In the middle of finishing a basement with new walls, ceilings, and floors

The Ultimate Guide to Finishing a Basement

A finished basement can add square footage to your home and create usable space where none existed before. While it is an extensive project to complete, it’s one that you can likely complete by yourself. Learning more about the repairs your basement needs and the steps it takes to transform your basement into an interior space can prepare you to complete the project. This guide will help you gather the correct tools and supplies; we’ll also provide step-by-step instructions for finishing a basement.

Our ultimate guide to finishing a basement includes:

Benefits of Finishing a Basement

Whether you’ve been dreaming of a man cave, a rec room, an additional living suite, or temperature-controlled storage space, finishing a basement can create usable square footage with the same benefits as your home’s interior. Besides creating the useful space you desire, your finished basement can provide these benefits:

  • Increasing your home’s value
  • Eliminating excess moisture from your home
  • Adding square footage to your home’s living space
  • Creating an additional room for guests or family members
  • Providing storage space without humidity and moisture concerns
  • Decreasing energy costs
  • Adding living space where zoning codes prevent home additions
  • Providing new income opportunities

Tools for Finishing a Basement

Homeowner painting and finishing walls around electrical box

No matter your reasons for finishing a basement, you’ll need several tools to complete the job properly. Power tools will vastly decrease the amount of time it takes to do the work. Before getting started, it’s best to make sure you have all the tools you need on hand. Gather these tools for your basement remodel:

  • Safety gear: goggles, dust mask, gloves, earplugs, etc.
  • Ladder
  • Hammer
  • Level
  • Tape measure
  • Caulk gun
  • Masonry drill
  • Circular saw
  • Nail gun
  • Cordless drill
  • Utility knife
  • Speed square

Materials

  • Boards
  • Extruded polystyrene foam insulation (usually yellow, pink, or blue)
  • Plywood
  • Framing nails
  • Wall screws
  • Cement nails
  • Duct tape
  • Adhesive for insulation
  • Ceiling tiles or other ceiling material
  • Flooring materials

The amount of materials you’ll need will depend on the size of your basement and your renovation plans. Before you shop for materials, determine your basement’s square footage and the size of the interior walls you intend to construct. When measuring for your insulation requirements, consider the insulation you’ll need for your ceiling and subfloor.

Before You Begin

Finishing a basement is a massive undertaking, and proper preparation can help ensure the job goes smoothly. In order to ensure you complete the job safely (and legally), you must take some steps to get ready for your project. Take these steps to prepare for your basement finishing project.

Establish a plan

If you’re preparing to renovate your basement, you likely have an idea of how you’d like to use the added space. Still, even if you aren’t sure exactly how you’ll utilize the entire place, you’ll need some comprehensive plans in place. For example, you’ll need to determine the electrical and plumbing systems you require, as well as anything else that may require a permit. If your city requires you to apply for a building permit, then you may need to submit a written plan with your application.

Acquire necessary permits

Most states and cities have certain requirements regarding building projects. While refinishing your basement doesn’t require you to create a new structure, certain elements of the task may require permits. The most common permits required during basement finishing and renovation include:

  • Building permit
  • Permit to restructure plumbing
  • Permit to change electrical wiring
  • Construction permit if major landscaping is required to improve irrigation

Pro tip for finishing a basement:

While many people choose to ignore permit laws for basement finishing, this is a bad idea. Skipping the permit means skipping important inspections. It could also mean your home insurance won’t cover damage for an event that occurred in your newly renovated basement (like a fire that affects your entire home).

Address moisture issues

The musty smell that plagues so many basements comes from excess moisture. Covering up moisture issues won’t make them go away. Unfortunately, it could provide a place for mold to grow undetected and destroy your new building materials. Determining where your basement humidity originates and how to eliminate the problem is essential for creating a healthy environment or suitable storage space.

If you routinely have seepage or water puddling after storms or heavy rain, then you’ll need to address the problem. It’s also essential to understand whether the moisture in your basement comes from inside condensation or moisture seeping through the walls. To do this, place a square sheet of plastic on your concrete wall. Moisture that forms on the front within a few days comes from condensation; moisture on the backside comes from outdoors.

Interior moisture can be addressed by properly venting indoor moisture producers like dryers, showers, and humidifiers. Moisture that comes from outdoors may need one or more of the following treatments.

  • Grading to direct stormwater away from your home
  • Rerouting downspouts
  • Installation of an exterior drainage system that will direct water away from your home to a specific location like a sump pump or dry pond
  • Installation of an interior drainage system to redirect water
  • Repairing basement wall cracks

Pro tip for finishing a basement:

If mold issues already exist inside your basement, get rid of mold before beginning your project. Early detection and elimination of mold can help you avoid damage to your home and health issues associated with mold growth.

Create a clear workspace

Unless you’re in the process of moving into a new home, your basement likely isn’t a completely empty space awaiting renovation. While it may be tempting to think you can work around your possessions, it’s not a realistic plan. Begin by examining the items you store in your basement and getting rid of any trash. Depending on how much stuff is left, you have a few options for your basement possessions.

