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Basement under construction

The key part of basement remodeling happens before you ever even touch a tool. I'm talking about design, of course. What you intend to use your basement for will move your design ideas in the right direction. A great method is to brainstorm with your spouse and kids with notebook and pencil in hand.

Plan, plan, and plan some more

Throw out the ideas willy-nilly and discuss them. You'll be surprised at what you find! Once you've got all your "wants" nailed down, take a look at your budget and identify your "needs." There's bound to be some chaff there somewhere.

Are you going to use the basement as a home office? Then plan on Internet, phone, and fax connections. Will it be a game room, family room, or something along that line? You'll probably want to install plumbing for a wet bar as well as cable or satellite TV connections.

One of the first things you need to assure yourself of is whether your entire basement space, walls and floors, are properly sealed against moisture. This is the perfect time to take care of it -- before it can become a problem.

Pulling a building permit

No matter where you live, you're going to have to get a building permit to remodel your basement, unless you do it in the dead of night. You may be able to get a blanket permit, but in most areas at least the plumbing and electrical permits will be separate and will be inspected independently.

In most municipalities, there is a requirement to have blueprints submitted for approval prior to being issued a building permit, but with any luck they'll settle for your drawings. This will save you an architect's fee and you can use the extra money to buy the wide screen TV!

The basement anatomy

When a basement is remodeled, it potentially will need the same infrastructure as the rest of the house to some extent. By this, I mean wall construction, electrical components, flooring, and in many cases, plumbing.

Your exterior walls (the ones on the outside of the house, not the interior partitions you will likely be building) should be well insulated. A common method of framing these walls is using furring strips rather than studs.

Furring strips are thinner than conventional studs so you'll save money on this item. You can even rip them yourself with a table saw or circular saw. On concrete walls they can be attached either with a powder actuated tool or by nailing them with cut nails. Then you simply hang your sheet rock or paneling on them.

An alternative to furring strips is a commercial metal component called "high hat." This is basically the same thing as pine furring strips except they are made of galvanized steel and don't have the problem of warping. Keep in mind that if you go with high hat, you'll have to screw your drywall rather than nailing it.

Choose your finished floor

Which type of flooring you install is a matter of necessity and choice. Carpet is popular, as are vinyl tiles or sheet goods. Laminate flooring is also a good choice. It's easy to install and care for and it's always on sale somewhere.

Traditional hardwood floors are also an option, but personally I'm a big fan of laminate floors. It's easier to install and you won't have the hassle of sanding and finishing it.

Adhesive carpet squares are easy to work with. An added bonus is that if an area gets stained, you can just yank up a few and replace them. If you go this route, buy a couple of extra boxes so you'll have a good match on hand for future use.

Can't decide? You can mix and match flooring in different areas depending on what the area will be used for. Still, from my recommendations, can you see where I'm going with this? Try to minimize how much material and tools you have to hump up and down the stairs. Just another reason why the planning phase is so critical.

Plan your power layout

Electrical service is a must when you undergo a basement remodel. Unless you have experience in this trade and feel confident, it is highly recommended that you hire a licensed journeyman electrician. In fact, chances are that your local code will require that a licensed electrician oversees the work.

There will be circuits to run and modifications to your fuse or circuit breaker panel. While you have the opportunity, this is a great time to install extra outlets, especially if you're planning to use your basement for entertainment.

Basement plumbing considerations

In most cases you will have some form of plumbing. It's probably not worth the added effort and expense to install a bathroom unless you're planning to use the space for guest bedrooms or you have very deep pockets!

Having said that, chances are you will want at the minimum to install basic water lines for a sink in a wet bar or a refrigerator ice maker. This is another area where you might need to bring a pro in to comply with local building code.

No basement remodel is complete without a ceiling

You have a several options in your choice of ceilings. Chances are that when you look over your head right now you see rafters or the bottom side of the ground level floor joists.

If you're going for the rustic look you can just leave them open. But most likely you'll want a more finished look. The two best selections here are drywall or a suspended acoustic ceiling.

Acoustic is the superior choice for a basement remodel. Considering the expense of material and labor you'll probably come out ahead of the game. Plus, suspended acoustic ceilings lend themselves very well to air diffusers and recessed can lights. The hanger wire for the grid is nailed right to the wooden rafters.

And in conclusion...

There's one final thing to take care of, one that altogether too many homeowners forget to do. Visit with your home insurance agent and upgrade your policy. Seeing as how it's a basement, you'll want to make sure that you're maxed out for water damage.

As you can see, your choices are virtually endless in basement remodeling. And don't overlook two major advantages – you are doubling or tripling the usable footage in your home and adding equity in your home.


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