Custom Contracting clients used to be pretty conservative about basement renovations. Now, it seems like the sky is the limit.
Until recently, homeowners tended to hire us to convert their basement into a playroom, home office or entertainment room. These were sizable projects, but they paled in comparison to what we’re currently seeing.
These days, many clients and prospects have a much more ambitious vision for their basement. And they’re willing to spend a lot more money to address the various issues needed to make the basement a viable living space.
Common Issues to Address
We’ve thought a lot about why homeowners are willing to spend so much more on their basements than just a few years ago. We think a big factor is the local real estate market. (See the Management Memo on page 2 for more on this topic.)
If you’re looking to create more livable space in your home, the basement is a natural option to explore. The complexity of such a project depends largely on the current state of the house. Homes built in the 1980s or later generally offer a good starting point. They’re likely to feature a continuous pour foundation, stable concrete floors, adequate drainage and ceiling heights, code-conforming stairways, better windows etc.
Older homes are another story. Among the issues that often come into play:
Water: Is the basement protected against water? Homes near the coastline are at risk, but homes located inland could be as well depending on the local water table. Installing a French drain and/or sump pump might be necessary for water mitigation.
Air quality: The State Building Code requires “every room or space intended for human occupancy” to have “natural [a calculation for a certain number of operable windows per square foot of space] or mechanical ventilation.” Bathrooms must be equipped with a mechanical exhaust fan. If radon gas is a concern, a radon mitigation system might be needed.
Head rooms and clearances: The State Building Code stipulates that at least half of the floor space have at least 7′ 3″ of headroom (although 7′ ceiling heights are permissible in some cases). Creating more headroom by digging down isn’t an option if that means going below the water table. Digging down near foundation wall footings can also complicate matters.
Egress: Other than the stairway, what is your egress out of the basement? The State Building Code requires any bedroom to have at least one window that measures 20″ x 24″ in either direction and is no more than 44″ off the floor. The rules for basement egress can vary from town to town, with some requiring a door/bulkhead entry and others just requiring an egress window well. Even if you’re not using your basement as a bedroom, the State Building Code calls for eight square feet of window surface for every 100 square feet of floor space.
Insulation: Insulation options can be a very important aspect to consider, although most basements are well below ground level and foundations can almost always meet insulation code requirements on their own. Moisture issues, moisture barrier types, French drain applications and other factors can often dictate which insulation method (e.g. spray foams, rigid foam boards or fiberglass insulation) might work best.
And regardless of the home’s age, it’s sometimes necessary to relocate a stairway, remove a chimney and/or relocate the major mechanicals to make the project work.
Safe. Clean. Dry.
Homeowners looking to renovate a basement are really looking to ensure a safe, clean and dry space above all else. Meeting all three goals can be highly challenging. In fact, some basements simply cannot be brought up to code, no matter what upgrades are made. In most cases, however, it can be done with a lot of creative thinking by experts.
At Custom, we’ve been remodeling basements for over a quarter century. We can call on this experience to let you know whether yours can be remodeled — or if it’s simply not worth pursuing. Contact us today to learn more.
Custom Contracting, Inc.
1267A Massachusetts Ave.
Arlington, MA 02476