Can my Basement be Made Livable?

Hmmm…What’s it smell like?

I like to start with the simplest way of doing things.  You already have a nose and most likely already have stairs going down to the basement so go on down and take a big whiff.  Does it smell musty? Most unfinished basement do and that’s because there is usually some dampness coming through the foundation walls or slab.  These basements weren’t built to be habitual spaces.

So, can you remodel it?  The short answer to this question is ‘yes’ but you may have to do some investigate work first, followed up with moisture mitigation.

Even if there is standing water in your basement the answer might still be ‘yes’ but it will definitely need to have some work done first before you can even start to think about covering walls and the floor.  Think French Drain and sump pump.  “A French drain is a trench filled with gravel or rock or containing a perforated pipe that redirects surface water and groundwater away from an area.” Thanks Wikipedia.

Unfinished basements are tricky.  They are not like the rest of the floors of your home. They are normally fully or partially underground so the planning, constructing and design of them is going to be different.  Water and moisture is the number one factor to consider before going ahead with any work.

When you find water intrusion, determine where it’s coming from.  Usually its from outside (but not always!) and in Seattle, it’s usually from rain water.  Sometimes, fixing it is as simple as going outside and making sure all your downspouts are diverted away from your foundation walls and the earth is sloped away from the home.  Other times, you may have ground water coming up through the slab.  You can do a simple test for this with some plastic sheeting and duct tape but I am not going to go into that here because I am not an expert on basement moisture mitigation but you could check YouTube for the specifics of this easy, do it yourself test.

What I will say is, find it, fix it (hire a professional if needed) and then decide if you have money left for the remodel. Then we move on to energy code & seismic upgrades.  If you have a typical, older Seattle home most likely the basement was not finished as part of the original construction and needs some wall and/or floor insulation.  Or maybe some drywall and electrical added for lights and outlets. The basement stairs and maybe head room will need to addressed as well.  The city does make some exception to these rules when it comes to basements and we will go over these.

Then ask yourself what you hope to accomplish by finishing your basement and what type of space you would like to add and how connected you want it to be to the rest of the house.

Then let’s get to work planning on how to use the space most efficiently and how to make it a warm and inviting space instead of damp, scary place where you only go to do laundry.

We can add windows and light wells to get natural light into your basement.  We can pick finishes that will help reflect light and pick flooring that will do well on a concrete slab.  In other words, we can make it more like the above ground floors of your home with the right design and finishes.

Finishing out a basement is one of the easiest ways to add square footage to your home.  In many cases you can double it!  And if you really want to maximize your space, consider making it a separate dwelling unit (otherwise known as an ADU or Accessory Dwelling Unit).  We can design with this in mind so, in the future, if you decide you want to exercise this option, it will be easy to convert.  This would allow you to house additional family members or rent it out for extra income. Who doesn’t want extra income after going through a remodel!?

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