Basements have been a place for the unknown for years. Lack of proper maintenance makes these places look abandoned, unkempt and naturally scary.

However, since the pandemic struck and people were forced to work from home, the demand for permanent extra space has skyrocketed. And now, most homeowners and renters are going underground to create more space.

A finished basement adds extra livable space while boosting a home’s long-term value. In terms of cost, renovating a basement costs one-third to one-half less than building an addition. Even better, the payback could be as high as 70%, depending on location, project scope and quality of work done.

A successful basement remodel project requires careful planning and a handful of considerations. Let’s walk you through them.

Pull the Necessary Permits

Your basement renovation project may not be visible from the street. But it’s not automatic that you won’t require a building permit before starting.

In most states, cities and towns, it’s illegal to erect, construct, alter, enlarge, repair or remodel a building or structure without the necessary permits. There may be a few exemptions from state to state or town to town, but you’re most likely going to require a license if you’re adding or knocking down walls or adding wiring or plumbing pipes behind the wall.

If the goal of renovating the basement is to create additional living space, your municipality most probably has codes with minimum specifications that must be met. These codes dictate what qualifies to be a basement and everything else necessary to make it habitable, including ceiling height, hallway width and availability of emergency exits.

You may not be arrested for finishing or remodeling a basement without the necessary permits. But the possible penalties, including fines, reduced home value and removal of work done, may not be worth it.

Even if your home is up to code, a quick trip to your local building department should clear all doubts about the type of permit necessary to renovate your basement.

Fix Moisture and Flooding Issues

Regardless of the severity, you need to fix or minimize your basement’s moisture issue to make it habitable. If left to itself, high basement moisture favors the growth of mold, mildew and fungi, which can affect your family’s health. Too much humidity for prolonged periods in your newly renovated basement can also cause rot and structural damage, leading to costly maintenance and repairs.

The first step to repairing basement moisture and flooding issues is understanding the cause of the problem. Common causes include cracks in the foundation, ineffective grading, missing gutters and wall cracks.

When dealing with basement moisture problems, a smart move is to add water backup coverage to your homeowner’s insurance. Water backup coverage is a fairly inexpensive rider that covers damages due to backed-up sewers, drains and septic tanks. It also offers loss of use coverage in the rare case that your home is unlivable.

Choose Wall, Floor and Ceiling Material Options Wisely

Flooring, ceiling and wall materials are another major consideration when renovating your basement. Your choice of material for each of these will depend on your style preferences, the basement’s intended purpose and your budget.

Basement Walls

Drywall is common for basement walls because it’s inexpensive and easy to install and repair. Laminated plywood panels are another low-cost option that also saves installation time. While pricier, cement board and ceramic tile make an excellent combination if your basement is too humid.

Basement Flooring

Vinyl flooring (plank or tile) and concrete or ceramic tiles are the best basement flooring materials, thanks to their waterproof properties. You may also use carpets and hardwood if your basement floor remains dry.

Basement Ceiling Material Options

After the floor and walls, you also need to take care of the unsightly maze of ductwork, plumbing pipes and electrical wires that make up your basement ceiling. There are tons of options in the category of basement ceiling materials, so ensure you look around for a design that perfectly reflects your style and taste. Some of the most common basement ceiling ideas include suspended ceiling, stretch ceiling, acoustic tile, drywall and wooden planks.

Think of Ways to Brighten It

Poor lighting is the major reason basements appear dreary. If you’re planning to convert this dark and gloomy spot into an office, movie theater, game room, or an additional bedroom for guests, one of the key ingredients will be better lighting. And considering that basements don’t enjoy a lot of natural lighting, you’ll need to get creative to accomplish this.

A crucial consideration when improving basement lighting is function. This is essential for ensuring that the lighting solutions set the tone or mood for that particular use.

If your basement has a window or two that lets in natural light, you’ll need to develop a strategy to maximize it. Increasing the size of the window and adding a sliding glass door (if possible) are other possible ways of inviting more sunlight. If your basement doesn’t have a window and you’re hellbent on bringing some natural light, you may consider creating an egress window.

LED recessed lighting is another common way of handling poor basement lighting, especially if you have a low ceiling. If installing recessed lighting is out of the question for your case, how about track lights? The latter is a popular option for low-ceiling basements because they cover a lot of ground without taking a lot of space.

Heat It Up

Most basements are originally designed with storage- not living- in mind. That’s why even the warmest basements will still be too cold for comfort. Luckily, there are various basement heating options to keep your family warm and toasty while enjoying their newfound living space.

  • Ductless mini-split AC- with their ease of installation, low-energy costs and incredible efficiency, ductless heat pumps are an excellent solution for heating spaces that aren’t connected to the HVAC system.
  • Radiant floor heating- radiant heating systems are another energy-efficient solution for basements partly because they are compatible with different flooring. Although they have a relatively higher upfront cost, radiant floor heating systems are easy to install. Both electric and hydronic radiant systems will heat your basement without making noise or stirring up dust and other irritants.
  • Space heaters- these are among the cheapest options for heating a basement. However, they are ideal for small spaces that aren’t used regularly.
  • Tap into existing ductwork- it’s possible to extend the ducts from your heating and cooling system to your basement to keep it warm and cozy without hiking your power bill.