Please keep in mind that I wrote
the following article in January 2000 - A few things have changed since.
- Sylvain Côté, 04.04.11.
When you need more living space, by-pass the attic,
forget the backyard, and turn to the basement. That space that you are most likely using
primarily for storage is prime remodeling territory. For many homeowners, it's the
best-kept secret in space expansion. Before you say "no way", consider
Finishing the basement is a simple and cost-effective alternative to adding square footage
to a house. In fact, the cost of finishing your basement, with all or most of the same
features [the skylights are the only exception] you would get with an all-new 'built-up'
or 'built-out' addition, is around 25% ! The key is to stop
thinking of the remodeling space as a 'basement' and reconsider it as an addition. That is
exactly what you'll get if
you apply the following tips.
Since basements are surrounded by earth that remains at a relatively constant temperature
year around, they're naturally cooler in the summer than above ground rooms. In the
winter, the opposite holds true. Dense masonry foundations keep them quiet, too,
which makes them perfect for the functions people most want to add to their homes: a
playroom for the kids, a home office, an exercise area, a large custom shower, a sauna, a
guest space or just a place to unwind and shoot some pool, throw darts, play ping pong.
The dark end of a basement is the ideal place for a home theater. A kitchenette or a
wet bar adds a nice touch, not to mention practicality.
Do you have
teenagers? Not yet? Well, if you do, there's another, considerable benefit
that could prove priceless. You can convert your basement to quality space where
they can "hang out" with their friends, rather than "who knows where."
It's a sensible way to keep control on what they're doing.
Since the work
usually takes place in an out-of-the-way area with its own entrance, the contractor and
his crew can spare the occupants much of the hassle that goes with remodeling other parts
of the house.
To be sure,
basements present challenges -- small windows, low ceilings, structural
columns. But with the right budget, all can be overcome or even transformed into assets.
And unlike other existing spaces, basements flaws are obvious, so you won't have to budget
for unpleasant surprises.
Best of all, the structure is already there: four walls, a floor and
ceiling, all paid for. What homeowner wouldn't like to hear that the job is 30 percent
finished before the contractor even picks up a hammer?
|DESIGN TIPS FOR DOWN UNDER
area, for emergency escape as well as maximum daylight. Most building codes require every
room to have two ways to exit [NOTE: a window is considered a way to exit, but only if the
bottom of that window is no higher than 54" from the finished floor]. Keep the floor
plan "open"; this will make the place brighter, and lower your overall project
costs. Funnel in as much daylight as possible. The existing windows wells can be dug
deeper, so that larger and lower windows can be installed. This remains true even if
cutting through solid, poured concrete foundation walls is necessary. There's a
company ['Bilco'] that introduced a product called 'Scapewel'. It's a large window well
system made of structural rigid foam. Terraced steps scoop in natural light and
provide easy escape. The steps can be enhanced with potted plants. We prefer to build our
own windows wells from scratch, for a more finished and consistent look.
Don't be stingy with
artificial lighting; a basement should be lit more heavily than above-grade areas,
especially if it will be used as a children's playroom.
Replace the existing door
on the main floor leading to the basement stairs with a French door. Not only more light
will reach the basement, but since you can now see through the door, when walking to the
upstairs, you just eliminated the risk of swinging open the door in someone's face!
One more benefit: when the kids forget to turn off the lights, which never, ever happens,
you'll know right away! If the home is only one story, 'tunnel' sunlight from the
roof to the stairwell via a 'skylight tube' available from 5 or 6 different manufacturer
at very reasonable prices.
Access to the outdoors is
an underestimated asset. Replace the existing door with a set of French doors
connecting to the backyard, [that's usually where you find the grade at its lowest height]
even if that requires again cutting through solid concrete foundation walls. Picture this:
If your new doors are facing south, you will love the winter, when the sun is at its
lowest and therefore "soaks" your entire basement! Click here to see an example.
Ducts and plumbing may need
to be relocated along walls or beams, where head-room isn't so critical. Leave
ceilings high in the center of rooms. Along the walls where the ceiling is too low, a
carpenter can install custom built-ins [cabinets or shelving]. It is also the
perfect place to locate closets. Design the rooms so that the posts or columns are
concealed inside the walls; eliminating one or two is definitely possible, and in most
If head-room is still too
low, don't give up. There's always a solution: dig the floor! The existing concrete
slab is removed, then dirt is excavated and a new slab is poured. Does it sound like
too much of a project? It is, but not as bad as it seems.
Use horizontal design elements to emphasize the width and
length of the room rather than its lack of height. Set tiles in a diagonal pattern to make
the room feel wider.
Slightly shorten the doors
[and jambs!] by an inch or two; The ceiling will seem higher and you will feel taller! [do
not try this if you're 6' 6" or taller!] You can also use smaller molding--for
example, a 1" x 2" base [rather than the usual 3 1/2"] to make walls seem
Carpet is acceptable, but
"Mexican" tiles are prime choice if you want low maintenance and
durability. Unlike carpet, ceramic tiles don't hold moisture. Remember,
you're still below grade and below other floor[s]; accidents, like a clogged dishwasher,
wash machine, bathtub, toilet, or other fixture can and will happen. Kids will spill
drinks. With tiles, all you do is get the mop out! If you must have carpet,
use area rugs. Area rugs also helps in defining different areas. When they do
get wet or dirty, you just roll them up and send them out for cleaning! voila!
Include a new separate
heating zone, with its own thermostat.
Hang the pictures slightly lower than you would on other
An extra full bathroom used
to be an option; now it is considered a must. In fact, many of our clients opt for a
custom shower, with some of the following options: built-in seat, steam, walk-in, multiple
heads. Saunas are also increasing in popularity.
- Please make sure to look up the
pictures, the specifications of our dozen or so basements.
Examine their "before & after plans". You'll get great ideas for your
own basement, or pardon me, your addition. --
Sylvain Côté, 01/11/00.