Design and finish your basement

How to Design and Finish Your Basement while adding Value to Your Home

A finished basement is a valuable addition, but many homeowners neglect to finish the space, believing it will be a tedious and expensive process. Don’t let this perfectly good square footage go unused. The key benefits of finishing your basement are:

      • It will increase your family’s comfort,

      • it will save you money in the long run,

      • it will provide additional living spaces for your family to enjoy,

      • it adds value to your home’s resale value, and

      • you will have more space for whatever you want.

    Finish your basement: where to begin

    Clean out your basement

    If you’re like most homeowners, before you can begin a basement project, you will probably have to remove some accumulated clutter. Boxes and plastic bins can usually be reduced by throwing out some junk or selling items you no longer use.

    If it’s been several years since you used an item, chances are you never will; so you should sell it or give it away to someone who will put it to good use. It’s important to be really honest with yourself. If you’ve convinced yourself you just might use the stuff again in an imaginary future, it’s time to be specific. When exactly will you be using it next?

    Whether it’s that old couch or recliner you thought might go in the basement family room one day, a box full of old records and cassette tapes, a filing cabinet, or an old chest of drawers; if you’re not using it now, you’re not going to use it, and there will be no place for it in your shiny newly finished basement. There’s no justification for renting space to store unused stuff either.

    Getting rid of a musty basement smell

    If you have a damp, musty-smelling basement, you may have mould or mildew, and the cause of the excess moisture must be tracked down and remedied. You can’t just spray the basement with Febreze™ air freshener and begin your renovation.

    Your underground living spaces are unable to hold onto moisture the way the wood and drywall do upstairs. As the warm air from upstairs seeps into the basement, the moisture it carries condenses and forms on the walls and cold water pipes. Mould begins to grow in the damp environment. Moisture could also be entering your basement through broken window seals, clogged rain gutters, cracks in the foundation wall, sewer backups, French drains, sewer backups, leaky pipes and broken laundry dryer vent seals.

    Begin by repairing any leaky pipes, broken seals and cracks in the walls. If you locate any breaches, where outdoor water is coming into contact with the foundation, that water will need to be redirected away from the building.

    An inexpensive electronic moisture meter can help locate leaks. A low-tech alternative involves cutting 12 x 12″ squares of thick plastic and taping them to the walls and floor with duct tape. After a few hours, any condensation will form on the plastic if there’s a leak. When you’re quite certain you’ve tracked them all down, it’s time to thoroughly dry out the basement. Installing a temporary window fan will increase ventilation and using a dehumidifier should suck out all of the moisture.

    This leaves only the musty smell to get rid of. Concrobium Mold Control Spray is useful for killing mould on contact. If there’s any residual staining, ZEP Mold Stain and Mildew Stain Remover should do the trick. Lifting the odour from the area will usually take a few days. Open containers of cleaning strength (6 percent acid) vinegar and cat litter, or open boxes of baking soda should absorb the unpleasant odours within a few days.

    Refinishing vs remodelling your basement



    If you already have a finished basement, refinishing could be the best way to update the space for minimal cost. Refinishing may include hanging drywall and painting, plumbing for a bathroom, installing ductwork for HVAC, and electrical; but there are no structural changes within the existing space. Basement refinishing projects will often remain open plan areas, used as a home theatre, games room, playroom, workout area or workshop.


    If your project includes the addition of walls to create new rooms, you’re reworking the space into something new, and it becomes a remodel project. These basement finishing projects often create additional living space for in-laws or teens, with a living area to relax, and a bathroom. The basement can even become a full suite, with a kitchen. With a remodel, you’re designing something new from scratch, and that gives you many options.

    Designing and finishing your basement

    When planning your basement remodel it’s important to understand its intended use(s), particularly if you also want to increase your property’s value.

    Your basement can transform your three-bedroom home into a four-bedroom. The additional bedroom could be used as a guest bedroom for visiting friends and family, offer some privacy to teens or college kids, or become part of a residential suite for in-laws, elderly family members or even tenants. Usable space is an important feature for buyers, and many are willing to pay more for it.

