The Best-Kept Secret in Space Expansion

When you need more living space, by-pass the attic, forget the backyard and turn to the basement. That space that you are most likely using primarily for storage is prime remodeling territory. For many homeowners, it’s the best-kept secret in space expansion. Before you say “no way”, consider these facts:

Finishing the basement is a simple and cost-effective alternative to adding square footage to a house. In fact, the cost of finishing your basement, with all or most of the same features [the skylights are the only exception] you would get with an all-new ‘built-up’ or ‘built-out’ addition, is around 10-15%! The key is to stop thinking of the remodeling space as a ‘basement’ and reconsider it as an additional living space. That is exactly what you’ll get if you apply the following tips.

Since basements are surrounded by the earth that remains at a relatively constant temperature year-round, they’re naturally cooler in the summer than above-ground rooms. In the winter, the cold winds do not blow against the concrete and air infiltration is limited. Dense concrete foundations keep them quiet, too, which makes them perfect for the functions people most want to add to their homes: a playroom for the kids, a home office, an exercise area, a large custom shower, a sauna, a guest space or just a place to unwind and shoot some pool, throw darts, play ping pong. The dark end of a basement is the ideal place for a home theater. A kitchenette or a wet bar adds a nice touch, not to mention practicality and great entertaining.

Do you have teenagers? Not yet? Well, if you do, there’s another considerable benefit that could prove priceless. You can convert your basement to quality space where they can “hang out” with their friends, rather than “who knows where.” It’s a sensible way to keep control of what they’re doing and who they are with.

Since the work usually takes place in an out-of-the-way area many times with its own entrance, the contractor and his crew can spare the occupants much of the hassle that goes with remodeling other parts of the house.

To be sure, basements present challenges — small windows, low ceilings, structural columns. But with the right budget, all can be overcome or even transformed into assets. And unlike other existing spaces, basements’ flaws are obvious, so you won’t have to budget for unpleasant surprises.

Best of all, the structure is already there: four walls, a floor, and a ceiling, all paid for. What homeowner wouldn’t like to hear that the job is 30 percent finished before the contractor even picks up a hammer?


Before calling any contractor ask yourself: What do we want to do with space? How long are we going to be in the house? What is important to us? The answers to these questions are fundamental in planning the addition of the new space. Most likely you are only going to do this project once so it should be done to answer the above questions and meet your expectations. There may be times where putting the project off for an additional year maybe two is the best first step to save resources to finish the basement to meet the objectives. With that out of the way here are some additional tips.


Maximize window areas within the finished space for maximum daylight and fresh air. Also do not forget emergency egress. Most building codes require every room to have two ways to exit[NOTE: a window is considered a way to exit, but only if the bottom of that window is no higher than 36″ from the finished floor].

Keep the floor plan “open”; this will make the place brighter, and lower your overall project costs. Funnel in as much daylight as possible. The existing windows wells can be dug deeper or wider so that larger windows and or wells can be installed. This remains true even if cutting through solid, poured concrete foundation walls is necessary. There’s a company [‘Bilco’] that offers a product called ‘Scapewel’. It’s a large window well system made of structural rigid foam. Terraced steps scoop in natural light and provide an easy escape. The steps can be enhanced with potted plants. Or job built window wells can be constructed of concrete retaining wall stones terraced back from the existing window well location.


Don’t be stingy with artificial lighting; a basement should be lit more heavily than above-grade areas, especially if it will be used as a children’s playroom. Today most customers prefer recessed can light within the ceiling. Recessed can lights give a “warmer” light than fluorescent lighting. Proper planning is crucial in lighting. Lights should be broken down into logical zones and dimmers used to help control the light to meet individual applications. i.e.: During movie timeless light may be required than during coloring with the kids, which may vary from the holiday party.

A nice finishing touch is to replace the existing door on the main floor leading to the basement stairs with a divided light French door. Not only more light will reach the basement, but also since you can now see through the door, when walking to the upstairs, you just eliminated the risk of swinging open the door in someone’s face! One more benefit: when the kids forget to turn off the lights, which never, ever happens, you’ll know right away! Also, this is a great attraction to show your newly created living space off to visitors, as the door is certainly an eye-catcher.

Access to the outdoors is an underestimated asset. One larger option is the addition of a walk outdoors via excavating soil around the foundation and installing a retaining wall, steps, and walk outdoor. If this is an option we recommend a set of French patio doors to maximize the connection to the backyard. Picture this: If your new doors are facing south, you will love the winter, when the sun is at its lowest and therefore “soaks” your entire basement!


