How to Finish Your Basement

Four Methods:Before You StartDoing the BasicsAdding Walls and FloorsMaking a Great Space

When you bought that house, you saw all that empty space down there, practically begging to become something wonderful. But so many choices, and the expense! Do you do the whole basement, or just part? Do you put up walls? What about that media room your mate is always dreaming of? Or that guest bedroom for Aunt Agnes' interminable visits. Fear not, here are some suggestions and ideas that will help you turn that sunken treasure into gold.

Method 1
Before You Start

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    Get your mold and moisture problems under control. Before you can start finishing your basement, you’ll need to make sure that you don’t have uncontrollable mold and moisture problems. Work to stop all mold in your basement and ensure that you can stop water from getting in. If you can’t, then you may need to consider that it would be unwise to continue.
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    Budget for your renovations. Once you know that it’s possible to finish your basement, you’ll need to create a budget to find out how much money you really have to work with. Don’t forget to take into account things like building supplies, extras, labor you’ll need to hire, and the items you’ll need to put in the basement like toilets and showers.
    • Hiring a contractor or a designer may be a good idea, as they can help you figure out how much money you need and where you can save a few bucks.
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    Plan your renovations. You’ll need drawn out plans, especially if you’re going to be doing the work yourself. You’ll need to know the lengths of all the walls you’ll put in, how much square footage of flooring material you’ll need, how much wall space you need to drywall, etc. Draw out plans for your basement and the changes you plan on making and remember: measure twice, cut once!
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    Get any necessary permits and inspections. Before you continue, it is very important to get all of the necessary permits and inspections from your local building department. You wouldn’t want to go to all that work and then have someone tell you you need to take it down or worse: hit a surprise water main!

Method 2
Doing the Basics

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    Clean out all items from the basement. Take out all items that you are storing in your basement. This includes washers and dryers, cabinets, and basically anything else that can move or that takes up floor space. You will need to have total access to all walls and floors while you are working on finishing your basement.
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    Clean the floors completely. If you have a concrete floor, you’re going to want it to be as clean as possible before you start. Clean up all dirt and debris from the floor. Mold problems and leakage should be double-checked, just to be sure they won’t cause issues later on.
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    Wire your basement. This is one part you should really get a pro to do. At best, bad wiring just won’t work. At worst, it starts fires or electrocutes you (and not in a Wile E Coyote kind of way). Unless you want to try your hand at some DIY firefighting, just get a pro to come in and wire your new basement. If you’ve got some experience, however, you can do the bare necessities wiring yourself. Just make sure you carefully plan everything out.
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    Insert any necessary plumbing. This is another thing that is good to have a professional do. While it’s less dangerous than bad wiring, it still can lead to costly repairs being necessary later if something leaks. Make sure that you carefully plan ahead so that everything that needs water will be accounted for.
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    Insulate and install a ceiling. Insulating is important mostly for soundproofing a finished basement. If you’re going to put a media room down there, you don’t want that sound traveling up and disturbing anyone. Use soundproofing materials to insulate the ceiling and everyone will be happy. Otherwise, building a simple drop ceiling should be enough.
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    Insulate the walls. It will be very important to insulate the basement walls. This will keep your basement warm and cosy, making the space much more livable. There are many types of insulation available but spray-foam insulation is becoming popular for basements.

Method 3
Adding Walls and Floors

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    Place the studs. These are the beams which make up the skeleton of your walls. You’ll need to plan ahead to know where you want all of your walls to go, which should have been done in your building phase. There are two main materials from which you can make your studs: steel or wood. Each has their benefits and you should choose what is best for you.
    • As a general rule, wood is cheaper but steel is stronger.
    • You can add further insulation at this point by putting traditional insulation in the framing area.
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    Finish your walls and add drywall. Once your walls have a skeleton they’ll need a skin! Install drywall or use whatever wall finishing method you prefer to get nice walls which you can paint when your project is complete.
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    Finish your ceiling. If you did not already, you’ll need to add drywall or other finishing materials to your ceiling. This will give you a nice surface to paint or finish in your preferred method.
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    Consider keeping your concrete floors. You can save a few bucks by keeping your concrete floors and having them bare. This may be cold, however so consider carefully. Concrete floors can be stained to achieve really cool finishes, giving you a modern look.
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    Install carpet onto the concrete or build a subfloor. You’ll need to figure out what flooring method is best for you. Installing a subfloor will make for a warmer floor than just installing carpet but it may take away badly needed inches in terms of wall height, as well as adding to the overall project cost.
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    Add doors. If you’re adding rooms to your new space, you’ll also want to add doors. This will be especially important for bathrooms and bedrooms. Make sure you account for doors being able to open and close when you place items like sinks, tubs, and toilets into rooms.

