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Basement Refinishing Tips for Your Home

By: Danny Lipford

Finishing an unfinished basement can be a great and affordable way to add extra living space to your home, since the walls, floor, and roof are already in place. But before you take on a basement remodeling project, it’s important to consider potential problem areas, such as:

  • Excess moisture and humidity.
  • Ceiling that are too low.
  • Lack of egress windows and emergency exits.
  • Stairways that aren’t up to code.

Watch this video for some tips on how to go about remodeling the basement in your home.

Read episode article to find out more.

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Danny Lipford: There’s a lot of ways to add living area to your home, this week we go underground.

Announcer: Today’s Homeowner with Danny Lipford. The voice of home improvement with projects, tips, and ideas to help you improve your home.

Danny Lipford: This is a fairly good sized house but this family, like most families, needs just a little more living area.  Now, we’re in Minneapolis this week, where most of the homes have available space in their basement area.  Now, it’s a very common renovation to convert this basement area to say a game room, media room, or maybe even a bedroom.  Well, we’re going to talk to a contractor that specializes in this type of renovation. He’ll share with us some great tips and some of the things to avoid and some of things you just have to do.  Now we’ll check on the project that’s taking place here, as well as a number of others, and I guarantee you some great ideas this week, stay with us.

Danny Lipford: One thing I’ve learned as a remodeling contractor over the years is that every renovation project is just a little bit different than the next. That’s particularly true in basement remodeling, because almost everything you do in a basement can affect the rest of the home.  So you have to pay a lot of attention to detail, and really pay attention to what’s existing in a basement.  Well, we found a great contractor here in the Minneapolis area, and he’s downstairs getting ready to kick this project off, his name Matt Cook.  Well Matt, looks like you got plenty of room to work with in this basement area.

Matt Cook: Yes we do, it’s a fairly large space. The Lawrence’s are planning on creating a big space for the family, for entertaining, recreation.  They’ve already started using the space as you can see.

Danny Lipford: I’m sure that’s not uncommon in a lot of the basements that you work in, that people start utilizing that a little bit.

Matt Cook: Yeah, the video games for the kids is kind of where it starts. So as we get into things that might end up somewhere else from the design standpoint.

Danny Lipford: Well I know there’s a lot to designing and making all the pieces fit together in a basement, and you guys do nothing but basement renovations.

Matt Cook: That’s correct.

Danny Lipford: Why is that so popular with homeowners?

Matt Cook: Today’s homes are built with anticipation of the basement getting finished. And so the ceilings are higher, they’re pretty dry, they’re protected as the homes being built, and you’ve got about a 30% of the homes total square footage below that ground level, so it’s really good useable space.  And the cost for the investment is relatively low compared to an addition where you’ve already got your floor and your ceiling and your four walls in place.

Danny Lipford: Well, I know a lot of homeowners are really concerned with getting their money back when they sell their home in terms of the money they put in their home, but I understand the Lawrence’s are more concerned with how it’ll impact their lifestyle.

Kathy Lawrence: We really are doing this because we want to create a lifestyle, because we know that we’re going to be in this home for a very long time. So we wanted to have things in it that, you know, from the space perspective, from the theater to the exercise room as our kids get older. We like to entertain, so we were really looking at it from the standpoint from what are the things we need, because we plan to be here for a very, very long time. It wasn’t so much the investment for resale, as it was really what we wanted out of our home.

Harry Lawrence: I think if we had to build on, it would be a much more challenging, probably reevaluation. I think at that point, if you had to build on that much extra space, I would personally look to move to a different house. With a basement that’s already here, unfinished, you conceptualize it a lot easier. I think it’s just much easier to do it as a finished basement versus add on.

Danny Lipford: Well Matt, it sounds like the Lawrence’s know exactly what they want to accomplish with this space, but I guess that’s probably not always the case when you make that first visit out to see some homeowners.

