With space at a premium, homeowners are increasingly looking down towards their basements to up the space and value of their homes. Finished basements allow you to create space for whatever your heart desires, whether a spare bedroom, home office, movie den or rental unit.
But once you’ve explored all the possibilities your imagination sets free, where do you start? With the flooring? The insulation?
Finishing your basement can seem overwhelming. It does involve some fairly set steps - here’s a quick guide. Even if all you you’re looking to do is hire a contractor, this is useful information.
1) Design, and get permits
The design phase is where you get the chance to dream, and create! Once you’ve decided what you’d like to create, it’s time to put your ideas together and produce a floor plan, which becomes the blueprint that keeps you from going off-course during the project.
A well-thought out floor plan can save you tons of time, and a lot of costly mistakes. Measure, and make your floor plan on graph paper or on one of the many available apps.
Your final layout needs to be approved by your city, and the Ontario Building Code requires that unless you draw your own, the plans you submit for a building permit have to been drawn by a person or firm who possesses a BCIN (Building Code Identification Number), which is proof of qualification to do so. If your contractor is going to prepare the plans for permit application, make sure he has a BCIN. While talking about permits, if your contractor tells you a permit is not required, check with your city building department. He may be telling you that for reasons we won’t go into here.
Tip: The wasted space under your stairs can be transformed into an office unit, built-in storage, a washroom or a bar.
2) Get rid of moisture
Check for any water issues in your basement – pools of water, mould, drips or drip stains. Look for any cracks in the foundation walls (and repair if necessary) and make sure that the ground is graded away from your foundation.
Even after taking care of any moisture issues, your basement can still become a damp place. Keep it cool and dry by adding a vapor barrier to both the walls and floors before framing and finishing these surfaces.
Now you can start building the frames of the basement walls according to your design. When framing, you’re building a skeleton outline that will help when installing your walls, making them strong and durable. It also allows you to see your project take shape!
4) Install electrical and plumbing
Doing the electrical and plumbing work yourself is very rewarding and can save you a lot of money. However, keep in mind that unless you have done it before, there is a steep learning curve if you decide to go this route, so factor in your time and safety when comparing DIY costs and contractor hire.
If you do decide to do the electrical and plumbing work on your own, you still need a permit for both types of work, and you must have the plumbing inspected by the city and the electrical by the Electrical Safety Authority. If you don’t and you have to make a claim on your insurance, if the insurance company finds out that some non-inspected work is present in your house, they may deny the claim.
5) Install HVAC and insulation
Basements need heating, ventilation and even air-conditioning. They also need proper insulation, which is key for energy-efficiency and comfort, so make sure that your HVAC and insulation meet your long-term needs (be sure to check city building requirements).
6) Install drywall
This is where you see your basement really take form. All the framing, wires, pipes and insulation are replaced by actual living spaces. Although this stage is the most labor intensive, it can be the most satisfying. This is another opportunity to sub-contract, because besides labor-saving benefits, contractors can bring great pricing and much better finished results than most homeowners are capable of!
7) Painting, trimming and flooring
You are nearing the finish line! This is where your walls, doors, ceilings and trims get their new colours (note: it’s much easier to paint doors and trims before they’re installed). It’s also time to get creative – you can stain floors instead of installing carpets or hardwood, choose fun wallpapers or layer textiles and patterns. Cool tiling and different types of metals can add character to bathrooms and kitchens.
8) Furniture and finishing
For the final stage, install items like shelving, door knobs, switch covers and any other finishing touches. Once you’ve done this, it’s time to bring in your furniture and personal items to style your space exactly how you like it.