The Best Kept Secret In Space Expansion

By Sylvain Cote

When homeowners need more living space, they look up to the attic or out to the backyard, anywhere but the basement. That space down under is prime remodeling territory. Yes, that dank, dark and clutter basement!!! Remodelers and homeowners alike are discovering  why the basement is the best-kept secret in space expansion. Finishing the basement provides a simple and cost-effective alternative to adding square footage to a house.

Because basements are surrounded by earth that remains at a relatively constant temperature, they're naturally cooler in the summer than above ground rooms. Dense masonry foundations keep them quiet, too, which makes them perfect for some of the functions people most want to add to their homes: a playroom for the kids, a home office, an exercise room or guest space. The dark end of a basement is the ideal place for a home theater. Perhaps 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 even before you pick up a hammer?

To be sure, basements present challenges--small windows, low ceilings, structural columns--but they can be overcome or transformed into assets. And unlike other existing spaces, basements flaws are obvious, so you won't have to budget for unpleasant surprises. Because the work usually takes place in an out-of-the-way area with its own entrance, the contractor can spare the occupants much of the hassle that goes with remodeling other parts of the house.

To be sure, not every kind of room belongs in a basement. But when you're building that family room/master-suite addition, be sure to put a full basement under it. For an extra few thousand dollars you will have room to expand easily and inexpensively in the future.


• Maximize window area [for emergency escape as well as daylight]. Funnel in as much daylight as possible. Do whatever it takes: dig the window wells deeper and/or break into foundation and create a new openings. There's a company ['Bilco'] who just introduced a new product ['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.

• 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. Budget permitting, use low-voltage halogen fixtures.

• Replace the existing door on the main floor leading to the basement stairs with a glass door. 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 a great 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 braking through the foundations. The results will be astonishing.  Click here to see an example.

• Concentrate ducts and plumbing along walls or column lines, where head-room isn't so critical, and leave ceilings high in the center of rooms. Design the rooms so that the posts or columns are concealed inside the walls; eliminating one or two is definitely possible but can be expensive.

• If head-room is still definitely too low, don't give up just yet. There's always a solution: dig the floor!!! That's right; have the contractor remove the existing concrete slab, shovel the dirt and pour a new slab!  D

Does it sound like to much of a project?  It's not as bad as it seems.  Absolute Remodeling, on more than one occasion went through this process. Needless to say, the homeowners were extremely please with the results.

• 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 too use smaller molding--for example, a I" x 2" base--also to make walls seem taller.

- Hang wall pictures slightly lower than usual to create the illusion of higher ceiling.

• Carpet is acceptable, but Mexican tiles are prime choice if you want low maintenance, durability and, unlike carpet, they don't hold moisture [remember, you're still below grade; 'accidents' happen]. Use area rugs if you must have carpet.

• In cool climates, include supplemental heat [the thermostat is still upstairs]. If the budget permits, this is the perfect place for in-floor heating.

• At this point, you might as well add a bathroom; you'll be forever grateful you did.

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