  • Utilize a spare room. If you have an extra room, then you could turn it into a temporary utility closet.
  • Add stuff to the attic. This is only a safe solution if your attic is finished with joists designed to support storage.
  • Rent storage space from Neighbor. With a variety of options and units available in both urban and rural areas, Neighbor provides storage solutions at up to half off the cost of traditional storage facilities.

Do you need a professional contractor to finish a basement?

While DIY basement renovations are fairly common, there may be some aspects of the project that you should leave to the professionals. Unless you have extensive experience in these areas, consider hiring a professional to complete the procedure properly.

  • Electrical systems
  • Plumbing
  • Basement foundation repair
  • An inspection to ensure your basement contains no harmful building materials and is structurally sound

How to Finish Your Basement Step by Step

Man installing subfloors in his basement

Finishing a basement is a complicated project. No matter how you plan to use the extra space, you’ll likely be adding structural elements, insulation, interior walls and ceilings, flooring, and moisture barriers. Once you’ve moved your belongings into storage and taken care of moisture issues, you’re ready to get started. Follow this step-by-step guide to break down your project into easy-to-complete sections.

1. Insulate the walls

Using polystyrene foam board insulation is the easiest way to insulate your basement walls. Take these steps to complete wall insulation.

  • Measure wall space up to a quarter-inch of the ceiling. This will help you avoid trimming every sheet of insulation for a perfect fit.
  • Use a chalk line to mark the insulation board, then cut along the line with a circular saw or utility knife.
  • Place cut insulation against the wall to ensure a good fit before applying adhesive.
  • Remove the insulation board, and spread ¼” beads of adhesive in an S shape on a masonry wall.
  • Wait the amount of time indicated on the adhesive’s instructions (usually 30 seconds to a minute) for the adhesive to become tacky.
  • Press the insulation sheet into place.

As you work, measure and cut out spaces for obstructions. Fill any large gaps with small pieces of foam to ensure a tight fit. Once all the insulation sheets are in place, seal the gaps with duct tape to keep air out.

2. Fill gaps

Gaps between your basement’s framing lead to cold air and moisture getting inside your home. Caulk seams and gaps between the framing and between insulation sheets and the ceiling or floor. Use foam filler to fill any remaining space around obstructions and add an extra layer of protection around rim joists.

3. Frame the walls

Framing the walls is the first step to making your basement more like the interior of your home. The frames you create will provide a surface to attach drywall or other wall materials you’ve chosen.

The process

Follow these steps to create and install wall framing.

  • Install blocking between overhead joists and the wall. Simply cut and install a piece of 2×4 board between overhead joists at 2-foot intervals.
  • Draw a line on the floor, four inches from the concrete wall you’re preparing to frame. This will serve as a guideline for the outside of the wall plate.
  • Measure the length of your intended wall and cut two 2x4s to the measured length. These boards will serve as your wall’s top and bottom plates.
  • Measure the height of your wall, and subtract the width of your top and bottom plate. This will be your stud length. Cut studs to the correct length before assembling the wall frame.
  • Mark the plates every 16 inches for stud placement. Be sure to extend the mark to the sides of the plate for improved visibility.
  • Assemble the wall on the floor with the base plate nearest the wall. Attach wall studs to the top and bottom plates every 16 inches as marked with a drill or framing nailer. Move studs as needed to allow spaces for doors and windows.
  • Tip the wall up and match the bottom plate to the four-inch line.
  • Secure the base plate in place on the concrete floor using a masonry drill, masonry nails, and a hammer.
  • Using a stepladder, attach the top plate to blocking and joists using a framing nailer. As you work your way along the wall, hold a level vertically against each wall stud to ensure the wall is sitting flat. Use shims as needed to correct walls that are not level.
  • Repeat the process until wall framing is complete.

Pro tip for finishing a basement:

If you are working alone or don’t have room to assemble walls on the floor, you can install the top and bottom plates, then install the studs as marked.

4. Create partition walls

The walls that will separate one room from the next are called partition walls. Mark the placement of partition walls by snapping chalk lines on the floor for both sides of the base plate. Assemble wall frames in the same fashion as exterior walls, leaving an additional 2.5 inches of space around planned door frames, and secure them in place as marked.

5. Frame around obstructions

Every basement has certain systems that can infringe on your usable space. Creating an attractive frame for these areas is essential to complete the finished appearance of your basement. Simply create frames around projecting surfaces (like beams, posts, drains. water pipes, or electrical junction boxes) to allow finishing with drywall. For items you’ll need access to, like shut-off valves and electrical junctions, you’ll cut out space in the drywall and cover the area with a grate.

6. Install plumbing and electrical wires

Before finishing a basement wall or ceiling, you’ll need to install plumbing and electrical wires. If you’re not qualified to take care of these tasks yourself, then now’s the time to call in the professionals. Having electrical wires and plumbing completed before you finish the walls prevents the likelihood of needing to make repairs later.

