Lets talk basements.


When it comes to buying a new home, a lot of them will have the minimum requirements to an unfinished basement. Such as, exterior wall framing, electrical, insulation, vapor barrier and some may go as far as putting in the rough-in for a future bathroom (shower, toilet, sink, wet bars). It is important to do your homework before tackling such a large project like the basement. There are key components to be aware of when it comes to finishing your basement. 

A popular question that gets asked a lot is “does a finished basement add value to my home?” and also “how much value will a finished basement add?” Finished basements do add value to your home if done correctly. How much exactly? Research states that homeowners will roughly get 50-70% in return on their investment. If you get 50-70% back in return, that means you’ve only spent 30-50% of the actual project overall cost. This is considered a good investment. The higher the return value, the lower the effective cost of the project. If you’re asking yourself “Should we? Or shouldn’t we?”. This is a decision only you can make and that’s the value of the end result. 

Think about countless family movie nights you will have if you throw in a theatre room. Having a wet bar for your family and friends for the Superbowl and Hockey night. Having a music room where you, your kids and friends can play your instruments. A home office where you can really focus on your own work. And last but not least, a spare bedroom and bathroom for when you have relatives stay over. This is simply a life question you get to experience in the long run. Having a finished basement gives you options that you otherwise wouldn’t have. Unless you decide to add an addition should this be a possibility. In the end it may cost you more.

While the added value to your home from finishing the basement isn’t as much as you’d hope, you still benefit from the enjoyment of that extra space for you and your family.  It will still cost you less to finish your basement then it is to build an addition or buy a new home. You won’t have the extra added costs, as you already have the four walls, plumbing and electrical done. 

There’re a few things to consider when designing your basement. The kind of finished space you add into the basement can have an enormous impact on the value a buyer will be willing to pay. 

One type of investment that is most valuable to add is a full walk-out basement. This is the most valuable type of living space because you can add full size windows and full-size doors leading to a nice beautiful patio. This will also allow you to have more natural light coming in, making it feel less like a dark enclosed basement. A full walk-out basement is commonly found in an area where the house is on a hill. 

However, if you do not have the ability to have a walk-out basement. You may be able to have a partial drop in grade. This will still allow you to have full size windows, still allowing all of that natural light to come into the basement. 

Last but not least is your typical basement. You have your four walls and hardly any natural light and your standard tiny basement windows. 

One of the best things about finishing a basement is that you can make it your own. You can personalize it to your needs. Having a wine cellar, a theatre room, a workout room, a music room, options are limitless depending on your budget. 

You can come across a few problems when personalizing your space. It may be a little harder to sell in the end because then you limit the crowd of potential buyers. You’re basically hunting for people with the same interests when customizing your own basement. An easy way to attract a larger crowd is having your basic necessities such as your living space, a bedroom, a full piece bathroom and your mechanical room plus storage. This will attract more buyers in the end. 

When designing a basement there are certain features that buyers love to find in a finished basement. Having an in-law suite, where you can potentially have a second source of income. Meaning, lowering your monthly mortgages/bills. If having another person living in your own home isn’t for you. You can simply add a theatre room. We’ve come a long way and you can now enjoy a movie at the theatres in your own home with the same effects. Nowadays, you can now buy alcohol at the movie theatres, so why not throw in a sports bar? Ask anyone if they would like to have their own bar in their own home. The answer is hell yeah they do! With all of that partying and junk food eating while watching the movies, its important to stay in shape. You can add your own personal work out room. No gym membership fees, not having to worry about other people watching you work out and also having the time to physically go out to the gym and then back home. We live a very busy lifestyle, and time is money. The less time you spend traveling to the gym, the more time you can spend binge watching your favorite episodes while working out!

But again, keep in mind. Although it sounds very cool to have all of these features in your basement. You are limiting your crowd for potential future buyers. Keep things simple, add a guest room and a washroom because some buyers may or may not be willing to pay for these kinds of features in a basement. If you are thinking of moving anyways and the funds are limited, then why spend all that extra money when you can limit yourself by only having the basic essentials. Four insulated walls, and a mechanical room. Buyers may get more excited about an unfinished basement, because it gives them a clean slate to work with. Besides there is no guarantee you will make your money back in your basement renovation. You can tackle your basement reno in sections and still do it right. 

When thinking of renovating your basement, it’s important to know how much money you’re willing to invest into the reno. As some contractors like to say. “Be prepared for the worst.” There’s no rush on finishing the space right away. You can tackle a basement reno in sections and  work according to your budget. Once you’ve figured out the funds,. cleaning out the entire basement would be your next step. Right down to the bare bones. Clean slate as you would say. Having a clear space can help you identify any problems in the concrete walls, floors and windows. It can also help you envision your dream finished basement.

If you live in an older home it is quite possible there is no exterior or interior water proofing. This important element will save you money in the long run. If you live in a new home built 15 years ago, there’s most likely going to be water proofing. Although it wouldn’t be a bad idea to check. Keeping a basement dry is crucial and is now part of the building code. Ideally, this would be the first step to your basement reno. Checking for water issues may require some demolition in your basement to get to the root cause of the potential water damage. Your end goal is to keep the water out of your finished space. A simple way is to check outside to make sure the ground is graded away from your home and not towards your home. This will help water run downhill and not into your basement. Once you have a blank canvas inside your basement, you can check for obvious signs of water coming in. It is quite common for grounds to shift and cause foundation cracks and in your concrete floors. If you notice foundation cracks this issue should be inspected and fixed by a professional. Other signs of entry are also common around basement windows. This simple fix could be as easy as just replacing the caulking, or in worst case, replacing your windows. If you notice discoloration on your foundation walls it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get that checked by a professional, as this could be mold. Depending on the severity of the mold on the concrete walls, you can simply clean it off with a specific mold and mildew cleaner.

