Additional living space: It’s something many of us want in our homes. If the inquiries we’re receiving at Custom are any indication, more and more homeowners see remodeling the basement as part of the solution.
Transforming a basement into a family room is probably the most common goal. But there are plenty of other outcomes, including bedroom, playroom, “man cave,” home office, theater/media room, library, and finished storage space or laundry room.
The return on investment for a basement renovation is a huge gray area. So much of it depends on what kind of finished product you have in mind — for example, a bedroom vs. a laundry room.
But as with any remodeling project, you have to factor in how long you plan to stay in the home and how much use you’ll get out of the room. If you can have a playroom that gets your kids out of your hair for the next 10 years, you can’t put a price on that!
Passing the ‘Remodelability’ Test
The first step in the process of planning a basement remodel is determining if the space is actually “remodelable.” (Yes, we made up that term.)
If evaluating someone’s basement, we look at a number of factors (which are outlined below). If the basement is dry, has sufficient headroom and means of egress, is well-ventilated, etc., then it’s going to be smooth sailing.
On the other hand, if the basement falls short on a number of these measures, it doesn’t necessarily rule out a renovation. It just means the cost is going to be higher. It’s very rare that we come across a basement that can’t be remodeled.
Challenges and Considerations
Here’s a look at some of the top challenges and considerations that come with remodeling a basement.
• Water: Without question, the No. 1 concern in basements. Besides damaging whatever you’re storing down there, a wet basement can cause a musty smell along with mold and air-quality problems. Before proceeding with a renovation, be sure any water issues are resolved. In most cases, installing a full French perimeter drain system with a sump pump will address both water table issues and water infiltration from the outside.
• Headroom: Massachusetts State Building Code stipulates that all “habitable” basements “have a ceiling height of not less than seven feet.” (The term “habitable” refers to a finished room used for living space as opposed to finished storage space.) The headroom measurement spans the finished floor to the “lowest projection from the ceiling.” So if you’re hoping to create a new bedroom in your basement, you must meet these requirements. Sometimes obstructions such as ducts or pipes can be removed or rerouted; other times, they hang so low as to make a space uninhabitable. (In basements without habitable spaces, the minimum is 6’ 8”, or 6’ 4” including ceiling obstructions.)
• Egress: What’s your egress out of the basement other than the stairway? According to State Building Code, “Basements with habitable space and every sleeping room shall have at least one openable emergency escape and rescue opening.” Whether it’s a door or a window, such an opening must be no more than 44 inches above the floor. Furthermore, the opening must measure at least 24 inches high and 20 inches wide. (If your basement is not serving as a bedroom, it still must have eight square feet of window surface for every 100 square feet of floor space.)
• Ventilation: The State Building Code requires “every room or space intended for human occupancy” to have “natural or mechanical ventilation” to draw in fresh air. Bathrooms must be equipped with a mechanical exhaust fan.
• Insulation: Properly insulating your basement is essential for energy efficiency. Closed-cell spray foam has been growing in popularity in recent years. One manufacturer we like is Icynene — their product provides a great seal, lets no air through and is made of reusable materials.
• Stairway: Many existing stairways in local basements don’t conform to code. Often times, we are unable to bring a stairway up to code due to space and headroom limitations. So we instead focus on ensuring it’s safe and as close as possible to code and that the railing system conforms to code.
• Flooring: Basement floors bring up all sorts of challenges. Some have asbestos tiles that must be removed by experts. Others are uneven, in which case a carpet might be your only option — assuming dampness isn’t an issue. If dampness is an issue, tiling the floor is a likely solution. And if your existing floor is in particularly poor condition, and you have the headroom, a built-up floor system of some sort might be the way to go. As you can see, you have to account for a lot of variables.
Get an Expert Opinion
Remodeling your basement can go a long way toward making your home more livable. Custom has worked on dozens of these projects since 1990. If you’d like to discuss the possibilities, please call us today at 781-648-2835.