7. Finish the walls

Creating smooth interior walls will require the installation of drywall or paneling. Finishing a basement wall in an attractive manner requires patience and extensive measuring and cutting. Take your time, and complete this job with care. Drywall and other wall finishing products are typically four feet wide, so you should be able to hang drywall vertically without needing to cut lengthwise to meet studs.

Measure walls, including areas that need to be removed for utilities, window frames, and door frames. Cut drywall with a utility knife and carefully snap each board to separate. Secure drywall sheets to the studs using drywall screws. Fill seams, cracks, and gaps with drywall caulk. Apply drywall tape to seams and finish the caulking process. After the caulk has dried, it will need to be sanded smooth before painting.

8. Install the ceiling

There are a couple of options you can choose to create a suitable ceiling for your basement. The ceiling type you choose will likely be dictated by the amount of access you need to hardware in the ceiling and the amount of headroom you have in your basement. If you choose to leave your ceiling unfinished, then consider painting the entire space with a sprayer, ensuring to coat all sides of electrical wires and plumbing. Dark colors typically work best. For a finished ceiling, choose one of the two options below.

Drop ceiling installation

A drop ceiling creates a tile ceiling below the structural ceiling that will allow you to access electrical and plumbing systems within the ceiling through an interlocking grid of frames and tiles. Drop ceilings are typically created using a kit. This means the kit you choose will ultimately supply the detailed instructions you need.

Drywall ceiling installation

Installing drywall on the ceiling is much like the drywall installation you completed on the walls. If you’re working alone, then you’ll need a drywall jack to help hold drywall sheets above your head for installation with drywall screws. Use these tips to ensure ceiling drywall installation goes smoothly.

  • Mark and cut holes in the drywall sheet for utilities using fixtures or grates as a guide.
  • Start in the inside corner of the ceiling and work your way out.
  • Building a T-brace can be helpful for holding the drywall in place while you work.
  • Fill seams, gaps, and screw intentions in the same fashion as the walls were completed.
  • Apply primer before painting.

9. Finish the floor

While it’s not necessarily a hard set rule to finish the floor last, it can help you avoid damage from other building materials. Unless your basement has been finished in the past, you’re probably looking at a concrete floor. Installing a subfloor before the flooring is the best way to increase warmth and keep out moisture that could affect your finished floor. Follow these steps to create an even subfloor and finished flooring in your basement.

  • Examine the floor for hills and dips. Fill dips deeper than 3/16ths of an inch with a self-leveling compound. Allow the compound to dry per the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • If dips aren’t level after drying, then repeat the process.
  • Lay down and adhere sheets of polystyrene insulation in the same fashion you used on the walls.
  • Install sheets of plywood over the installation and secure with masonry screws to complete the subfloor.
  • Install your chosen flooring material by following the manufacturer’s instructions.

5 Uses for Your Finished Basement

Whether you have plans for your basement space or you simply want to improve your home, your finished basement adds a wealth of usable space to your home. Once you have completed your walls, ceilings, and floors, your new space is ready for use. Consider these options as a way to enjoy your new space.

1. Home office

As many people have transitioned to working at home, it’s obvious that a dedicated workspace is a necessity. Consider using your basement room for a complete office that will allow you to get some work done. If you have a large space, consider installing multiple desks to allow family members to work in shifts. It can even provide a quiet space for kids to complete homework without the distractions associated with at-home learning.

2. Extra bedroom space

Teens crave privacy, so your basement can provide a space for complete bedrooms with a personal bathroom. If you have room, then a small refrigerator and microwave alongside cabinets can create a makeshift kitchen space.

3. Storage space

Since your finished basement includes temperature and humidity control, it can be a great storage space for all types of belongings. Creating a dedicated storage area in your finished basement can even create a way for you to make extra income. While many areas require special permits to rent out living space, you can safely rent storage space without any worries. Renting out your unused storage space through Neighbor is easy. Simply create a listing for free, and interested renters will come to you. Neighbor provides every host with a free $1M host guarantee.

4. Home gym

Whether your regular workout routine was upended by the pandemic, or you simply prefer to work out at home, your finished basement can provide the ultimate space for a complete home gym. Install your favorite equipment and a sound system to take your exercise routine to the next level. Your home gym will eliminate all the excuses you use and help the whole family lead a healthier lifestyle.

5. Family game room

Family members of all ages need a space to let loose and have fun. Creating a family game room in the basement frees up space inside your home to keep things neat and tidy. When planning your game room, include every member of the family. You can create a play area for small children, install a pool table for older kids and adults, and also add a media center for everyone to enjoy. The addition of a table and chairs supplies a great place for snacking or playing cards and board games.

A DIY approach to finishing a basement takes a lot of time and hard work, but the results pay off. No matter how you choose to use your finished basement, it can add value to your property and increase the square footage of your home. So taking the time to follow the proper procedures for permitting, moisture control, and safe building practices means you can create a space you and your family will enjoy for years to come.

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