Matt Cook: No it isn’t, things differ quite a bit. One of the things we first want to discuss with folks is what their lifestyle is, and how they’re going to use the space. But before we can get into the design and how the space is going to be laid out, and what exactly is going to be done in it, there’s some real basic things that we have to take a look at.

Danny Lipford: I’m sure spaces like this, some are a lot easier to convert and finish out as finished basements than others.  This one’s pretty wide open, high ceilings, but I guess there are a lot of things to consider.

Matt Cook: Yeah, yeah, one of the things is ceiling height. Make sure there’s enough clearance to make sure you can do everything you want in the space. Another thing is what you’re leaning against here, this structural post could be a nuisance, and it could also end being a real adventitious architectural feature when this space is finished. Mechanicals of course have to be in place to support the additional load that’s going to be pulled off of that square footage and getting it finished.

Danny Lipford: Uh huh. I guess if you have a bathroom going in you got to make sure there’s someway of getting the drainage in the slab area.

Matt Cook: Yeah, yeah, we’re real fortunate here with this location. The plumbing here is very close to the specific location where the bathroom’s going to be. In most spaces we end up moving the plumbing just a little bit or sometimes real far, in this case we’re only gonna be moving it a couple feet to make it work.

Danny Lipford: OK, now what about the design? I understand your company really assists in creating the right design for the homeowners.

Matt Cook: Yes, yeah, that’s a real key part of it. With every space, it’s base on lifestyle, it’s based on return on investment, how long you’re going to stay in the home, and what you’re going to use the space for today as well as 10 years from now.  You know, a lot of times it’s driven around family and children, so we’ll create playrooms and spaces where the children are young that can later on be converted into possible a billiards room or a game room for teenagers.

Danny Lipford: Now speaking of children, I understand that the two boys here love their hockey rink here; so they may be a little upset with the renovation for a little while.

Matt Cook: Yeah I imagine they’re probably a little bit torn right now. But once it’s all completed, they’ll really enjoy this space, and they’ll probably have they’re friends begging to come over and hang out.

Danny Lipford: I’m sure they will, this will be a cool spot.  Now, now, I know you’re going to start this in just a couple weeks, but I’d love to see a basement project that’s a little further along than this.

Matt Cook: OK, yeah, we have a couple in the area that I’d take a look at with you.

Danny Lipford: Well, we’ll take a look at that right after our Simple Solution.

Announcer: It’s time for this week’s Simple Solution from home repair expert Joe Truini.

Joe Truini: Finding new storage space in your garage and workshop is always a challenge, but if you have an exposed stud wall, as we do in this garage, there’s several ways to find storage space. In this case we just took some 1x4s and nailed them up to create little shelves for short paint cans and spray paint, but for storing larger items you can try this idea. It’s a swing away gate that allows you to store moldings, brooms, pipes, any item that won’t fit on a smaller shelf.

Now, in this case I just took a 1×4, and cut it slightly longer than the distance between the studs, and held it in place with one drywall screw. Now, on this end I took two 1×2 cleats and just screwed it in place, to give it the horizontal member a place to rest. Now, by swinging it away, it allows us you store taller items that you wouldn’t be able to get because it would hit the ceiling above. And the final piece is down here in the bottom. It’s simply a piece of quarter-inch lath that I nailed across the studs, and that just prevents the bottom of the items from kicking out into the room.

Danny Lipford: This week we’re in Minneapolis and we’re looking at everything you need to know about renovating your basement. And helping me out with this information is Matt Cook, whose company – Finished Basement Company – does nothing but that.  Now Matt, this lot here just seems perfect for a basement situation like you have, front of the yard kind of level with the street out front, then it flows right down. It’s got to be perfect.

Matt Cook: Yeah, this is very common in this market that the homes are built are a lot like this. And what the builders have done is they’ve taken advantage of the rolling hill effect, allowing to put in windows and doors on the back of the house, and make it feel and function just like a main level.

