Experience Your Layout in Full Size

Experience Your Layout in Full Size

At this stage it’s time to consider all the options for your basement spaces. You probably don’t want everything in the list below to be included in your basement, but have you thought of them?

  • Family & entertainment room
  • Bedrooms
  • Office & hobby spaces
  • Workout room
  • Kitchen
  • Bathroom
  • Laundry room
  • Home office
  • Sewing room
  • Exercise room
  • Home workshop
  • Sauna
  • Root cellar
  • Wine cellar

Like I said before, it’s easy to temporarily layout rooms and spaces on paper,  then try your initial design in full size on the floor before committing to anything. Sheets of plywood (no matter how ratty), masking tape laid down on the floor, and even pieces of furniture you plan to use in your basement offer powerful ways to create a basic feeling of the kinds of spaces you’re creating. You don’t need to set up an entire mock wall for, say, the bathroom, but even a sheet or two of plywood propped up vertical will help you imagine the space and decide if the size and shape of your room layouts feel right. Quarter-inch oriented strand board (OSB) is a cheap and easy way to get a sense of your design. You want to get to the point where you can walk through your layout and experience and imagine what the place feels like. Besides practicality, the layout exercise is all about optimizing how your finished basement will feel.


This close-up view of OSB shows the flakes or wood that are pressed together with glue to make sheets.

These three letters stand for “oriented strand board” and refer to a kind of sheet material made from chips of wood pressed together and glued. You’ve probably seen it before. Some people call this material “waferboard” and it’s usually the cheapest sheet material you can find.

If you plan to buy economical sheet goods to help with your layout exercises, OSB is definitely the stuff. You’ll find 1/4″-thick sheets that measure 4-feet x 8-feet. This will do fine for mocking up portions of walls to help you imagine what a given layout will look like, but 1/4″ OSB isn’t much good for anything else afterwards. If you plan to build cabinets of benches or light valences that require thicker sheet materials, consider some 1/2″ or 5/8″ plywood for your wall exercise. You can use this later for projects.

Interestingly enough, the water resistance of OSB has been made quite impressive over the years. OSB weathers less well than plywood, for instance, but it holds up better than it used to years ago.

Step#1: Experiment with Wall Locations

After you’ve got at least a rough layout using your paper grid, start by putting down strips of masking tape to mark the rooms as you determined them earlier on. Remember that the final walls will have thickness (either 4 1/2” or 6 1/2” depending on how you choose to frame them) so allow for this as you work. After you’ve marked the room locations with tape on the floor, walk through and use your imagination. Prop up some plywood or OSB to test if you need more space here, less there. Walk down your basement stairs and see how things feel. Does the rec room area look inviting? Is it handy to get up from an easy chair in front of where the TV will be to visit the bathroom? Do the bedrooms feel spacious enough? How does room layout look in relation to window location? Don’t forget that light from windows will be blocked by walls that you add later. An area that has plenty of natural light now may have none at all when partition walls go up. Have you allowed enough room for the furnace, electrical panel and any laundry equipment? How does the kitchen or bathroom space feel (if you’ll be having either one)?

Step#2: Finalize & Mark Wall Locations

When you have a floor plan you like, mark final wall locations on the floor using a carpenter’s pencil or black marker. As you work, you’ll need to layout most walls so they’re square to adjoining partition walls or perimeter walls. Using a 24” framing square to determine the squareness of a wall isn’t great because the wall is so much longer than the square. The wall may seem square but it’s probably not. For accuracy you need something that provides a bigger picture and there are two options. If you happen to have sheets of plywood or OSB in your basement with factory edges, use these as a big carpenter’s square. The factory edges of sheet goods produced in North America are always 90º. Alternatively, you could use a geometry technique called the Pythagorean Theorem. It works well on any wall length. Watch the video up next to see how to use this simple but powerful measuring and marking technique in real life.

VIDEO: Lay Out the Walls the 3-4-5 Way


One other tip as you’re finalizing wall locations on the floor. Never trust pieces of lumber to act as a reliable straight edge. Lumber is often bowed. Instead, snap a chalk line on the floor. This is a fast and accurate way to create straight reference lines when you need them. More on this later.

TECH TIP: Easier Stairs

Almost every basement in the world already has some kind of stairs leading down from the level above, but not all of these existing stair designs make the most sense for a finished basement. If you discover that a different stair arrangement works better, there’s a specialty supplier you need to know about. It’s called Fast-Stairs.com (https://www.fast-stairs.com) and this US company makes adjustable steel stair stringers for just about any configuration. Stringers are the internal parts of any staircase that bear the weight of foot traffic. The Fast-Stairs product is not only easier to use than cutting stringers by hand the old fashioned way out of wood, but the results are stronger and more likely to remain quiet over the years.

By the time you finish this section, you will:

1. Understand the basic basement floor plan layout challenges and how to meet them.

2. Know how to use a scale printout to help you experiment with your basement floor plan.

3. Recognize how to use tape and sheet goods to “try out” your basement layout.

4. Understand how to layout partition walls so they’re square to adjoining walls.

Coming up next section . . . Learn about the tools and techniques for making your basement vision come true. This section shows what needs to happen, helping you decide whether you should gear-up for the work itself, or hire a professional.