Counting the Cost of Basement Conversion

Counting the Cost of Basement Conversion

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One area of the home just ripe for conversion is the basement or what some people call the “cellar,” especially if it is unfinished. If you have a basement, you benefit from an area of your home that is just perfect for storage and can have a positive effect on how your home manages heat throughout the year.

An unfinished basement is also a home improvement project waiting to happen. That is, if you want additional space and you don’t want to expand your home’s footprint and endure disruption and or face the costs associated with that investment. Indeed, a basement conversion can be a cost effective home improvement job, one that can provide desirable “living” space and add value to your home.

Conversion Costs

Bathroom basements can add value to your project.

But, turning a basement into usable space isn’t as easy as laying down flooring or putting up drywall. Some basement conversion jobs can get expensive and may not be worth it to you if the modifications you must make mean investing thousands of dollars more in the project then you’re willing to pay.

Let’s take a look at some factors to consider before undertaking your basement conversion project:

Ceiling Heights – One critical factor in basement conversion is ceiling height. If you must raise the ceiling to comply with local codes, that is an expense you’ll need to weigh. Usually, town building departments require that rooms have a height of not less than seven feet. Exposed beams may be allowed, but your town may require that they project no more than six inches from the ceiling. Thus, your town is telling you that you must have head clearance of at least 6 foot, 6 inches.

Natural Light – Basement casement windows provide limited natural lighting and may be obscured by shrubbery, a deck or other obstacles outside. In addition, you may not have enough windows to begin with. Expect to make some adjustments to the outside of your home as part of what you do in your basement, clearing bushes and perhaps replacing windows that have rotted or are not properly insulated. Know your town’s height and width requirements for windows too – if the main exit is blocked in a fire, windows must be large enough to provide an escape. In Fairfax, Va., basement windows must be 24 inches tall by 20 inches wide.

Access and Egress – One important area of consideration is how the room is accessed. Local building codes are similar in requiring that sleeping quarters and habitable space including basements have an approved emergency escape and rescue opening. This means that the stairs leading to your basement must pass your building department’s code or be modified or replaced. A finished door must be in place and you’ll be required to have at least one smoke detector present.

Climate Control – Your basement may already house your furnace, but if duct work isn’t in place to serve the basement, then you’ll need to modify it accordingly. You may need to have your basement zoned separately from you home to allow you to control room temperature accordingly. Basements are typically cooler year round then the rest of the house, but airflow can be issue if ventilation isn’t sufficient. Using foam board insulation can help keep your basement warm throughout the winter months.

Electrical and Plumbing – Expect your home renovation project costs to increase sharply if you don’t have sufficient lighting in place or you plan to add a bathroom, wet bar or a dedicated laundry room in your basement. You may need to run phone lines if you’re planning to use your basement as an office and the current electrical setup may not be enough to power your big TV, stereo system and computer equipment at the same time. Working with a contractor for more complicated projects will help ensure that you meet local building codes and that your basement becomes the “living” quarters you desire.

Other Considerations

Finally, consider the usability of your basement if water seepage and mold are currently problems. You may need to install French drains and a new gutter system to move water away from your home especially if your basement is prone to flooding. Done right, your basement renovation project can create valuable living space, room you’ll be able to enjoy for many years and an bonus for buyers when it comes time to sell your home.

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About Author

Matthew C. Keegan

Matt Keegan is a freelance writer and editor as well as publisher of "Auto Trends Magazine", an online publication. Matt covers campus, consumer, business and financial topics on various websites and weblogs, and has been published in the "Houston Chronicle", "Sam's Club Magazine" and "Wisconsin Golfer".