • Head room. "When you're planning your basement renovation, make sure you consult local construction codes to determine the required floor-to-ceiling height," says Hoarders expert professional organizer John Patrick of TaskRabbit. "A basement with a short ceiling is best utilized for storage of things like seasonal decorations, paperwork archives and family relics," says Patrick.
  • Staircase. As your basement is reconfigured, you may find that the staircase, too, does not have adequate head room. If that's the case, you may have to replace or reorient it. (Pricey!)
  • Mechanical storage. "Leave space to accommodate mechanical equipment," says Dalton. We're talking about hot water heaters, furnaces and other boring, behind-the-scenes necessities. And make sure that space is easy-access so you and your repairmen can get to it when you need it.
  • Moisture. "It is crucial to ensure that you have a dry, mold-free environment," says Patrick. "Ask your home improvement professional for the best ways to seal up any moisture or leaks coming in from outside."

Make a plan. Think about the different areas you may want to include for your family (and guests). "Dream big and create a design vision board," says Patrick. On a poster board, display your favorite ideas from home design magazine along with paint chips in exciting colors. ("A bright, cheery color will add lots of personality to your basement," says Patrick.)

Family room. You'll want lots of cozy seating and storage for your family's favorite things. "Multi-functional furniture is the way to go," says Patrick. "Look for benches with storage, cubicles with baskets and tall bookshelves."

Image: Houzz.com

Entertaining. When guests visit or spend the night, they need a place to sleep as well as a full bathroom. A kitchenette (with a microwave drawer, under-counter refrigerator and sink with disposal) is a great addition for adult and adolescent guests alike.

Image: LincolnBarbour for MosaikDesign

Office. A basement office provides privacy you might not get anywhere else the house. Consider walling off one area away from the rest of the basement's functional areas. (Make sure your Wi-Fi reaches or you're otherwise connected.) 

 

Image: Houzz.com

Laundry room. Many families opt to keep this task in the basement and out of the main living areas. Make it an appealing space that will make the chore less dreadful.

Image: Houzz.com

Media room. Gamers and movie lovers will appreciate space with a large screen, comfortable seats and exciting surround sound.

 

Image: Houzz.com

Workout room. Putting a home gym in the basement is a great way to free-up the main living area (and it's a great way to "get away from it all").

 

Image: Houzz.com

Playroom. Finally! A place to put all of those toys!

Image: Houzz.com

Storage. Consider building in closets for seasonal decorations, winter coats, sports equipment and other stuff that's taking up too much space in the house. And make it easy-to-use so you'll be more likely to use it!

 

Image: Houzz.com

Make it your own. Work with professionals who take into account your family's needs, interests and personal style. "Create a livable, well-functioning space that tells a story about the people that live here," says Erin Davis of Mosaik Design in Portland, Oregon.

By "collecting the family's memorabilia, artwork, old photos and other sentimental items," Davis was able to create the space (below) that incorporates her client's love of sports and travel."

Image: LincolnBarbour for MosaikDesign

Image: LincolnBarbour for MosaikDesign

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