Turn your forgotten basement into a lively family room for over-the-top movie nights, pool tournaments and more!
Adding a room or two or five can be a good investment, particularly if you live in a hot housing market. Basements were often been a place for kids to play on cold or rainy days, parents to set up a work shop, do laundry, or in fancier versions construct a man cave.
Then, for years basements were ignored—considered too dark and musty, and unlikely to provide a smart return on investment.
As housing sales stalled in more recent years and many homeowners stayed put rather than moved, they recognized that their lower levels could become potential living space, if improved, and for less than adding on to their first floor. You already own the space, pay taxes, have a roof, walls, ceiling, foundation, and sewer hookups in place – then all you need to do is to finish your basement.
The last annual “Cost vs. Value” Report from Remodeling magazine put the average basement remodel at $61,303 with a 70.3 percent payback, which made it among the smartest home improvement projects along with an attic bedroom, minor kitchen redo, deck, and new entry door.
Know that the appraised value of underground space is half what lies above—about $250 a square foot versus $500 in many cases, says Neil Salvage of Lending Tree Home Pros. His advice: Don’t spend more than 10 percent of your home’s value on refinishing your basement; better yet, stay between 5 and 10 percent.
You can add a casual family room, home office, movie room, play room, or extra bedroom. Walk-out basements also increase enjoyment if your property has the right topography. Especially if you have teenagers or a family member moves into your house; however, small children may not want to use a downstairs play room unless a parent will keep them company.
If your lower level shows signs of water or moisture—foundation cracks, for instance, resolve problems first with French drains, a sump pump, back-up generator, or you may end up replacing furnishings. Be sure to have dehumidification and proper heating and cooling systems in place, too, for greater enjoyment, says Dickinson.
Know local ordinances regarding required number and size of egresses, and all the applicable building codes.
High ceilings would make your basement more appealing and will help with the value of your house. Make sure to leave enough headroom if you will be adding lighting, ducts, or a new ceiling; you don’t want the height to be less than 7’6″ but preferably 8′ high if you can.
Don’t seal off the existing mechanical systems, circuit breakers, and future plumbing lines; professionals need access for maintenance and repairs. Soundproofing mechanical systems is a smart affordable fix.
Make a good use of your available space, do not chop up space; better to keep it more open.
Consider non-wool carpet tiles that are easy to replace and warmer than vinyl, which tends to trap moisture and humidity or you can do glue down carpet. On walls and ceilings, use drywall or sheetrock for the same reason.
It is not necessary to furnish your basement in a style and quality consistent with your upstairs; however, it is a good idea if you can afford to keep the styles consistent. Using the same quality may improve the resale.
Be generous with artificial light, especially if windows are minimal. Few homeowners will spend time in a dark space, except for a theater.
Consider improving the staircase so it resembles a more traditional open one rather than remain narrow and confined. Paint treads and risers white and use a runner from a carpet remnant down the middle to enhance appeal. Try to be creative and add features that would be appealing and would add future value to your house.
Know that even if you do not need a finished basement, a partly finished room can add value affordably for clothing or wine storage or a place to play ping pong.
When a basement presents problems and before you add on, check out your attic if you have one. It can provide expansion room depending on the roofline.