    Another popular basement space is a home gym or workout room, to save on gym memberships. Home gyms typically have solid flooring, bright 5000k ‘daylight’ overhead lighting and mirrors on the walls. Gyms should be well-ventilated, and it’s a good idea to have a full-size outside entrance for bringing in gym equipment. Rubber mats can provide shock absorption for barbells and other heavy equipment, and foam tiles are popular for offering shock resistance and comfort while performing low-impact exercises like yoga and pilates.

    A games room or playroom could provide extra recreational space. A games room can be the perfect place to entertain, with a wet bar; ping pong, foosball or pool table; poker table and big screen TV. These recreational spaces keep noise or clutter from young children and pets separate from the main living area. A game room brings technological and classic game activities together. Family members can play video games on the TV while sitting on a comfortable sofa, while others play a game of billiards, ping pong or chess.

    Home theatre rooms have become family hubs in today’s Canadian homes – a place where families unwind together – and basements are the perfect space for the addition. Cinemas faced widespread closure in March 2020 and lockdowns caused viewers to stay home for their movie entertainment. The emergence of new streaming video services from such prominent studios as Disney, Paramount+, Universal and Warner Bros. joined Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu, resulting in a 31% increase in digital home entertainment, according to the Motion Picture Association (MPA).

    Many families enjoy lounging on a large wrap-around sofa sectional as they enjoy a movie or TV episode together. They spend so much time in front of the big screen TV that many families enjoy their meals there, so it’s become popular to add a buffet counter, microwave oven, bar fridge and mini sink. The most sophisticated home theatre spaces today include installed seating, specialty lighting, projectors and screens and sound systems.

    During the pandemic lockdowns, many jobs moved from corporate offices to remote home-based workspaces. As we enter 2023, many of those temporary work-from-home arrangements have become permanent solutions, as companies were forced to discover they could reduce overhead, while performing just as well with a remote workforce. One or both providers in many households find themselves in need of permanent home offices, and even a client waiting room and video conferencing/boardroom table for team meetings. Basements can be the perfect way to gain office space without intruding on your home living area. If your basement has a separate entry, even better.

    Hiring a design-build contractor

    For anything more than hanging drywall and painting, you’re generally best off hiring a remodeling contractor to finish your basement. A good design-build contractor can take your project from rough sketches and ideas, through design, construction and final inspections.

    On a typical basement remodel to finish a basement, the designer-builder works closely with you on the design, then produces architectural plans, secures the necessary permits and schedules inspections. Waterproofing and vapour barriers come next, and then the framing. The wiring and electrical, HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) ductwork and plumbing for the bathroom are then installed. The walls and ceiling are insulated and the drywall is hung. Flooring, cabinets (if required), and finishing complete the project.

    How much value will a finished basement add?

    The primary reason for finishing your basement should be to add extra living space and increase the enjoyment and functionality of your home. An average basement remodel can easily cost over $10,000, so it’s good to know much of that can be recouped. According to Canadian Real Estate Magazine, the average home can expect a return of around 70% on the costs of the remodel as an added value at the time of sale. That percentage aligns with Remodeling Magazine’s midrange basement remodel ROI projection.

    When homes are listed for sale in Canada, the square footage only includes the area above grade. Finished or unfinished, basements are never calculated; however, closets, hallways and stairways are ‘grey areas’ that may or may not be measured and included. Even though a finished basement isn’t included in the gross living space, it is valued separately as an additional line item on an appraisal, and it can certainly be included as one of the home’s primary features and will be shown in the listing’s image gallery.

    The appraised value of your finished basement square footage is usually 50% or 70% per square foot when compared with above-grade levels. If resale value is a consideration, it’s important to design your basement space with a floor plan that will also appeal to buyers.

    Reid Madiuk

    Reid Madiuk's been putting on a toolbelt since he was twelve years old, alongside his father, one of Whistler's first residential builders. As a third-generation Whistler and Squamish builder, Reid brings over 20 years of carpentry expertise to designing and constructing exceptional homes.

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