Until recently, the basement has been the redheaded stepchild of home construction. Forty or fifty years ago, a basement was for utility space and storage only, there was no thought to using it as a living space. Now people convert the areas into family rooms, gyms, man caves or even personal spas. The project can be major. For a DIYer or weekend warrior it can take a couple months. For a professional contractor or builder it’s still at least two to four weeks. As long as attention is paid to moisture prevention and safe access to utilities and plumbing, the extra square footage and increase in home value is usually worth the effort. It’s all about taking the proper steps.
First, check that everything is on the level, literally. “Every basement presents its own challenges because there’s nothing plumb, there’s nothing square and there’s nothing level,” said Brendan Scanlon, basement design specialist at Ambassador Home Improvement in Massapequa. Consider what type of flooring will be laid down. For tile, like porcelain or ceramic, the mortar will help level off minor imperfections, but the floor will need to be very even so the tiles lay flat and don’t eventually crack. If carpeting, an indoor/outdoor type is recommended in case floods occur, but remember it will probably conform to the contours of the floor. Laminate can be used and will self-level, but make sure it is rated for high moisture.
Next, check the condition of the walls. Unfortunately, most older walls were constructed out of traditional Sheetrock and/or two-by-fours. “Ninety-nine percent [of the houses on Long Island] are usually old framing, old paneling, older Sheetrock with high moisture… that’s not very good,” said Scanlon. “One of the things about a basement, because it’s underground and the humidity is higher, traditional wood product, like half-inch Sheetrock and regular two-by- fours, tend to get affected by high humidity and rot and fall apart.” Instead, use treated wood and inorganic wallboard, which is manufactured without paper or wood pulp.
One thing that is commonly overlooked is the insulation. Typically there’s a 20-25 percent heat loss in a home from an unfinished basement. But most people don’t look at their house as a single unit with air circulating through the whole structure. Rather than seeing the home as individual floors, consider it as a single enclosed unit. “It’s like putting socks on your feet,” said Scanlon. “If you put socks on your feet in the winter, it’ll keep your feet warmer; put socks on your feet in the summer, and it’ll help them breathe a little better. Insulation is going to be similar and help keep the basement energy-efficient.” Similar to the wallboarding, use paperless insulation that’s made of fiberglass.
When it comes to finishing the ceiling, there are really just two options: drop ceiling panels or drywall. The recommended method is drop paneling because it has many benefits, the most important of which is that it allows for easy access to pipes and ductwork, without having to re-patch a drywall hole. Panels usually offer some noise reduction, which is important for recreation or media rooms, and some are also made to resist mold and mildew.
Nicky Dobree Interior Design
High levels of humidity is another big concern and there should definitely be a device in place to control moisture. The most common is a standard dehumidifier that plugs in and rests on the floor—one of the simplest and most cost-effective options. It either collects water in a bucket that needs to be emptied or it has a drain hose that can run out a window or be hooked into a waste line. “People are loving these mini split units, like Fujitsu’s, where you can heat and do air conditioning and dehumidifying,” said Scanlon. “They’re a lot nicer than baseboard heat and very high in energy efficiency. They take up minimal space, they’re extremely quiet and do a great job dehumidifying the air.” These ductless units cost between $2,000-$6,500 installed, depending on size, and are the latest trend for efficient home heating and cooling.
How do you know whether or not your subterranean dream space is possible? Check out some of Scanlon’s guidelines.
The ceiling needs to be a minimum of seven feet, but plan for at least eight feet for overhead exercises and tall equipment. Avoid tile flooring as it is likely to crack; use rubberized mats and/or vinyl flooring for durability and impact resistance. If hanging a full-length mirror, the ideal size is four-feet wide.
For the best audio experience, a Dolby 5.1 surround sound system is an accessible installation. Seating should be no closer than 8 feet and no further than 15 feet from the TV, depending on size. Install acoustic ceiling tiles for soundproofing and consider using sound-deadening insulation like Roxul for the walls.
If shooting pool, the minimum table clearance is three feet on all sides. Standard dart setup: 5 feet 8 inches from bull’s-eye to floor, 7 feet 9¼ inches from board to throw line. Mobile dry bars (no plumbing) are versatile additions to any layout and a fridge is always a good idea for stashing some cold ones.
The most popular installation is a sauna kit, though hot tubs are possible and Scanlon even installed an Infinity pool for a client with Meniere’s disease. With any choice, additional plumbing is necessary along with ventilation, like a bathroom fan.