Danny Lipford: Well I know earlier we looked at a project that you were just about to start in a couple weeks. Now, I understand this one is pretty far down the road.

Matt Cook: Yeah, this one’s getting near the end.

Danny Lipford: Let’s take a look at it. Wow Matt, this is pretty close. I guess just a little bit of flooring here and there and a few touch ups. And I love this bar, it’s right in the middle of this area. Fireplace over here, you got a lot going on in this room.

Matt Cook: Yeah, we’re getting really close. All we’ve got to do is get some appliances installed, some components, some low voltage miscellaneous small things at the end of the project here, and then we’ll be having a full home theater installed down here.

Danny Lipford: Aw man, I bet the homeowners are looking forward to this space being completed. Now, somebody didn’t just come down and just start hanging drywall down here, there’s a lot going on with these ceilings as well.

Matt Cook: Yeah, our design team put a lot of time and focus into the attention to detail into the space. We really make sure all the details are nailed before even one nail gets pounded.

Danny Lipford: Makes sense, OK. And I guess anytime you’re designing something like this, really this has some unique challenges.

Matt Cook: Yeah, there are a lot of unique challenges in basement design.

Danny Lipford: One of those is overcoming people’s preconceived notions of what a basement looks like. So Matt’s team has created a showroom with some of their favorite basement features, like the bar and the built-in home theater.  Those things as well as some simple ideas – like storage benches to cover duct work and plumbing, or the mouse hole under the stairs for the kids – have such an impact that they regularly end up on customers jobs. Now, combining these ideas with the customer’s style and the basement’s physical limitations is another challenge that falls to the designer. One of the designers on Matt’s team, Molly Howe, explained why her job is rarely dull.

Molly Howe: Basements provide a lot of unique challenges for designing. You have a lot structural things you have to work around, as far as posts and beams. You also have all of the existing utilities that you need to work around. We create a lot of ceiling detail to frame in the soffits. It creates some interest that way rather than leaving them as is. We also have to work within the existing plumbing routes. We can break concrete and move things, but we try to stay as close to the routes as possible. There are other challenges simply as far as creating the right space layout. A lot of people want many things in their basements, and we need to create a proper flow in order to incorporate all the things on the one level that they need.

Danny Lipford: Boy, Molly really pulled out all the stops on this design. But I guess she really didn’t have to do this much ceiling work to conceal all of the duct work and all the electrical.

Matt Cook: No, it’s not always necessary to do all of this. Most basements have a duct work down one side of the space, and it typically gets built over which creates somewhat of an asymmetrical effect in the space.

Danny Lipford: Right.

Matt Cook: We go a little further than that and create a balance in symmetry around the space by adding additional, what we call superfluous soffit, as we did over this bar here. It’s kind of got this little canopy of it to give the space some definition.

Danny Lipford: That’s great, that’s a good way to kind of, you know, hide everything but still add a nice element to it. Now Matt, what about water problems, any kind of moisture problems?  A lot of people that have basements have experienced that, how do you deal with that?

Matt Cook: As far as moisture problems go, they usually are coming from somewhere else.

Danny Lipford: Right.

Matt Cook: It’s something we identify really early on in the process, far before we get to this stage.  One of the thing we’ve learned as a contractor is to know we don’t know.

Danny Lipford: Right.

Matt Cook: So there are, there are companies that specialize in keeping the water from coming into the house. And if it is coming in, getting a way to remove that.

Danny Lipford: I see. Now, does that guide some of the decisions a homeowner should make with the materials that they choose say flooring?

Matt Cook: Yeah, yeah. There’s certain products you absolutely don’t want to use in the basement, anything that could, like a hardwood floor would . . .

Danny Lipford: Yeah, I can see that, that’d be a problem.

Matt Cook: Yeah it’d soak up that moisture and wick and twist and do different things like that.

Danny Lipford: Now, what about carpet that would be a problem too wouldn’t it?