If you’re unsure about any of this, having a building inspector come out to inspect the basement wouldn’t be such a bad idea, at the same time, it is recommended to check for radon gas. Which can be harmful and deadly for you and your pets. Once the building inspector is done their walkthrough, they will hand you a report with a list of things that need to be addressed. For example, your doorway leading to the basement. Is it the right size? Think of appliances that need to be brought down. The stairs leading down to the basement. Does it meet code? Window sizes, do you have any egress windows? Are they big enough? Do they also meet code?

Once you have finished the demolition process and have addressed any of the following issues the building inspector caught, foundation cracks, leaks, improper waterproofing, stairs, windows, etc. You can now go to the next step. Laying out your basement. 

If you’ve already blown your budget on waterproofing and fixing foundation cracks or bringing things up to code. That’s okay. You’ve already taken the right steps to having a successful basement reno. This will save you money in the long run. Laying out a basement can be really fun, this is where you can get really creative. As previously discussed, really think about the type of finish you want. Do you want a custom finish to suit yourself? Or do you want a finish basement that will be easier to sell and attract a bigger crowd? Or why not both? Depending on the space you have. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to talk to a realtor first. They will sit down with you and compare similar homes in the area and compare prices that way. They can also advise you what will be more effective in the long run when you are ready to sell. 

Once you have written down your plan and what you would really like. It is important to check with your local municipality to see if you require any building permits. It is strongly suggested to get building permits as this will save you in the long run. Some homeowners will overlook this process as they are not fully aware of what permits they need for the job. Having a building permit is basically your insurance that the job will be done right, inspected by trained professionals and also up to code. Typically, contractors but not all will supply the building permit. Don’t rely on others for this step as the responsibility is with the homeowner.

Understanding the reasoning behind the building permits can be confusing and complicated. Some may think this is simply a cash grab and do not need them. Think of it this way, if ever you have a flood, or electrical fire, or any insurance claim related to the work that has been done on your home, you may be at fault if no permits were filed for the specific job. Some insurance companies will even deny the claim if this process wasn’t followed costing you lots of money in the end. Building permits don’t sound to bad now do they? Yes, it’s an extra step that you have to take before starting the project but trust me it is worth that extra step. Permits are also important when it comes time to buying a home and selling a home. Potential buyers are recommended to contact the municipal office for proof that the work done on your home included a building permit and final inspection by a building inspector. If permits were never obtained, this is a red flag. We advice any potential buyers to walk away. As you do not know if the work done is safe and up to code. 

Once you have all the plans and building permits in place, you can now choose a contractor (check out our link on ‘how to choose the right contractor’). Or if you’re handy and can do the work yourself you can save lots of money this way. Keep in mind, if you decide to do it yourself, this requires knowledge, skills and lots of after hours after your full-time day job. If you’re on a timeframe because you borrowed money from the bank and need to get the job done ASAP, hiring a professional contractor wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Once you have all proper exterior wall membranes and the framing in place, having trained professionals coming in to do all of the electrical, plumbing and HVAC work is key. This way it ensures you that the job was done correctly and meets code. Once these trades are done their work. Insulating your walls/ceilings/floor cavities will be your next step. Keeping the cold air out and the hot air in is very important. Check out the minimum requirements for basement insulation in your city to meet code. When insulating your basement walls, you will notice some new built homes stopped at the frost line. Depending on the city you live in, the frost line will vary. Ideally you will want new insulation and vapour barrier system installed. Or a spray foam insulation application installed from floor to ceiling. Remember you want to keep any moisture and water away from touching your insulation as this will affect it and no longer do its job that its designed to do. Keeping the area warm. Spray foam insulation is also a mold and mildew resistant, which is an added bonus.

These steps can be very overwhelming and can get very expensive. Do not get discouraged as you are only trying to protect yourself from having to redo all of the work. It is very common that homeowners will overlook all of these steps and skip right to finishing. These steps are very important to follow. As your home is the biggest investment in your lifetime. If these steps are not followed you can come across a lot of headaches and lawsuits before/after selling your home. Once you have figured out all of the work that’s hidden behind the walls, it is now time to decide your finishes. 

Let’s talk about ceilings quickly. Not everyone may like this style. Drop ceilings. Having a suspended ceiling will provide you access to electrical and plumbing lines as the tiles are removable. You may have convinced your self over the years that having a drop ceiling looks more like an office than a home. But the truth is, we have come a long way since they first came out, and have come up with multiple attractive designs. Although you do lose some ceiling height with this option, so keep that in mind. This feature is also great in the sense of, if there’s a catastrophe of water damage. You can simply replace the tiles. Rather then the drywall you will have to replace and re finish it all. Having a drop ceiling is also great if you need to do any future work if it requires you to take down the ceiling. Simple move of the tiles and you has full access.

When it comes time to your utility room. What do you do? A utility room is not for finishing. This is the one room you want FULL access to. Keeping all the water lines, electrical, HVAC unit, water tanks clear and open. You will need access for inspections and/or repairs. Although you may want to finish this space off and really tempted to. Keep it simple to avoid future problems. 

Its very important to do your homework when considering a basement renovation. Doing your research on finding the right contractor and the work itself is important. Doing your research, will help you understand what your contractor is doing and why.