The ABCs of Basement Renovations
Here’s the plan
When you’re planning to do a basement reno you want to start by looking at the whole space and see what’s around you - starting with looking up. Look at where your ducts are run for your heating and cooling and especially look at what else will need a bulkhead so you can plan around it. You don't want to have big ugly bulkheads that are in the centre of the room. Especially if you have duct work that tucks underneath your main beam. These will be an eyesore if it’s in the centre of a room. Not good.
What we like to do is tuck it into a closet or work them into built-ins on either side of the wall to hide those big ugly vents. When renovating you’ll want to think about the purpose of your basement. How will you be using the space? Are you building additional rooms for people? Is it going to be a rec room? Tv room? You want to know how your basement will be used so you can plan properly.
One thing you want to keep in mind is if you want to put a bedroom downstairs, there needs to be a separate means of egress. This means that there needs to be a window big enough that someone can escape through in case of a fire.
The same thing goes when installing kitchens - you can usually get away with a small kitchenette and a bar fridge. As soon as you get into full kitchens the City looks at that like a separate apartment which means you’ll need to go through the proper permit channels. Sometimes it’s just easier to make your update to just include a rec room or an office so that way you don’t have to go through the headache of pulling additional permits.
Girls (and boys) just wanna have fun
Don’t forget that when you’re designing and planning your basement to have fun with it! You have a blank canvas to work with. You can incorporate a dry or wet bar or a 2 piece or 3 piece bathroom. You can even throw in a nice big theatre room - the sky's the limit down there! You can do whatever you want so don’t be afraid to have some fun with it. Ultimately you want to design and come up with something that will fit your family's needs. Another small design note is that when it comes to painting, the majority of basements don't have large windows so you won't have a lot of natural light. Stick with light colours. It's always good to be bold and have a feature wall but for the most part stick with those light colours so your basement doesn't become a cave. Unless you’re building a man cave. In which case, cave it up. Cave it all the way up.
Everything you need to know about insulation (okay, not everything)
Now that your plan is complete and you know the basic layout the next step will be insulating the basement walls. If the basement is below ground you’ll have concrete walls all around with pink insulation that falls halfway down your wall. That insulation alone is not sufficient for your basement. It is usually only an R12 and you’re required to have R22 in a basement with a minimum of at least R20. We usually start by taking down all that insulation and starting fresh. Some options are to insulate with Roxul and vapor barrier to get yourself to R20 or in some cases R22.
The other more popular option is to use spray foam. The benefit of this is that it will create a full seal for your basement and you won't have to worry about any warm and cold air mixing. Your contractor will always try to get the best seal they can get but it won’t always be 100% sealed when using just Roxul and vapor barrier (there is always a small chance that mold and mildew will set in if your seals are not good).
We recommend spray foam as this is the best way to ensure you get a perfect seal. Keep in mind, this option will cost you a little bit extra. If you’re going to spend the extra on spray foam then you’re going to want to do a proper sub floor to make sure you’re insulated from the sides as well as the bottom. There are different ways you can do it. Polystyrene is a good way to go and you can put tongue and groove plywood on top and Tapcon that all down. That way you know the floor is completely solid and insulated. There are companies out there at make 2x2 tiles that have built-in insulation beneath them to give you the same temperature break as plywood. Plan on doing it right. You don’t want to have the cold, musty basement like your neighbour. You want to have a basement that everyone will want to hang out in.
Another thing that people play around with is whether to go with drywall ceiling or drop ceiling. With drop ceilings, you're not getting as nice of a finish but you now have access to all the elements for the house including wires, ducts and pipes. These are all run through the basement so you may not want to cut off access to those utilities.
With drywall, it will complete the finish, tie in well with your basement and will generally match the rest of the house or in this case, your finished underground space. With drywall, you also have the option to use access doors like this one from Best Access Doors. This way you can still get at all of the main utilities that you might find yourself wanting to get at later on.
Also, make sure you have a certified electrician to run all the wires and outlets so that everything is done to code. If you're adding a bathroom, get a plumber to run all the lines so that everything is certified and to their standards. We get questions a lot about soundproofing your ceilings. It’s one of those things that all depends on what the room is being used for.
If you installing a theatre or a music room then you may want to insulate the ceiling. For the most part, if you think of it, the ceiling between your main and second floor isn't insulated. If you’re used to those noises the basement won’t be much different. Sometimes it can be a wasted cost unless you’re willing to go all out with it. That means insulating it properly and using the proper resilient channel and thicker drywall to be able to really dampen that sound perfectly. That will also drive up the cost so it’s worth considering if you’re on a budget.
When it comes to your budget, you’ll need to consider the costs - it can go both ways. Are you putting down carpet? Laminate? What kind of trim or doors are you looking at using? Those are all items that will drive the price of the project up or down. If you go with a lower budget then expect that the trim and finishes will not be to the BroLaws standards. If you spend some extra money in the basement you'll get a great fit and finish with the rest of the house.
With any reno you want it to fit the rest of the house. You want your basement to be on the same level as the rest of your beautiful kitchen and dining house. This is one of those renos we see a lot where people will attempt to do themselves and then end up getting a professional to eventually finish up for them. What a lot of people don’t realize is that this is a large renovation and you don’t see a lot of that until you really get into the nitty-gritty. You need to realize that the floor space in a basement is generally the same size as the other floors of your house and can get overwhelming very quickly. This is not something we recommend as a DIY project. There might be little things you can do to save money if you’re doing it on your own but for the most part get a pro because you don’t want to bite off more than you can chew.
Last but not least, if you’re looking for a good contractor, we might know a couple guys we can send your way ;)
-Dave & Joey