Finishing your basement

A Guide to Finishing Your Basement

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Tips for finishing a basement

With the housing market so competitive, many people are looking at ways to add value to their house and one of the most popular and effective ways of doing this is by finishing your basement. It makes sense because a finished basement can increase the value of your house and either generate income as a separate rental unit or give you that extra space you always wanted for a gym, hobby room, home cinema, or whatever it is you always dreamed of.

But how do you go about your basement renovations? How do you know what to do with the space under your house? Where do you begin and where does it end? Read on and all will be revealed as we give our top tips for how to finish a basement.

Make a plan

It sounds silly but you’d be amazed at how many times that basements are finished in an ad hoc way or changed as they progress. It will be quicker and cheaper if you think about what you want to do, make a plan for it, then execute that plan.

I’ve seen basements that went from having an entrance at the front to one at the back, where the bathroom was installed and relocated multiple times, and where the owners didn’t really know what they were doing until they finished. They may have been happy (or not) with the end results but all this cost money and time (which cost more money). Make a clear plan and stick to it. This plan may include hiring a space planner or architect, but the extra cost is worthwhile if it helps create the most efficient and user-friendly space possible.

Build it as separate unit if possible

A finished basement will add more value to your house if it can be used to generate rental income because it can help offset your mortgage payments -particularly in a housing market where prices are high. That means it needs to have a separate entrance, a kitchen, a washroom, access to laundry facilities, and some sort of separation from the main floors of the house. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t use it as an extension of your house without renting it out – it just gives prospective buyers more opportunities.

Remember that for basement apartments to be legal, they must be checked by the fire marshal and undergo inspection by city inspectors.  It may add some cost to the construction, but it will ensure a safe and comfortable environment for your tenant – and for you – as the work includes proper ventilation for smells and added insulation for sound.  A legal, conforming basement rental unit is also far more valuable than one where a seller cannot warrant its legal status.

Find a reputable contractor

Before hiring someone to finish your basement, do some research into the contractor. Look at reviews of their work, ask for referrals, see if they can show you examples of other basement renovations they have completed. If you know people who have recently had their basements finished, ask for any recommendations and take a look at the work that was done.

If you are finishing a basement yourself you can avoid this step, but make sure that you know all the steps you need to take such as installing insulation, attaching framing, ensuring ventilation systems are adequate, and more.


This works both ways. If you have a TV room or a tenant in your finished basement, you don’t want to hear them upstairs. Likewise, the people in the basement won’t want to be distracted by your noise. This is easily solved by installing adequate soundproofing in high-traffic areas or where there is likely to be more noise.


Make sure your basement is dry and sealed before beginning

Some basements have flooding or dampness problems and these can then lead to other issues such as mold and rotting frames. If your basement has flooded in the past, make sure that it has been properly cleared and that you’ve spent the time and money needed to ensure proper waterproofing of your foundation. Even if you haven’t had flooding issues, moisture can be an issue in basements and future flooding can occur, so it is important to either make sure your basement is floodproof yourself or check with the contractor to see if they will cover that during the basement renovations.  You can also make design choices that are more moisture resistant, such as using ceramic tiles for flooring instead of carpet, as a “just in case” measure.

Consider natural light

Understandably, there are limitations to the amount of natural light that will enter a finished basement. Therefore, you need to think carefully about the location of rooms. If there will be a living room then you will want this to be the area with the most light. Similarly, a basement bedroom will require a window to conform to local building and fire codes.

Think about your next steps

Your basement generally contains pipes, wiring, air conditioning systems and more. After finishing, this will be safely tucked away behind whatever walls, floors or ceilings have been added, so you will need to think about how much access you will need to them if you are planning further changes in your house. One option is to install removable panels for easy access to pipes. Another is to lay the groundwork now for future refurbishments. Either way, it’s important to keep in mind what you might do next.

Pay attention to the height of your basement

Many basements have low ceilings, particularly in older homes which may only have clearance heights of 7 feet or less, and this needs to be kept in mind during your design phase. Firstly, there may be minimum heights required by local codes and these need to be kept in consideration. Secondly, you need to think about it from a usability perspective because you don’t want to feel cramped. One of the most popular ceiling options when finishing a basement is to use recessed lighting, such as pot lights, which helps give the effect of more space by removing dangling lights.  Wall sconces are another popular option that has become trendy in recent times.

A more expensive option is known as underpinning.  This is the process of excavating the floor of the basement to create additional height.  This may require a specialist and most certainly a structural engineer, so you should consult with your contractor to ensure they are qualified to do that kind of work.

One comment

  1. I like that you talked about how important it is to consider the location of the rooms that you’re considering to have in your basement. My husband is looking to have a living room in our basement. He wants to make sure that there will be enough light that can enter the basement for our basement. It will make sense for him to carefully think of a plan for the location of the living room in our basement. I will make sure to share your blog with him.

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