Ducts and plumbing may need to be relocated along walls or beams, where the headroom isn’t so critical. Leave ceilings high in the center of rooms. Along the walls where the ceiling is too low, we can install soffits or custom built-ins [cabinets or shelving]. It is also the perfect place to locate closets. Furthermore, design the rooms so that the posts or columns are concealed inside the walls; eliminating one or two is definitely possible, and in most cases desirable.

Use horizontal design elements to emphasize the width and length of the room rather than its lack of height. Set floor tiles in a diagonal pattern to make the room feel wider.

What used to be commonplace were drop ceilings. Now they are mostly a thing of the past along with dark “Shag” carpeting and dark paneling. Drywall ceilings are more common today and offer a more open feeling as well as a continuation of the main floors of the home into the basement. One of our objectives is to transform your basement into additional living space.

White painted base moldings, brighter neutral colors and ample lighting all combine to achieve a more open feeling as well as the feel of increased headroom.

Floor Coverings

Carpet is a great common floor covering in today’s homes. It should carry through to the basement as well. Carpet selection should suit the application and your design style. If the area were primarily to be used for smaller children, a Berber may be more durable than a pile carpet. We commonly use an upgraded 8# pad for increased cushion and insulation from the cool concrete below.

Also more and more popular today are the options for laminate or engineered wood flooring. These are a “manufactured” simulated wood grain look floor suitable for basement installations. Several common names include Wilsonart, Pergo, and Bruce. Each offers its own features and benefits. The better products offer vapor barriers and padding to help cushion traffic and help insulate from the cool concrete below. Again, we recommend the best padding for your floor as recommended by its manufacturer.

The mainstay in basement flooring and durability is tile, including ceramic, porcelain, and natural stones. Each material offers unique color variations and costs. The durability of the tile is the main benefit. In today’s finished basement spaces tile is primarily used for bathroom areas, bar areas, and kids craft areas. Even within tiled areas, small area rugs can be used to accent the tiles as well as offer some insulation from the cool concrete below. In certain cases, special installation or underlayment procedures may be required to prevent cracking of the installed tiles.

Climate Control

Include ample supply air and return air intakes for the furnace. The choice to heat and cool from the ceiling versus the floor is a personal preference as well as limited by construction constraints.

As a rule of thumb, we recommend and install both supply and return vents low on the wall where possible. This puts the heat at the coolest spot along the floor.

The important factor is that each air supply is tied into the main duct. Where possible, underfloor radiant heating within the basement floor is the best source of heat for the basement area.

Another great source of heat and ambiance is a fireplace. Today, technologies exist for direct vent and ventless fireplaces. Fireplaces are a great source of supplementary heating and a centerpiece for basements. Don’t let the added cost defer the addition of a fireplace. Fireplaces are another “Oh wow!” that will make your finished basement the envy of the neighborhood and can be finished with a brick, tile or wood surround to accent other features of the basement area.

Finally, a great option for supplemental heat is electric baseboard heat. Two units with a single wall controller can efficiently add “Heat on demand” within the finished space. Baseboard heat is cost-effective to both install and operate.

Dehumidification is an often-overlooked element of finished basements. With the addition of your new space and surrounded by porous concrete, proper dehumidification will keep your space dry and comfortable for years to come. With the damp humid summer months, the operation of a freestanding dehumidifier will keep the space free of excess moisture and help prevent mold concerns.


An extra full bathroom used to be an option; now it is considered a must. In fact, many of our clients opt for a custom shower with some of the following options: the built-in seat, steam, walk-in, and multiple heads. Saunas are also increasing in popularity. Our bathrooms tend to compliment the other baths within the house or often become a showpiece with stone or tile shower surrounds. As with all spaces consider the usages. If you have a guest room or exercise room, an ¾ bath or addition of a shower is a must. If you have a family room and game room, only then perhaps an ½ bath will meet the requirements of your newly finished space.

Water Control

Water control is a topic that we frequently discuss with our customers. The best control is simple prevention. Keep the outside water outside!! Proper grading is number one. All grading around the perimeter of the house should direct water away from the house. Grading should be below the foundation level and window wells. Downspouts should be properly extended away from the house. A minimum of five feet is recommended. Keep the window well drains clean and free of debris. If there is any question as to the proper operation, test with a garden hose.

Sump pump operation is critical to today’s water control. The sump pump should be tied into the window well drains as well as the foundation perimeter drain to remove groundwater before it enters the basement. Back up systems are a good addition to the finished space. The proper redundant installation will alleviate the most shortfalls of the primary system.

If any foundation cracks exist, sealing should be completed prior to closing the walls up. We offer complete epoxy injection crack repair. If you have had any leakage or questions about possible leaks it is best to address the cracks before concealing them behind the walls of your newly finished basement.