Converting part of an unfinished basement into living space has always been a popular home improvement. Finishing off a basement costs about half as much as you’d pay to build an addition, and it won’t take away any backyard space. Real estate agents like finished basements too. They usually rate this upgrade very high in cost-vs.-value surveys –right up there with kitchen and bathroom remodels. But there’s a big caveat here, and it’s associated with the moisture issues that exist in most basements. If you don’t take precautions to avoid moisture-related damage, a dream basement can turn into a nightmare. As long as you heed these expert basement finishing tips before you begin finishing your basement, you will be sure or a quality addition to your home.
Basement Finishing Tips To Protect Your Investment
These important guidelines for finishing your basement are shared with us by an industry expert, Tim Snyder. He has worked for more than 20 years as a journalist, editor and carpenter. He was the executive editor of Fine Homebuilding Magazine and executive editor of American Woodworker Magazine. His books include Shelving and Storage, DECKS, and two New Yankee Workshop books.
4 Things You Should Know Before Finishing Your Basement
1. Waterproof paint isn’t good enough as a basement waterproofing system.
Paying a good amount of money to finish a basement only to see your investment destroyed by a basement flood would qualify as a major disaster in any house. That’s why it’s unwise to take chances with a marginal waterproofing system. Waterproof coatings can prevent some seepage and leaks through basement walls, but they also allow hydrostatic pressure to build up outside the foundation. In really wet conditions, even a small gap or crack can admit a large volume of water.
To handle “major water events,” including unforeseen plumbing leaks (like a burst washing machine supply hose or a leaky hot water heater), it’s best to have a French drain system around the perimeter of the basement floor that’s connected to a reliable sump pump. If you live in an area that loses power during severe storms, get a sump pump that includes a battery backup system.
2. Wood isn’t good on the basement floor, or anywhere near it.
Even a “dry” basement is going to have a lot more moisture than your upstairs space, mainly because concrete is always absorbing moisture from the soil and releasing it into the basement. Wood that’s in contact with concrete wall and floor surfaces (including wall framing, plywood floor sheathing, wood paneling and wood molding) will naturally absorb this moisture and stay damp. Unfortunately, moist cellulose provides an ideal habitat for mold.
Once mold takes hold, it’s very difficult to get rid of. Mold also poses a health hazard because airborne spores can cause allergic reactions and respiratory ailments. The good news is that there are inorganic alternatives to wood materials: steel studs, vinyl flooring and even plastic underlayment tiles.
My favorite waterproof, moldproof flooring materials are the plastic ThermalDry tiles available from Total Basement Finishing. Available in faux wood parquet as well as tile and carpet finishes, these tiles won’t attract mold or sustain moisture damage. They look nice, too. To prevent mold from attaching itself to wood ceiling joists and existing framing in the basement, use a dehumidifier (if necessary) to keep the humidity below 60%.
3. Paper-faced drywall needs to stay upstairs.
An inexperienced contractor could easily make the mistake of finishing basement walls with standard paper-faced drywall (aka gypsum board). But the damp paper surface on standard drywall is even more attractive to mold than wet wood. Sooner or later, basement walls finished with standard gypsum board are going to be marred by blotchy mold stains (as shown in the photo). The solution is to use gypsum board made with an inorganic vinyl or fiberglass facing. Most home centers and building supply outlets stock “paperless,” mold-resistant drywall.
4. Rigid foam insulation beats out fiberglass below grade.
Fiberglass batt insulation is another material that doesn’t perform as well in the basement as it does upstairs. If this fluffy material gets wet, it will compress, fall out of place and lose its R-value. It can also prolong the drying process of adjacent materials, increasing the chances for mold and moisture damage. A better way to insulate the basement is by installing rigid foam insulation board against basement walls. Rigid foam won’t absorb moisture, fall out of place or lose R-value. When used to insulate a finished space, foam insulation usually must be covered with a fire-rated material like gypsum board.
If you use these basement finishing tips as precautions to avoid moisture-related damage, you should be able to enjoy a dream basement as a multi-purpose family spot. Are you thinking about finishing your basement? What do you plan to use the space for?