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How to Create the Perfect Room in the Basement

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What to Inspect (and Fix) Before You Start

Minor leaks may not need the attention of a pro. “Often a few simple fixes will solve a moisture problem,” says This Old House general contractor Tom Silva. His tips:

Install diverters to send gutter water at least 10 feet from the foundation, and be sure to slope soil away from the foundation.

Any significant signs of moisture- damp walls, mold growth, groundwater seepage, etc. must be eliminated before any construction can begin.  Contact a company experienced in basement water control and basement finishing for a well-rounded plan to build out the space. It’s best to have both a battery backup for your main pump, in case of a power outage, and a second pump, in case the first one gives out. If your house is hooked up to a municipal water supply, invest in a water-powered backup pump that’s juiced by pressure in the supply line.

A structural inspection from a company experienced in both structural repairs and basement finishing, should inspect any cracks that are wider than a pencil.

Secrets to Success for Building Basement Walls

Fix moisture problems first, then follow our pro tips on methods and materials. Basement environments are unique in that moisture is a constant problem.  Even if there are no significant signs of moisture, the basement air can be high in relative humidity as a result of a constant flow of moisture moving inward from the exterior, through the porous concrete walls, and on into the basement space.  Also, warm summer air migrating into the basement environment can create condensation problems.  Other types of water problems can included groundwater seepage, plumbing leaks, sump pump backups, storm drain backups and more.

Choose a building product that can stand up to water.  Many types of basement wall building materials may say that they are “mold-resistant”, but the warranties tell a different story!  Some reputable basement waterproofing companies have also developed real water-resistant building products that can literally sit in water without any worry of being destroyed or worse, growing mold.  Some come with long term warranties that basically means you will never have to worry about moisture problems.

The Best Flooring to Use

Just like the walls, the flooring must be able to hold up to potential moisture problems.  One water tank leak, and a normal wood flooring or carpet installation would become a mess.  A high-tech printing process gives scratch-resistant floating vinyl planks a wood-like appearance that’s so realistic you might do a double take. And the long term warranty will give you peace of mind.

The Layout

Basement space is no different from the space upstairs.  The latest trend is open, open, open!  If feel you need a partition wall, put them in sparingly.  Too many below-grade rooms makes the space feel darker and smaller. The cost of additional walls can ruin your budget as well.  Half walls (stairways), and movable screens can be used to separate various activities in open rooms, such as a work-out area from the TV area.

Also, do not give up all of your storage area.  Basements are valuable for their storage!  Finishing too much space can take away from the return on your investment.  Think about the space requirements in terms of the space you have upstairs.  What size rooms will you need to be able to use the space in the basement?  Use that square footage as your starting point.

If you feel you need to Add a Bath…

A few simple guidelines will make it functional and eye-catching.

First is there sufficient plumbing and sewer access?  If not, sewer lines will have to be installed into the concrete floor which is time-consuming, a mess, and very expensive. A full, below-grade bath needs a sewage ejector system with a tank and pump. For a half bath, consider a macerating toilet, whose compact tank can handle the sink and john. Install the sink, tub, and toilet on the same wall to simplify plumbing.

Use bright light-reflecting finishes like white cabinets and chrome hardware.  Install an exhaust fan if adding a shower to eliminate moisture build-up and mold growth.

Don’t Skimp on Lighting

A dim basement is a real turnoff, so you’ll need more fixtures than you’ve got elsewhere. Recessed cans broadcast light in a cone shape that’s wider at the base; if you’re using them, space them closer together to avoid dark spots. A good rule of thumb: Divide the ceiling height by 2 to get the maximum distance between cans.

Four Handy Things to Have Around When It’s Done

1. A rechargeable portable light, stored in an easy-to-find spot, in case of a power outage.

2. A cell-phone signal booster so that you can take and make calls below grade.

3. A wireless-network extender so that you can tote your laptop downstairs.

4. A wet/dry hand vacuum in case of small spills or washing-machine snafus.

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