Perhaps your child left the nest years ago but has recently  boomeranged back home with children in tow. Or maybe there is a teenage rock star wannabe in residence who is making teeth-grinding attempts at melodies. Or possibly you’ve started a new home-based business that needs some legroom to get up and running.Whatever the reason, you need more space to keep your sanity and you’ve decided to finish out your basement. This is a smart choice, since this project will not only increase the resale value of your home, it also will prove far less expensive than building an addition on your log home. Unlike new construction, the walls and infrastructure are already in place. Now it’s up to you to figure out how you’ll fill it in. Here are some points to consider when taking this blank slate and turning it into a much-needed room in your home.

Design Deliberately
Before you decide on a design, the professionals recommend you carefully consider the space that you have to work with and your lifestyle.

“Every segment of a household has different activities, interests and needs. These differ between male and female and at different ages,” says Rick Kyle, owner of Basement Builders of Colorado, which designs and remodels more than 50 basements annually in the Denver market. “Women, for instance, are far more interested in interactive areas. So conversation areas are the focus of the design. Men, on the other hand, prefer segmented areas, almost like workstations.” A male-focused design may feature separate areas for games, study or relaxing. The challenge, of course, is to blend these diverse needs into the design.

Realize that unlike new construction, you are limited to a finite space. “When you start dividing up the basement with walls, the space gets small in a hurry,” says Tony Gianella, owner of Basements Unlimited in Boston, Massachusetts. So you and your spouse should thoroughly discuss the intent of the space before any walls go up and all the space you thought you had slowly closes in.

Also, consider how you’ll hide existing plumbing and HVAC. Since you have the constraints of building around them, they may affect the ceiling height or create odd configurations by boxing them in. The smaller your basement is, the more crucial your decisions are because you don’t want to have a ceiling height that makes moving around uncomfortable.

Check local building codes. Bedrooms in a finished basement may need larger-sized window wells to allow egress by firemen. You may want to consider a new stepped, plastic window well that lets in light, creates space for flowers and serves as emergency steps out of a finished basement. Review local regulations before you begin designing to ensure that your basement will be finished up to code.

Choose Wisely
Today, built-in home theaters top the list of features people are most likely to request when planning a basement build out. “I’d say 80 percent of my projects involve some kind of home theater,” says Rick. “When you create a space specifically designated for television viewing, it changes how you use your whole house.”

Many log homes feature a kitchen open to the great room on the main floor. While this open space is ideal for socializing, it’s a poor environment for focusing on televised entertainment. Designating a space in the basement for this activity often makes the great room more peaceful.

Adding a full bathroom is common. Additional bedrooms for teens or an in-law suite are also popular, as are recreation rooms, a home office or gym.

Regardless of the function of the rooms, it may be wise to add a small kitchenette or wet bar. “Try to make this living area self supporting. If it isn’t user friendly then there will be constant traffic back upstairs to the kitchen,” Rick says.

To make sure the flow works, the professionals recommend you sit down with an interior designer or architect who can show you some options. Some companies who specialize in basement remodeling provide this service as part of their fee.

Consider the Cost
Your basement will likely be finished out in standard 2-by-4 construction, batt insulation and drywall. Less commonly used but equally viable options include steel framing, spray-in-place foam insulation and fiberglass sheathing instead of drywall. These materials remain remarkably consistent in cost across the country. Thus, the two main areas that will affect your basement budget will be the cost of labor in your area and your choices of amenities.

If, for instance, you are just creating one large utilitarian space with one bathroom and a small kitchenette, professionally built, will start at $30 to $40 per square foot. This price would then start to climb with more upscale choices in cabinetry, plumbing fixtures, flooring and ceiling finishings.

However, if you’re opting for a home theater system with acoustic paneling and sound proofing insulation along with other upscale amenities, your budget will likely jump into the $50 to $80 per square foot range in most regions.

Some of the cost will also be affected by the configuration of your basement. If the location of your bathroom requires long runs of plumbing and venting, then it will cost more than the standard $2,500 to $5,000 for a bathroom.

Get the Job Done
When considering if you should build out your own basement or hire a
professional, you should think about how valuable your time is and that the purpose of the project is. If you’re intending to use the space for a business, it’s likely it would be better to focus on your business while a contractor completes it. However, if you’re looking at this as strictly a leisurely exercise in construction, then you may want to do it yourself—provided you have a history of completing projects.

“In a lot of situations, I walk into a job that has already been started by the client,” says Rick. “If they haven’t performed the work correctly to code, then I have to tear it down and start over. This can actually end up costing more.”

Regardless of how you proceed, with some thought and creativity you’ll end up with a new space downstairs that’s as warm and inviting as your log home above.


Optimizing Your Basement for Build-Out
Ideally the best time to think about transforming your
basement into additional living space is before you construct your log home. Congratulate yourself if you are still in the planning stages of your new log home, since you can make your basement finishing go so much smoother with a little forethought.
Plumb the basement for a future bathroom in a location that would make the most efficient use of space.Locate the furnace and hot water heater in an area that can be blocked off and soundproofed easily.Run HVAC and plumbing lines between floor joists to create more ceiling height.Consider higher walls. Making the walls of your foundation 10 feet high instead of the standard 8 will create a much more airy feeling when you finish the basement.

If you’re planning to use a conventional poured or concrete block basement, consider that most basements of this type develop water seepage within 10 to 15 years. Concrete is naturally porous and the pores let in water vapor (and sometimes radon gas) pulled by the lower air pressure and hydrostatic pressure. So seal your concrete against water seepage, water vapor and radon. There are a variety of products on the market specifically for this.

Another option is to use a different building material for your foundation that is impervious to water. These include:

Insulated concrete forms (ICFs). These forms snap together to form a wall, which is then filled with concrete. The resulting basements are energy efficient, with walls insulated to R-20 to R-50 (depending on the ICF manufacturer).

Pre-cast concrete. A pre-cast concrete foundation is delivered to your home site as a series of large wall panels that are lifted into place with a crane and then fastened together. Depending on the manufacturer, they can come with insulation already installed, simplifying basement finishing.

Wood foundation. Increasingly popular among log home buyers is a pressure treated wood foundation. (One manufacturer is Woodmaster Foundations in Prescott, Wisconsin.) Those that opt for this foundation system say it offers greater comfort, energy efficiency and more usable living space.


Story by Charles Bevier