Seattle Basement Remodeling Specialists Motionspace Architecture + Design PLLC

Seattle Basement Remodeling Specialists Motionspace Architecture + Design PLLC

A basement remodel may not sound like a hard project, but it’s not as easy at you might think.

BASEMENT REMODELING TIPS

    Don’t remodel a wet basement! Solve the water problems first before investing time and money in your new space.

Many moisture problems come from the lack of a vapor barrier under an old concrete slab. Sometimes it’s best to start over with a vapor barrier and a new slab if you really have a damp basement.

If a room will be used for sleeping be sure it has an egress window to the exterior. It’s not safe to sleep in a room with only one exit.

To gain additional ceiling height, rather than digging down or raising the house, consider changing your heating system from a ducted system to a hydronic system that doesn’t require ducts. This can often gain you additional headroom without the expense of digging down.

Design the ceiling: often basements have ducts and pipes. Integrate these into a series of soffits that define space rather than just hide these elements.

Keep in mind that punching holes in the ceiling with recessed can lights will also transfer sound to the floor above. Consider wall sconces instead if you want a more sound resistant floor assembly.

Most people think a basement remodel is one of the easiest home remodeling projects to complete. More often than not, it is actually one of the more complex projects. Basements often have water and drainage problems, inadequate ceiling heights, old sloping concrete floor slabs, no insulation, and no easy way to connect the plumbing. And most people expect the basement to serve many purposes. Often the basement is designed to accommodate work and play, media rooms, storage and craft areas and many other uses. So unless you are looking for a simple, one-room remodel, be prepared to address a number of challenges.

Measure the Basement Head Height

Many basements don’t have adequate floor to ceiling height to create livable space. Older homes especially have inadequate head height since the space was only ever meant to be used as storage. Also, basements will often have pipes and ductwork that hang down below the floor structure of the level above the basement. It is often impossible or too expensive to move these. So when measuring head height, measure from the lowest objects on the ceiling. Keep in mind that if ducts and pipes are confined to one area, it may be possible to step the ceiling height so some areas are higher than others. If the head height is not adequate, the house can be lifted up, or the basement can be dug down. Each of these options has it challenges. Lifting the house means removing items like masonry chimneys and replacing them (usually with a manufactured metal fireplace). Digging the basement down is often chosen to maintain the exterior appearance of the house, but constructing a partial new foundation under an existing foundation is difficult, time consuming, and depending on how it is done, may consume interior floor space.

Assess How Level the Basement Slab is

Many older homes had a very poorly constructed concrete slab as the floor. Often this slab is so out of level that one side of the basement is several inches higher than the other. Without removing the slab or pouring a topping slab to level it, it will be challenging to construct anything level and square. Plus when furniture is moved in when the project is complete, it won’t sit flat on the floor, which will call even more attention to the problem. Spend the money to make the floor level. In the long run it will be worth it.

Be Sure the Basement is Dry

Don’t put money and labor into a basement that is not dry without solving the problem. If the basement has water problems, a drainage system is the best solution to solve the problem. Typically a portion of the floor slab is removed around the inside of the basement perimeter and rock and drainage pipe are installed to drain to a sump pump location where the water collects. The sump pump will periodically drain the water to the exterior when necessary. If water is coming through the center of the slab, it may be necessary to install drainage within that area of the slab as well. It may be tempting to try some of those roll-on waterproofing systems. Typically these do not provide a lasting solution. It’s important to make a way for the water to drain away easily. Water will take the path of least resistance, so making an easy way for the water to drain is the best way to maintain a dry basement.

Insulate the Basement Walls and Possibly the Ceiling

Most jurisdictions will require the walls of the basement be insulated if is being turned into living space. Usually this is accomplished with installing 2×4 stud walls adjacent to the basement walls and installing fiberglass batts. Keep in mind that wood that is not pressure treated should not be in contact with concrete, so often times the 2×4 walls are held away from the concrete, so only the bottom wall plate has to be pressure treated. Consider using a higher R-value foam insulation instead of fiberglass. Since foam insulation has a higher R-value per inch, you can reduce the thickness of the perimeter insulating walls by around 2. This means more floor space. Also a closed cell foam will act as vapor retarder as well, which will help keep the wall cavity dry. Also consider adding unfaced fiberglass batts in the ceiling cavity to provide extra sound insulation between the different floor levels.

If You are Adding a Basement Bathroom, Assess How it will be Plumbed

Many basements need an additional bathroom since it’s inconvenient to go upstairs every time you need to use the bathroom. Installing a basement bathroom can be a challenge because most basements have a concrete slab as the floor. Usually this means cutting out portions of the slab to install drains for toilets, showers or tubs, and other fixtures. Do this instead of installing a floor on top of the slab and having a step up to the bathroom. In the end, it will be worth the additional cost. It is also necessary to assess how the house is connected to the sewer, and the elevation of the sewer. It is easier to install a bathroom when the sewer outlet is below the level of the new basement bathroom drains. If the sewer outlet is above the basement floor (as it often is in older homes) then the sewerage will need to be pumped up to the sewer outlet. Alarms and other safety systems should be installed to alert the occupants when the pump fails or there is a power outage.

Adding a Basement Bedroom?

A basement bedroom is a popular item to include in a basement remodel. A particular challenge of adding a bedroom is the requirement for an egress window to allow individuals to escape if there is a fire. Since the size of this window is quite large (it is actually sized to allow a firefighter to gain access to the house with equipment on), the window will often be partially below the exterior surface level, or grade. To solve this problem, a window-well is constructed on the exterior of the house to allow access to the window. This also has the added benefit of increasing the level of light in the basement, making it seem more open and connected to the outdoors. There are minimum sizes for egress windows and window wells, so following the code is important, otherwise you will not pass the building inspection.

Make the Basement Multipurpose

A basement will serve many functions, so it’s important to plan for and consider all the uses. Basements are often used as play areas for children, work areas, sleeping areas, storage areas, exercise areas, and media rooms. Consider how materials chosen for the floors and walls will aid in allowing the space be used for multiple uses. Also keep in mind that if children will be playing on the floor, a basement floor is often quite cold, so carpet may be a good choice since it usually has a thick insulating pad. If you want a hard surface floor, consider a floating floor of wood or cork (but keep in mind that you often have to test how much moisture is coming through the slab to see if the product will be suitable for your application).

A basement remodel is one of the most popular remodels because often times it takes advantage of space that is already existing. While it appears to be simple, it can often be one of the more challenging projects to complete. But a well design basement often becomes the preferred ‘hang out space’, so it’s well worth the investment of time and funds. Don’t skimp on doing it right, because in the long run you will get many years of enjoyment out of a well designed space.

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