Basements have come a long way since the days of chilly, damp rec rooms with low ceilings, dark paneling and cast-off furniture.
Today's basements may have plush home theaters, weight rooms and saunas, climate-controlled wine cellars, lap pools and dance floors, along with bedrooms, baths and kitchenettes.
Finishing an unused lower level is a way to gain living space at a lower cost without adding to the footprint of the home. Even so, the nationwide average price tag for a basement remodeling/finishing project is around $43,000. The actual cost depends on the homeowner's vision for the space and can easily top six figures, points out Karl Holtermann, project manager at Bartelt-Filo Design Build, based in the Milwaukee metro area.
Design and construction pros agree that with sound planning, creative thinking and today's newest building materials, it is possible to create a basement that is warm and comfortable, light and just as appealing as the main floor of the house.
Whether you are building a new home with a finished lower level or finishing the basement in your present house, here are some basic considerations to keep in mind:
Address dampness as the first step in a basement project so that flooding, mold or musty smells won't ruin your investment. Get a qualified professional to identify the source of any water problems, including seasonal seepage, and prescribe a fix. Install one or more sump pumps, with one powered by a battery or generator in case of a power failure. Use a dehumidifier and install proper ventilation for adequate air exchange.
Consider a basement living system to help cut down on moisture, mold and mildew in your basement.
Jim Gibbons, president of Basement Living Systems by Champion, points out that mold and mildew feed off cellulose the very things that wood and drywall are made of. His company s wall panels are constructed of three inches of insulation with a polyolephin covering.
He points out that, while homeowners may spend a bit more for the turnkey approach - everything from the walls to the ceiling to the lighting and electrical are finished in less than two weeks it is much less than the national average, and can increase the value of the home and provide more living space.
Of course, he says, everything is to code. Actually, we exceed code on electrical and lighting.
When planning your basement remodel, try to cluster your utilities and mechanical systems, such as the furnace and hot water heater, in one place, away from the living areas, to reduce noise and maximize the amount of finished space. Make sure all your contractors know of your plans for finishing the basement. Wiring, plumbing, heating and cooling systems should be installed so that they are easily accessible and have minimal impact on living space and headroom.
Get your living space off the cold concrete. Rick Angelico, a partner in Hampton RMR, a residential construction firm in Easthampton, N.Y., suggests installing a subfloor. The subfloor is set directly on top of the concrete to form a floating floor over which carpet, vinyl, laminate or engineered hardwood may be installed.
Let in the light. If you are building a new home or planning an extensive remodel, specify generously-sized windows in walk-out or daylight basements. If you have an existing basement with a few tiny transom windows and a tight budget, you'll need to be more creative to achieve a light and inviting room. Consider using strategically placed spotlights to add drama.
Charles Riley, a New York interior designer who tackles basement projects with creativity and flair, suggests framing a large panel of frosted glass or other quality translucent material to create a shoji screen effect. Install the panel with a light behind it, in or against a basement wall and below a transom window, to give the illusion of a full-length window through which filtered sunlight shines.
Don't skimp on quality. Create whatever style you desire, but be sure to finish the lower level with the same quality as the main floors of the home, Holtermann advises. That means using drywall rather than paneling, and quality detailing and workmanship.
"You are making an investment in your home and your quality of life," he says. "If a remodeled basement is a great source of enjoyment for your family, then the payback is measured in far more than monetary value."