Method 4
Making a Great Space

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    Install crown molding. Crown molding will be especially important if you’re trying to finish a basement in an older style home. This can help the two levels look more alike, if there is molding elsewhere in the home.
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    Install baseboards and trim. Baseboards and trim will go a long ways towards helping your basement to look like a real room and installing is a breeze, if you can measure and cut (which you totally can!).
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    Paint the finished room. If you want to make your basement rooms look bigger, stick to a very light-colored paint scheme. White walls, carpet, and large furniture pieces, mixed in with a few pale blue accents, will make a room look much larger.
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    Make your ceilings look higher. If you want your basement to look less cramped and cave-like, try to make the ceiling look higher by employing a few visual tricks. The easiest of these is to avoid low-hanging light fixtures and ceiling fans, and to paint the ceiling white.
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    Turn your basement into a man-cave. Get Mr. the space he’s always needed and out of Mrs.’ hair. A man-cave can be a great way to add entertaining space to a home. Pair with a craft room for Mrs. and everyone will be happy!
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    Add a bar. Bars go well in basements, as you’ll have less to worry about in terms of annoying the neighbors when you get friends together to drink. You can buy one or build your own, with a little carpentry work!


  • If at all possible try to add an egress-size window so that in the event of an emergency people are not trapped inside. Additionally, install smoke and fire detectors as per your local building code. (interconnect these new alarms with the existing alarms in the main house)
  • Widen doorways as much as possible, and employ arches and columns to dress them up. Consider French doors with lots of glass for offices or solid doors for any other room requiring complete privacy. For partial separation, a door with decorative glass brings elegance to the room.
  • Paneling may be simple, but the refined look of drywall makes it the material of choice for finished spaces. Paneling looks dated and doesn't last long, so it's cheaper in the long run to spend more up front on long-lasting drywall.
  • When you need a precise measurement between two walls, or you simply can’t reach the whole way across, use this technique. Push your tape against the far wall, extend it almost to the middle of the room and mark the wall at the nearest whole foot. Jot the dimension on the wall for reference. Turn your tape around and measure from the opposite wall to your mark. Add the two dimensions for the total length.
  • Buy a top-quality 25 or 35-foot tape with a 1 inch (2.5 cm) wide blade. The extra stiffness provided by the wide blade allows you to extend the tape farther before it buckles. This is a great help for all kinds of measuring tasks but is especially useful when you’re working alone. It’s also useful when you’re working from a ladder.


  • Finished basements can end up with mold and other moisture related problems behind the walls adjacent to the outer masonry walls. Be sure you or your contractor understand the details of waterproofing, minimal insulation, proper ventilation of wall cavities, and foregoing vapor barriers. Unless your stud-wall is at least 18" away from the masonry wall, any vapor barrier attached to the stud wall will trap moisture between the masonry wall and the barrier, thus breeding mold.
  • Look for signs of water leakage before starting your project. Be sure to evaluate any water problems that could affect your finished basement to determine what repairs are needed and take preventative steps to avoid future water problems. Look outside for obvious potential problems like clogged rain gutters, downspouts emptying next to the foundation and surface grades that don't allow surface water to run away from the property.
  • Make sure that you protect your investment by getting an emergency power supply and monitoring devices for your sump pump. If you rely on a sump pump to keep ground water out of your basement, consider a secondary pump as a backup in case your primary pump fails or, a battery backup secondary pump for power outages..
  • Ventilation and Dehumidification. Be aware that allowing outside "fresh air" into your basement via open windows or fans, can cause problems with moisture, humidity and condensation when outside humidity levels are above 40%. Get a good dehumidifier to mechanically remove the natural high humidity in your basement and keep your windows and doors closed all year round. Central air conditioning also offers good dehumidification.
  • Gather as much information as possible about it before you get started.
  • Be sure you understand that finishing a basement is a big project.

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