Step-by-Step Guide to Finishing Your Basement

Step-by-Step Guide to Finishing Your Basement

You’re ready to make your basement a more useable space, but you really have no idea how to get started. Should you take on the project yourself or hire some help? The answer really lies within you and your personal skill level and the time you have to complete the project, but you will likely need to hire an expert for parts of the job.

A good way to decide which parts you can do yourself is researching all of the steps involved in the process. This guide walks you through finishing your basement from beginning to end.

Step 1: Get Those Creative Juices Flowing

In order to do the work to finish your basement, you need to know how you want it to look when the project is completed. You can focus on the details and include wall color, flooring and furnishings to create a completed space, or you can just plan how you will use the space.

Where do you need to add walls? What purpose will each area serve? These components are critical in this planning phase because you need to know what materials you need and where everything will go. Write this plan down on paper or draft it through a computer program, depending on what resources you have available. Either works!

Some people look through magazines or online resources to find basement design ideas so they can think more about what they want their space to look like. This is a good step to take because you may realize you want something in your basement that you wouldn’t have thought of before looking at the pictures. If you have an outside entrance, a mudroom could work perfectly.

Step 2: Obtain Necessary Building Permits

Obtaining a permit isn’t really difficult in most cases and it isn’t always required depending on the project — but the requirements vary based on your location, so do your research. At the minimum, you need to have the plan for your basement ready when you fill out an application. Once the permits are approved, you pay for them and you’re on your way.

One major benefit of getting a building permit is that you can contact an inspector during the construction process and ask any questions you may have. Additionally, if you should ever sell your home, you want to provide the permit showing that everything is safe and up to code. If you don’t have that, you might as well not have a finished basement.

Model of cardboard house with key and dollar bills. House building, loan, real estate, cost of housing or buying a new home concept.

Step 3: Do the Necessary Prep Work

Since basements are underground, there are moisture and water issues that you want to prepare for. To be safe, you may need to waterproof the space so you don’t have any issues in the future. Some decide to take on this step alone while others hire an expert.

This next part is very important, but often overlooked. You need to be certain the space is ready to be a living space before you start construction. That means making sure that you don’t have any mold or other toxins that can harm your family. You can inspect your basement for signs of mold and if you find any, purchase a home test kit and send off the samples to determine what kind of mold you have. Knowing the mold that you are dealing with is essential to proper removal.

Another important health concern in basements is radon. Radon is odorless and invisible and can be found in any home, no matter the location or the age. The best thing that you can do is test your basement for radon and find out if you have a problem. If you do, you want to have a professional fix your radon issue so that your family isn’t exposed to the harmful gas.

Step 4: Frame the Walls 

When it comes to framing your walls, build them and put them into place — or you can build them in place. The easiest method for doing it yourself is to go ahead and build the wall in place. With this method, you don’t have to worry about making sure you have enough clearance to bring the framing in, and you won’t have to add shims to put the wall at the appropriate height.

Do your measurements twice and order your supplies, but only order as much lumber as you are going to use in that day or that weekend. Otherwise, the lumber could warp as it sits and make the job much more challenging.

This is the first real step of the construction phase, so it can be intimidating, but don’t let it be. Measure out your wall and your placement and start building.

When you break the process of framing a wall down, it goes something like this: install the bottom plate (a 2’ x 4’ board), install the top plate (another 2’ x 4’ board) and then mark where your wall studs will be on your plates. Once you have the studs marked, install them. Then install boards in between the studs — your blocking. Repeat the same process everywhere you need a wall in the basement.

Step 5: Install the Plumbing

Plumbing is one of the tougher jobs, but it’s possible to do on your own. If you don’t feel ready to take it on, just hire a professional and focus on other aspects of your basement.

If you decide to do-it-yourself, the first step is the rough-in plumbing. You may already have pipes in place. If you designed your layout around those pipes, your job is a little easier. If you don’t have pipes or they aren’t in the right location for your basement plumbing needs, you need to install rough-in plumbing below the floor. This requires breaking up your concrete with a jackhammer and installing the piping below the floor.

Once you have proper rough-in plumbing pipes in place, you can run the rest of your plumbing for your toilet, shower, sinks and laundry if applicable. When the piping is all ready, work on installing your fixtures and doing any necessary tile work for the bath or shower.

Of course, if you don’t want plumbing in your basement, finishing your basement just got a lot easier!

Step 6: Hire an Electrician and HVAC (if necessary)

This is a step that you could also do by yourself, but since wiring can be very dangerous if done wrong, your best bet is to hire a professional to take care of your wiring needs. Ideally, you will have a basement subpanel installed in your basement to handle of the power down there. An electrician can take care of this job as well as wire your entire basement safely and efficiently.

The electrician should install all of your switches, outlets and lighting so that you don’t have to worry about any of that. Once he is finished, you are a step closer to enjoying your basement.

If you don’t have air conditioning and heat in your basement, you can also opt to hire a HVAC pro to put it in. Many homeowners choose not to add it since a basement usually keeps cool during the summer and an electric fireplace can be used to warm it up in the winter when you want to use it.

Step 7: Finish the Walls

Once you have all of the plumbing and electrical taking care of, you’re ready to turn those wall frames into actual walls. If you decide to hang your own drywall, know that it is time consuming and has to be accurate, but you can do it with proper knowledge and patience.

Drywall may sound easy, but it can get difficult to get it all just right. After the drywall is installed on your studs, you need to tape and mud it. Next, you need to finish it with joint compound and sand it so that your drywall is very smooth and can take on a finish such as paint or wallpaper.

Step 8: Put Up the Ceiling

If the ceiling in your basement isn’t finished yet you’ll need to decide whether to add a drywall ceiling or a suspended ceiling (also called drop ceiling). While drywall looks nicer, dropped ceilings allow you to access any plumbing or wires that may be in the basement ceiling.

Many homeowners also find it easier to install suspended ceiling tiles vs drywall on their ceiling. For supplies, they are just about the same cost.

Step 9: Complete the Finishing Touches

Now you have all of your walls finished, your wiring done and your plumbing fixtures installed, you need to complete the finishing touches to make your basement look nice. This includes any woodwork such as hanging the doors and any trim work.

A major part of the finishing touches is the flooring. If you want to keep the concrete, have it stained or painted. Other options include carpeting, hardwood, tile or vinyl flooring to give the basement the feel and look you desire.

Once you have the floor taken care of, it’s time to think about the walls. You can finish with paint (or wallpaper or panels but those usually don’t look good) depending on your preference. After everything is dry and had the proper time to set, you can bring in your furniture and start decorating your space. Have fun with it and enjoy all of your hard work. This is a space that you and your family will enjoy for years to come.

Now that you know the steps in finishing a basement, it’s time for you to get started on your project. Roll-up your sleeves and get to work, but don’t be afraid to call in an expert when needed.

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