Matt Cook: No. Carpet with padding, they have a moisture and mold resisting padding that works.

Danny Lipford: Oh, OK.

Matt Cook: It allows things to breathe so that moisture doesn’t get trapped.

Danny Lipford: OK, now do you find many people using basements for additional bedrooms?

Matt Cook: Yeah, yeah, it’s very common. We’ve got a bedroom here in this space. We’ve even enlarged the window in the bedroom.

Danny Lipford: I see. I guess you had to do that, egress issues. Being able to get in and out.

Matt Cook: Yeah, yeah, it wasn’t quite the right dimension to be able to get in and out of the space for safety.

Danny Lipford: I see. Now, I understand also that it’s a big advantage to, in an area like that, to include a closet. I understand the appraisers like to see that.

Matt Cook: Yeah, that closet really gives it that true definition of a bedroom for added value to the home.

Danny Lipford: OK, all right. Well, I know you’re not too far away from completing that, and when we come back Matt’s going to hang with us a little bit longer, and take us to a basement that’s completely finished. Right after our Best New Product of the week.

Danny Lipford: Window blinds have always been a great way to block out natural light or to maintain privacy in your home. But when you’re in a hurry, or when your hands are full, or if your blinds are behind furniture on a hard to reach window, tilting the blinds open and closed can be a hassle. Now, if you had a blind that could be operated with a remote control, that would make life easier.

The Control Mate blinds from Bali may be just the solution you need. You just press the button, like any other remote, and the slats tilt open or closed up to 50 feet away. Here’s how it works. There’s a battery-powered motor pre-installed in the head rail of the blinds, so it’s ready to operate as soon as you take it out of the box. Since everything is ready for you when you receive it, that means you don’t have to worry about any wiring, making this a very easy do-it-yourself project.

Now, these blinds are ordered specifically to the exact size of your window, with a motorized feature as an available option. And they’re available in vinyl, wood, or faux wood. So the only thing you have to worry about is keeping up with the remote control.

Danny Lipford: We’re here in Minneapolis and we’re talking with Matt Cook, who’s a specialist on basement conversions. Now, one thing that all basements have in common, you got to get down to the basement area. And do you ever have any problems with the existing stairs that you work with complying with all the codes?

Matt Cook: Typically we don’t. Most of the basements are built when the homes built with intention for them to be finished at some point.

Danny Lipford: I see.

Matt Cook: So most of the codes are met. In older homes occasionally you run into an issue where they need to meet certain width requirements, certain height requirements, and have enough distance to the bottom of the stairs to create a proper clearance.

Danny Lipford: I see.

Matt Cook: One of the things we do run into though, is making the proper flooring selections at both the top and the bottom of the stairs.

Danny Lipford: Now, how does that affect it then, I mean I see you have carpet running all the way down but how would some other flooring affect that?

Matt Cook: Well, the rule is the stairs have to be within a consistent height of each other as far as the risers go, going up and down.

Danny Lipford: Oh, I see.

Matt Cook: So if you’ve got a certain height going all the way down, and then you add something here at the bottom of the stairs that’s different, than that it throws it off.

Danny Lipford: OK, so like hardwood, a three-quarters-inch hardwood, which of course is never a good idea in a basement, but a thicker floor then, you really run into some problems.

Matt Cook: Yeah, you could potentially have to rebuild the entire set of treads in order for that finish to work.

Danny Lipford: Yeah, a homeowner doesn’t want to hear that, do they?

Matt Cook: No, no. Another thing with stairways is that they have a tendency to feel like a real dark tunnel effect. So when we finish a basement, we always open up a space if possible. This load right here is structural, so we were able to carry that load between these two points and open this up and put a hand rail in here. And the idea is to kind of give it that welcoming effect, like you’re walking into the foyer of a home on the main level, and you see a nice spindle and rail coming in the space.

