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Planning to Finish Your Basement? What to Consider

Don't begin a basement remodel without thinking through these steps

By Jan Soults Walker

Sweep away the creepy crawlies and imagine your down-under digs as a cozy retreat. It's time to size up your basement! Is it fit to finish as the extra living space you've always wanted? Use these renovation considerations and finished basement ideas to decide.

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Cozy Contemporary Living & Family Room by Aline Matsika - HomePortfolio
Aline Matsika
While basements can offer oodles of storage for holiday decor, outdated duds, and decades of family photos—all in boxes waiting to be sorted—they can also be so much more. What if you finished your basement to become a family room or a guest bedroom and bath? Could this be the spot for your media room or an imaginative play space just for the kids? Perhaps a hobby and gaming center or a luxurious home office? Maybe your dream is a climate-controlled wine cellar or a fully equipped exercise studio.

You get the idea: Think of your basement as sunken treasure just waiting to be found and shined up a little. Before you undertake the task of grooming your basement to create rooms as inviting as any upper level living space, check off these considerations.

Resolve Moisture Problems

If your basement is wet, determine the source. Is it something as simple as cleaning out the gutters? Maybe the soil around the base of your home needs to be regraded to slope away from the house. For more complicated wet basement issues, seek the advance of a waterproofing pro.

Once your basement is dry, rid walls and other surfaces of mold. Make sure moisture problems are resolved before installing finish materials.

Inspect the Foundation

If basement walls are bowed or cracked, call in a qualified contractor to make the necessary repairs and create a sound shell for finishing.

Get Rid of Radon

Test for unsafe levels of radon, an odorless gas that's carcinogenic, using a radon-testing kit available at home improvement centers or online. If you discover a problem, contact a radon mitigation professional for ways to eliminate or reduce exposure.

Check for Asbestos

If your home was built prior to 1980, you should also check your basement for asbestos, such as in old ceiling tiles or insulation around the furnace or boiler, ducts, or pipes. If you suspect asbestos—and especially if it seems to be deteriorating, which means the fibers are being released into the air—contact your health department or the EPA for a list of professionals in your area certified in safe asbestos abatement.
Basement Media Room - HomePorfolio
Michael Abrams

Size Up Windows

Windows brighten your basement with natural light and make it feel more open. If you have a walk-out basement, you already enjoy easy access to the outdoors and opportunities to bring in additional views and daylight.

Aside from the aesthetic value of windows, most building codes require that your finished basement, especially bedrooms, have a means of escape to the outside in case of fire. This is known as an "egress," which can be a door or window to the outside. The minimum opening size of an egress window must equal at least 5.7 square feet. The height can be no less than 24 inches (which means the width must be at least 34.2 inches) and the width can be no less than 20 inches (calling for a height of at least 41.04 inches).  The sill must be lower than 44 inches above the floor for easy access. If there's a window well, it should offer at least 9 square feet of floor area (36 x 36 inches minimum). A ladder or steps must be provided in a window well deeper than 44 inches.

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Think About Access

You likely already have stairs to the basement. As you plan rooms, make sure stairs descend into a public space rather than directly into a bedroom or bath.


Before putting up finish materials, insulate the exterior and interior walls as well as the ceiling to minimize the transfer of sound from room to room. (Read Design Problem, Solved: How to Quiet Loud Rooms.)

Insulation on outside walls also conserves energy, keeping the basement warm in winter and cool in summer.

Correct Dim Lighting

Follow the basics of good lighting for living spaces, incorporating a combination of ambient, task, and accent lighting to make the basement warm and inviting.

More lighting ideas: 

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