FINISHING A BASEMENT REC ROOM: Avoid these 5 Deadly Mistakes

Are you thinking of finishing your basement? That’s a great home improvement goal, but you need to be more careful than most people if you expect good results. Even professional contractors often get basement finishing details wrong. It happens all the time and homeowners pay dearly for the error. I know because I hear many stories from distressed people who paid a lot to have their basement finished, only to find they’ve actually paid a ton of cash for a ton of trouble that can’t easily get fixed. It’s easy to spend $10,000 and more finishing your basement, so the stakes are pretty high.

What kind of trouble do you typically find in finished basements?  Moldy air, cold feet, moisture issues, and a dank atmosphere are all top of the list. It’s surprising how many people (even contractors) don’t fully understand how finishing a basement must be much different than finishing above-ground spaces.  Avoid the 5 deadly mistakes of basement finishing, and learn about better alternatives coming up below.

Basement Mistake#1: Too Much Moisture

basement rec room moldy wall
You’d be surprised how many people ignore the warning signs of water leakage in a basement they plan to finish. Reliably dry, 100% of the time is what you need.

Even a little moisture can trigger big issues in a finished basement. The problem is, both homeowners and contractors can be over-eager to get busy with finishing work. This impatience often leads to a failure to observe a basement long enough to know that it does leak sometimes.

Always begin with a question: Is my basement reliably and completely dry all year round? No wishful thinking here, either. Just the facts, and be sure to give yourself time to gather them properly. More time is better. Every hole in the ground is dry during an August drought. The real test comes during a wet fall or rapid spring thaw.

The Better Way: Instead of hoping your basement really is as dry as it seems, observe your basement for at least a few years through all seasons to ensure there’s no leakage of liquid water through walls or floors. Liquid water isn’t the only moisture issue, either. Assess airborne moisture vapour migration into the basement with sheets of plastic taped over concrete. If water is moving in as a vapour (quite common), the plastic will let it show up as condensation.


Basement Mistake#2: Mold-Prone Outside Walls

basement rec room moldy wood
This moldy basement wall was uncovered in the basement of a home that was less than 5 years old. This is not uncommon, but should be very rare.

Most basement these days are finished with stud frame exterior walls and fiberglass or rockwool batts. This might be fine above ground when built properly, but fiber-insulated stud frame walls often encouragehidden mold growth and poor indoor air quality throughout the house. When you smell a musty basement, that’s a sign indoor air quality is being compromised. Even an unfinished basement that’s proven itself dry over time can still get wet in unexpected ways in the future. That’s why you should choose an exterior wall option that can resist moisture and mold to as great an extent as possible.

The Better Way: Foam-based exterior basement wall insulation is more effective than fiber-based batts, and it’s not nearly as mold-prone in the event some moisture does come through someday. The very best basement wall systems combine foam with an air space behind.


Basement Mistake#3: Inadequate Subfloors

basement rec room carpet on concrete
This is the kind of thing that should never happen. Carpet and underlay applied directly to a concrete basement floor can sometimes work out fine, though in most cases it becomes a mold breeding ground.

If you install carpet and underlay directly on a concrete basement floor, two bad things happen. First, you’ve got a perfect breeding ground for mold and mildew in the event moisture levels do rise within the carpet. And second, moisture will almost certainly develop within carpet pile during summer if there’s no subfloor vapour-impermeable subfloor in place.

The Better Way: Always install a subfloor system that puts no organic matter into contact with the floor. Wood must never touch the floor of a finished basement. Subfloors with dimpled plastic undersides are one option that does a lot to help feet feel warmer during winter, and to prevent internal condensation from developing during humid months.


Basement Mistake#4: Inadequate Ventilation

basement rec room wet windows
Wet windows like these are one strong indication of inadequate basement ventilation. Mechanical ventilation of various kinds is essential in a properly finished basement.

It’s easy to forget that most basements don’t have a whole lot of openable window area. By the time you realize how stuffy your basement feels, it’s way past time to add things like quiet high-quality fans, a range hood or a full-blown heat recovery ventilator. With inadequate ventilation usually comes a lack of light.

The Better Way: Take the time to enlarge basement windows early in the finishing process, and consider adding an outside entrance to the basement with a door that has an openable window.


Basement Mistake#5: Ineffective Sound Resistance

basement rec room ceiling insulation
One of many technical drawings in my course on finishing a basement the right way. This arrangement of double drywall, and resilient channel makes for very effective sound blockage.

In the rush to get a basement rec room project finished, soundproofing is often forgotten. That’s because it slows down progress at just the time when most people are too eager to want “lots happening”. The thing about sound resistance is that the better it is, the larger your home feels. It’s very difficult to boost sound insulation features after the fact, but very easy to do it during construction.

The Better Way: Take the time to install simple but effective features to boost sound resistance between walls and the ceiling that separates you from the living space above. It’s easy and inexpensive to install resilient channel, double-drywall, acoustic batt insulation and other products during construction. Don’t let impatience get the better of you.


How to Finish a Basement Video Course & Project Coaching – BRAND NEW!

basement rec room course cover

This is a brand new course of mine and I’m offering a big discount for the next week to kick it off. If you’re planning to finish (or refinish) your basement, then this course will help you do things right. It’s useful whether you plan to do the work yourself or hire a contractor.

HOW TO FINISH A BASEMENT is the most complete course of its kind in the world and includes one-on-one coaching from me by email.

What You Get:

  • full access to the online version of the course – no time limits
  • download a PDF version of the course – 6 big sections in all
  • one-on-one online basement finishing coaching from me

Some of the things covered in the course include:

* why finishing a basement is a unique challenge that’s often done poorly

* understand how to avoid typical finished basement problems

* realize the four different sources of moisture that can ruin your finished basement & how to stop this moisture

* understand why fiberglass batts are a very poor (yet common) choice for insulating basement walls

* discover best practice methods for finishing basement walls, floors, partitions

* learn how to build a basement root cellar for storing fruits & vegetables

* understand optimal basement waterproofing, power, lighting, drainage and layout.

* get real-world tips for building a basement kitchen, bathroom & rental suite

* one-on-one coaching from me to help answer specific questions and review unique challenges with your particular basement project

When it comes to creating a warm, dry, inviting space downstairs in your basement, the possibilities are wide and inviting. The trick is getting the details right so you avoid mold, bad indoor air and a cold and uninviting place.

This is a premium course that’s guaranteed to deliver much more value than the cost. Click here to examine the course for 90 days risk-free.

Learn More Every Saturday!

FREE weekly tips and advice to make your home work better, whether it’s a rural homestead or a place in the city.

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Just want to say how much I enjoy your Saturday morning newsletters and website. The content is always excellent... - FL

Thanks so much for the terrific work you do, and the outstanding resource you provide. - KS

Your videos are outstanding! Very instructive, and animations and your speech really helps to get the messages! - DB

Baileylineroad is supported in part by advertising. If you can't see the ads below, please consider turning off your ad blocker when visiting our site, or subscribing to our newsletter. Thanks for visiting!