Basement Assessment Question#3: Is your Electrical System Up to the Job?

Is your Electrical System Up to the Job?

Every finished basement requires at least basic electrical outlets and lights. If your plans include a workshop space, you’ll need even more power. Same goes for a kitchen. Find the electrical panel that services your home (almost always in the basement) and see if it has the physical space to handle the extra circuit breakers a finished basement will require. You could easily need 6 or 8 new circuit spaces on your electrical panel – perhaps more. Does your existing electrical panel have modern circuit breakers? Are there at least half a dozen empty spaces to accommodate additional basement circuits?

If YES to all these question, then you’re ready to move on to the next lesson. Your existing electrical system almost certainly has the capacity for a finished basement.

If NO, then call an electrician. It may be possible to add a second panel to an electrical system that’s otherwise modern but doesn’t have room for additional circuits. That’s a relatively easy job for a pro. On the other hand, if you have outdated wiring or you’ve maxed out on the amperage that your current service can deliver, then you might need an entirely new electrical panel and feed cables. That’s almost always a job for a pro and it won’t be cheap.

Click on the video coming up next for a detailed tutorial on how electrical panels work, how they’re sized and to understand the circumstances where you might need a new panel.

VIDEO TUTORIAL: Understanding Your Household Electrical Panel

Is your basement currently finished, but you’d like to refinish it better? Now is a good time to consider your overall situation. In one sense, assessing an already-finished basement is a simpler task than assessing an unfinished basement and electrical system because there’s so much less to see – at least at first, until you strip back to bare walls.  In another sense stripping back an existing finished basement has some risks. The work might reveal structural or wiring issues that you didn’t expect. So, what should you do? If you’re on the fence about whether or not to take everything back to bare walls and jump into a major basement finishing job, one way to help decide is by assessing indoor air quality. An existing basement that’s adversely affecting  the quality of air is definitely something that needs to be dealt with.

Assessing Basement Air Quality

This airborne mold test kit is one of several that allow accurate home assessment of basement air quality

If your existing finished basement smells musty at any time of year, then do some indoor air quality testing.  Spending time in your basement as you have been lately, you’re in a good position to assess air quality, too. How musty is musty enough to warrant stripping back your existing finished basement and making a fresh start?

Airborne mold test kits are available for homeowner use or you can call in an airborne mold testing professional. If you test with a kit on your own, choose one that actually circulates air with a fan and collects airborne samples. Run a household fan in the basement for a while to stir up the air, then set up your sampling device 3 or 4 feet off the ground. If testing reveals dangerous levels of airborne mold, then stripping back to bare walls while taking health precautions is a great idea. You’d want to do this even if you don’t end up refinishing the space. Alternatively, if the air in your basement checks out fine mold-wise, then stripping and starting from scratch is more of an aesthetic choice.

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