Danny Lipford: Oh, yes. This definitely looks a lot better than if you had left just the wall there. But I know you just finished this just a few weeks ago, kind of show me around.

Matt Cook: Yeah, right behind you here, we have finished this space off, and it will be receiving furniture soon, as an office that seconds as a bedroom. Across the hallway here, we have a full bathroom with a large vanity. Got a unique storage area on both ends for either trash cans or anything different you’d want to stick in there. We also have an oval shaped sink, as well as a custom tiled shower. Coming down the hallway here, we have storage on both sides, and it opens up into the entertainment and recreation space. As you come down to the end here it is a family area that functions as a theater area, could be used for both. We have a theater wall here with a stone finished back and an arch to really showcase this really nice plasma TV, as well as some cabinetry on both sides. There is a walkup bar, which is really a key feature, and both ends of it are encapsulated with stone. And the counter top tile ties in with the stone for a good match; the cabinetry in this area is maple cabinetry. And the last room we have here, Danny, is a bedroom. This bedroom was one of the main reasons why the homeowners wanted to finish the space, was to create a spot for their oldest son.

Danny Lipford: Oh, this isn’t a bad for, for a teenager to hang out. Plenty of storage space there, a nice TV on the wall, and desk over in the corner.  I’d love to have had this when I was a kid.

Matt Cook: And something very unique about this basement is that it’s fully underground. So when we came to the project there were little small awning windows in that didn’t meet code; and of course with this being a bedroom, we installed an egress window. This particular egress window not only adds natural light to the space but it also serves as a emergency exit for the space incase somebody needs to get out of here in a hurry.

Danny Lipford: That’s a pretty cool way you did that, with the timbers kind of creating almost a step effect there.

Matt Cook: Yeah, yeah. And you know you can put shrubs or flowers in there for a more decorative effect. There’s a number of different finishes this could be done in, but we chose to use 6×6 cedar timbers.

Danny Lipford: Yeah, that looks great. I’m just glad I wasn’t around when you were chiseling out that foundation wall.

Matt Cook: Yeah, a lot of work.

Danny Lipford: Yeah, a lot of work. Hey man, thanks a lot for showing us around all the projects around and everything. It must be a lot of fun finishing off the basements.

Matt Cook: It’s a blast.

Danny Lipford: And getting the results like you have here. And just really, really good job.

Matt Cook: Thank you.

Tricia Craven Worley: You know, a leaf blower is a great tool for a big yard like this. My own garden, I can get away with a rake. But if you are using a leaf blower, there are some really important things to keep in mind.

First, keep the wind at your back so you’re not fighting against it. And secondly, some really important safety tips. Use goggles. When you’re blowing you’ve got debris, some leaves, maybe even a few twigs that are blowing around. Also, always use earplugs. The frequency of these machines is pretty high and can cause damage. Especially the more powerful, gas kind. They really do a lot of damage to your ears if they’re not protected. Make sure that you have enough clothing on. Close-toed shoes, gloves, and cover your whole body. Again, because things can blow against you and you want to protect it.

One of the most important things that a lot of people don’t think about when it comes to using a leaf blower is etiquette. Make sure that when you are using your leaf blower, that it’s not too early in the day, not too late at night. And that you are aware of what’s going on in the neighborhood. And finally, be aware of where you are blowing your leaves. Not in your neighbor’s yard. Just keep everything in your own.

Danny Lipford: Now just a little touch up painting and a few plants along these window wells, and they’ll look like they’ve been here since the house was built. Now, if you’re thinking of doing anything to the basement area in you home, I hope we’ve been able to share with you a few tips and some information that can help you with that project. And you might also consider trying to find a company that specializes in this type of work, like we found here in Minneapolis. And the people in this town have been so hospitable and so nice to allow us to kind of trudge through their home to show you some of their basement projects.

Hey, thanks for being with us, we’ll see you next week, I’m Danny Lipford.



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