Benefits & Challenges of Finishing a Basement

INTRODUCTION: Benefits & Challenges of Finishing a Basement

Creating a comfortable and beautiful finished basement is a powerful and economical way to expand the potential of your home. The possibilities are wide and inviting. You may be thinking of a separate space for your growing brood of kids and the extra peace and quiet it could bring to your upstairs living room. Or how about the possibility of avoiding the rush-hour marathon twice a day by setting up an efficient, self-contained home office down there in the basement? Perhaps you like the idea of sharing your mortgage with someone who’s renting your basement as a self-contained second suite? Even having a separate part of the house for guests to stay in, cook in, and use their own bathroom would be great. These are just some of the ideas that get people thinking about finishing their basements, but there’s a hidden challenge.

Underneath all these worthy possibilities lurk dangers unique to the basement-finishing game. And these dangers are especially sneaky because most of them aren’t obvious at first. More often than not, they allow themselves to be ignored while building. But eventually, when all the work is done and lots of money spent, basement finishing design and construction errors always make themselves known. And they surface in ways that are impossible to fix properly afterwards. Short of ripping everything out and starting from scratch, there’s nothing you can do to fix major design problems with a finished basement after the fact. All you can do is avoid making mistakes in the first place. Saving you from making mistakes (or having a professional make mistakes and charge you for it) is a big part of what this course is about. Listen to my welcome message and learn more about the philosophy behind this course. If you care about quality, this course is for you.

AUDIO TUTORIAL: Welcome to the Basement Course

HOW TO FINISH A BASEMENT is for two kinds of people: homeowners who want to do the work themselves; and also for people who simply want to hire and manage a professional builder to get the best possible finished basement. Besides teaching you how to create a comfortable, attractive and useful basement space, my main aim is to avoid the common troubles that happen because basements are often finished in ways that look good on the surface, but aren’t good underneath.

So, what are these hidden dangers that so many finished basements run into? It could be musty basement air or mold growth. It could also be inadequate floor insulation that keeps feet perennially cold during winter. Perhaps, after spending tens of thousands of dollars finishing your basement, the place still feels clammy, dark and uninviting. If you live in a region that gets hot and humid, there’s also the danger of condensation and the mold growth it triggers. You might even be hit by regular, catastrophic flooding if the basement wasn’t prepared properly before finishing. The risks are real, but so are the potential rewards. That’s why it’s worth finishing your basement, but only if you’re committed to doing things right. Doing things right is what this course is all about.

Click below to hear why basements require finishing techniques that are quite different than above-ground projects, and what happens when this fact is ignored.

AUDIO TUTORIAL: Why Finishing Basements is a Unique Challenge

The surprising fact is that standard professional basement finishing practices aren’t all that great. In fact, many of the “tried and true” strategies being used to finish basements right now by professionals are highly likely to cause trouble in the future. In fact, I’ve found that many professional builders don’t properly understand how the latest insulation, flooring and lighting technologies can lead to vastly superior finished basements compared with “the way we’ve always done it”. The construction business is notoriously slow to recognize and adopt innovation. That’s why you’ll probably need to buck the status quo if you want the best possible finished basement. This is especially true if you intend to hire help to make it happen instead of doing the work yourself. Are you prepared to be different? This course tells you how and why.

This well-planned finished basement has an inviting and airy feeling, even though it has no significant outdoor light coming in. The layout of rooms and halls and light fixtures has a huge impact on the success of any finished basement.

The information you’ll discover here may seem like overkill to friends, neighbours and some contractors, but ask yourself a simple question: How many people really know that “the old ways” have always worked fine? Sure, that previously finished basement seems okay at first glance, but how many of the ones finished 5, 10 or 20 years ago have drywall pulled down to see how things have fared beneath the surface over the long haul? Almost none. How many professional basement finishing contractors monitor indoor air quality in the homes they worked on in the 1990s? No one does this. How many builders call previous clients to ask how warm their feet are on an evening in winter? I hear regularly from a constant stream of distressed homeowners who’ve had basements finished professionally “like it’s always been done”. I only wish I could have talked to them during the planning stages of their basement finishing.

I have the greatest respect for quality-minded builders, but there’s no substitute for being your own watchdog when it comes to basement finishing strategies. Why bother? It’s worth it for the simple reason that even an unfinished basement is better than a musty, moldy finished one that contaminates indoor air quality throughout the house.  The rewards of a properly finished basement space are great, but the risks are considerable, too.

As you’ll see, the HOW TO FINISH A BASEMENT course is interactive. Besides words, photos and illustrations, there are also videos and audio recordings throughout the course. I’m also personally available to answer questions and make suggestions for your unique basement situation. This is, after all, a real course. I’m the course creator and instructor, and part of my role is to help you personally. Add my email to your contacts and we can keep in touch.

And finally, HOW TO FINISH A BASEMENT makes use of my 30+ years of building experience to help you make things right. In addition to building & renovating, I’ve written about these topics for homeowner and professional audiences around the world since 1988 in newspapers, magazines and online. Researching new products and educating homeowners and builders about optimal basement finishing solutions is what I’ve done for years, and it gives me insights into real-world problems and effective solutions. A constant stream of homeowners distressed by problem basements is what prompted me to create this course in the first place. My aim is to help you get it right the first time, or wipe the slate clean on a previous basement finished badly and get it right the second time.

One more thing before we get going. The vast majority of basements that are eligible for finishing have some kind of masonry foundation walls and a concrete floor. Foundation walls could be made of poured concrete, concrete blocks, bricks or stone. Occasionally a house will have below-ground foundation walls made entirely with pressure treated wood, and these are candidates for finishing using the ideas and techniques you’ll find here, too. All this said, if your basement is short – less than 84” from floor to the bottom of the joists  at the ceiling– or if it has a dirt floor, you’ll need to do major structural renovations to raise and refine your space before you can apply what you’ll learn in this course.

I’ve organized HOW TO FINISH A BASEMENT in a way that gives you building blocks of knowledge, then shows how to use them. In Week#2, for instance, I’ll show you the hidden parts of a basement and explain best-practice approaches for various parts of the finishing job. Week#3 covers moisture-proofing a basement, considerations for electrical and plumbing systems, plus tips on tearing out an old basement to make room for a new one. In week#4 you’ll learn how to plan and test different basement floor plan layouts, including room divisions and traffic flow.  Week#5 covers special basement features including a bathroom, kitchen, second suite accommodation, plus a cold room, root cellar, sauna and steam room.  Week#6 covers tools and techniques you’ll need for finishing a basement yourself and how to begin using them safely. Right now it’s time to start looking at the basement you’ve got, figuring out if it really can be finished properly.  Not all basements can.

One more thing . . . As you work through the course, look for something called “Quick Definitions”, “Reality Checks”, and “Tech Tips”. These are short, simple explanations of different technical terms and situations as they come up in the course. You’ll want to know these whether you do the work yourself or hire a contractor. Just remember that this course has a real person behind it, and I’m ready to answer your questions as they come up. I can’t cover every little detail in this course material directly, but I’m sure that we can figure out anything working together on a one-on-one basis. I’ve spent years creating the videos, photos, illustrations and text for this course and I’m always upgrading and improving them. If I happen to look younger in some videos than others, you’ll know why 😉