Smart Tips for Finished Basements

Get the most from your lower level with these tips that will transform your basement into a livable space for the whole family.

Know Building Codes

Basement rooms must be at least 7X7 feet and have a minimum ceiling height of 84 inches over 50 percent of the floor area. Bathrooms, hallways, and task areas can have ceilings that dip as low as 76 inches in some spots. All bedrooms window need to be at least 20 inches wide and 24 inches high, or 5.7 square feet, and no more than 44 inches off the floor. Having a room that matches these dimensions will ensure that people can walk around comfortably and escape in case of an emergency.

Make an Entrance

Consider your stairway location and how it leads you into the basement space. Ideally the stairs will lead to a family room or a main gathering area. Stair risers should be no more than 8 inches tall, and the treads must be at least 9 inches deep. Although regulations vary from region to region, most require that stairs have guardrails at least 34 inches high and that the guardrails must have intermediate rails or posts or other ornamental fill that will not allow objects 4 inches in diameter or larger to pass.

Bring in the Light

Bringing in natural light is one of the biggest challenges when creating a basement room. Window wells are the most common solution where the window-opening height is below ground level. In case of an emergency, you can climb out the window and up the well. Choose window well locations carefully so you can make them as wide and deep as possible. The wider and deeper the well, the greater the amount of sunlight flowing into the basement.

Have an Escape Route

Check your local building codes to determine if they require egress windows for a basement bedroom. Egress windows must be large enough for a firefighter in full gear to get into a burning house and for occupants to safely escape if the stairway is blocked. If you can't install egress windows, consider adding hinged outside access doors.

Create Zones

Manage the wide-open spaces of the lower level by breaking it up into separate, smaller areas. Create different zones for the different activities you will do there. Many basements have load-bearing beams throughout the basement. Use these beams to define the different areas.

Quiet Time

Whether your lower level is a home theater, dance studio, or just a space to relax, noise can travel up and disrupt other household activities. Keep noise where it belongs by soundproofing the area. Choose drywall that is soundproof. This type of drywall is visually indistinguishable from standard drywall, but it's engineered to dampen noise.

Finishing Touches

Suspended ceilings are great for adding a finished look. They cover ductwork, electrical components, and bare joints from the floor above. But they can lower the ceiling height by about a foot. If you don't want to lose this height, consider using furring strips to drop the ceiling only enough to hide everything but the ductwork. Then install tongue-and-groove planking or standard drywall to finish the ceiling.

Sure Footing

Most basement floors start off as a concrete slab, but they don't have to stay that way. If your floor is level and dry, considering covering it with ceramic tile, laminate, or vinyl. All are durable choices that are easy to install over concrete. Solid-wood flooring isn't recommended for basement applications because small fluctuations in moisture levels can cause buckling and splitting, but engineered wood is a suitable alternative.

Rising Temperatures

Heating a basement can be a challenge. Registers in the ceiling push warm air into the room, but that warm air rises to the ceiling. Subfloor panel systems and in-floor radiant heating are good solutions for cold feet. Subfloor panel systems provide good insulation. Radiant-heat systems provide inexpensive, even warmth throughout a room and eliminate the cold spots and drafts created by forced-air systems.

Gathering Spot

Give people a reason to do downstairs. If you don't have much light, turn the space into a home theater. Theaters and game rooms are good reasons to go down into a dark basement.

Moisture Control

With basement rooms, the most important task is keeping moisture out. There are multiple ways to keep your basement dry. Ensure good drainage off your roof and away from your foundation, provide good ventilation of bathrooms and kitchens to the outside, and don't open windows during humid periods. Another option is to install a subfloor panel system, which creates a moisture barrier. If you live in a humid climate, dehumidifiers are an effective way to remove excess moisture from the basement. However, they can draw water through foundation walls. If this starts to be a problem, turn off the dehumidifier.

Quick Return

Finishing a basement is a good investment. A basement project adds new functionality to your home by providing more living space and more efficient storage.

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