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15 Things to Consider Before Starting a Basement Finishing Project

Turning an unfinished basement into livable space is a big project with even bigger rewards. The space is already there, like a diamond in the rough! Here's what you need to think about when planning your basement finishing project.

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Building PermitsGearstd/Shutterstock

Building Permits

You want to do everything on the up and up, so step one of your basement finishing project is to find out what permits and inspections are required. If you call your city or county clerk they'll be able to explain the permitting and inspection process.
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Building and Electrical Code Requirements

Building and Electrical Code Requirements

Some states consider a basement finishing project a wet area. And require ground fault circuit interrupt (GFCI) outlets. If you're going to be doing any plumbing here are some questions to consider: Can you use PVC or polyethylene or do you have to use copper pipes? Do you have to use wooden studs and joists, or can you use steel? These are examples of code requirements that you'll have to be aware of when planning the project. Photo: Mike Aguilar
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WaterproofingFamily Handyman


Water can ruin a perfectly planned and executed basement finishing project, if you don't take it into account. So, do you need to waterproof or consider the installation of a sump pump?
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Who Will Do the Work?hidesy/Shutterstock

Who Will Do the Work?

Some building codes might require that all work in a basement finishing project be completed by a licensed contractor. And others might allow you to everything yourself. This all depends on where you live. So, check with the building permits office to find out what builder requirements there are in your area. You might decide to plumb and wire everything yourself, but have a professional come in to build and finish the walls and floors. If you're planning on installing windows, you might leave the more difficult exterior penetration for the window up to a professional so there's a warranty if it leaks.
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How Finished Is "Finished"?

How Finished Is "Finished"?

For some, a basement finishing project might mean nothing more than adding some lighting and electrical outlets and installing a workbench. And for others, it might mean building walls and a ceiling, installing a full wet bar, and building a small acoustically-correct home theater. You need to decide what it means for your project.
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How Much Lighting and What Kind?SaveLightstock/Shutterstock

How Much Lighting and What Kind?

Once you decide what you're going to use the basement for, then it's time to plan the lighting. Your lighting can be more subdued if you're going to use the space as an entertainment area, bar or den. However, you might want some bright track lights over your workbench. And if you're going to install drywall over exposed studs or add framing over concrete walls and the ceiling, will you be using recessed or surface lighting or maybe a combination of the two?
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LED, Incandescent or Fluorescent?Family Handyman

LED, Incandescent or Fluorescent?

Choose between hot, warm and cool incandescent lights, compact fluorescents or LEDs, which save energy. Consider LEDs with remote control if the basement will have multiple uses.
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Drainage RequirementsFamily Handyman

Drainage Requirements

If you decide to include a small wet bar and food prep area in your basement finishing project, determine if there is somewhere in the basement where you can tap into the house's drainage system. Maybe you're going to need to figure out a way to lift both liquid and solid waste to connect to the main house drain as it goes to the street. And do you have enough of a water infiltration problem to warrant a sump pump? Plus:  Build a full bathroom with a shower in your basement.
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How Will It Be Wired?Family Handyman

How Will It Be Wired?

For the electrical work needed to finish your basement, hire a professional unless you have considerable experience and knowledge. Here's how to install surface-mounted wiring and conduit and how to rough-in electrical wiring.
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Do You Want a Safe Room?Jezper/Shutterstock

Do You Want a Safe Room?

A safe room can keep you and your family safe in an emergency, natural or man-made. A finished basement is an ideal place to locate a safe room. However, if you want to build it right you've got to decide before you begin your basement finishing project, not when you're halfway through.
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Installing Windows? What Kind?Family Handyman

Installing Windows? What Kind?

Not all finished basements have windows, but most do. If you decide that your basement finishing project is going to include the installation of windows, will they be big ones or small ones? Will they be able to be opened and if so, how? Double or triple pane storm windows? And will you have window wells? Another item to consider is egress windows. Can people get out of the basement safely in an emergency? Are you required by local building and safety codes to have egress windows? What do you need to know to plan the installation of egress windows?
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Should We Incorporate Extra Food Storage?Corrie Mick/Shutterstock

Should We Incorporate Extra Food Storage?

If your kitchen is lacking adequate storage space, you might want to consider adding storage space in the basement for nonperishables and foods you've preserved. Do you want to make the new basement pantry a simple nook with a few large shelves or do you want to make it a full walk-in pantry?
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Does It Have or Need Direct Access to the Outside?Marie Linner/Shutterstock

Does It Have or Need Direct Access to the Outside?

You may find out that building and safety codes have changed since your house was built. And if you embark on a basement finishing project you might want to install a door that leads directly outside. This is something you need to know before you start your basement finishing project.
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Flooring OptionsFamily Handyman

Flooring Options

What kind of flooring does your basement currently have and what do you want the finished space to have on the floor? Maybe painted concrete is all you need. Or maybe you'd prefer to have real or laminate wood flooring. You might decide you want tile in the bathroom and food-prep area to make cleaning up easier, and carpet everywhere else. Also consider in-floor heat if you're concerned about cold floors in the winter months.
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RadonFamily Handyman


Since you'll be working on your basement anyway, this is the perfect time to have the space tested for radon. Radon is a colorless, odorless radioactive gas that's produced by decaying uranium. It's present in nearly all soils, and very low levels of radon are found in the air we breathe every day. The gas moves from the soil into a home. Although it can seep directly through pores in concrete, the worst entry points are gaps in walls and floors. Any house, of any age, in any state can have elevated radon levels. And it really depends on the way your specific house interacts with the surrounding soil. So your neighbor's radon level may differ significantly from yours. Problems arise when radon gas enters your home and gets trapped. And long-term exposure to high levels of radon can cause lung cancer. Learn more about radon testing.