Can All Basements be Finished? (What You Should Know)


If you clicked on this post, you were probably wondering if you can finish your basement and put it to good use. You can use your basement for extra storage space, a laundry room, a home office, a game room, or a combination of these choices. The ultimate goal would be creating an area that you can utilize whatever the purpose may be.

You can finish most basements: not all, but most. If you have the resources, you can complete even the most dreaded basements. Some unfinished and untreated basements from old houses can get nasty through time. However, if you have the resources and skills, it is not entirely impossible to finish them. The only factor that may stop you from completing a basement is the height of the ceiling and the fact that your house does not really have a basement.

Some houses have different styles of foundations. There are houses with no basements at all, and some homes have a crawlspace instead of basements. The reason why basements are not a suitable choice is because of the geographical locations. In cities by the coast, the sandy and humid soil is not an ideal space to dig up a basement foundation. The moisture of the land will continuously find a way into the foundations and cause catastrophes such as never-ending floods, and mold build-up. That is why in coastal and tropical areas, a crawlspace or concrete slab foundation is ideal.

Some basements are not meant to use as a living space. When a basement has a low headroom, that space is only meant to access the home utilities such as the HVAC system, the pipes and ducts, and the electrical wiring. Small basements are somewhat like a crawlspace, but the only difference is that they are enclosed. The ideal and legal height of a basement you can finish could be at least eight to nine feet tall. You can complete the ceiling at a minimum of 7 feet in most areas.

Although it might be possible to finish a basement with a low ceiling, you cannot get the permit for remodeling. A basement with a low ceiling can never be classified as an additional living space according to most building code departments. Basements with little depth are only meant for accessing the guts of the house and a small space for storage. There might be ways to maximize the headroom of a low-ceiling basement, but it might cost a lot of money.

Some basements are not the same size as the home’s main floor. However, you can still finish a small area as long as you can meet the code requirements. Expansion is possible but not suggested if you do not know where to dig the extra space. I would say that finishing a basement by yourself would require advanced DIY skills. You will be dealing with a lot of carpentry, masonry, power tools, electricity, and plumbing. Most of these aspects of finishing a basement will require you to get the proper permits.

Sometimes, your house will have a cellar instead of a basement. A cellar and basement may be similar, but each of them has its own distinctive features.

BASEMENT vs. CELLAR

Using the dictionary alone, we can define and contrast the difference between a basement and a cellar. Each of these concepts has a defining characteristic that differs from one another.

  • BASEMENT

The floor of a building which is partly below ground level. In the mid 18th century it is also defined as a foundation.

I can see that if you take the root word “base,” it means the lowest part or the edge of something. The base also signifies the foundation of anything, including house structures. It is safe to say that a basement can be defined more as the foundation of the house and happens to have room for storage and living purposes by adding the suffix, “ment.”

  • CELLAR

A room below ground level in a house. It is often used for storing wine or coal. Cellar originated from the Latin word “cellarium,” which means storehouse.

The definition of a cellar in the dictionary does not refer to foundations or living space. It literally means a storage room. From the dictionary alone, we can see each of the defining characteristics of each word. One good take away from this is the geographical location. A basement is only partially below ground level, while the cellar is flushed or more buried beneath the ground.

The building code defines a basement as a subfloor that is only partially underground. You can install windows to a basement because it is somewhat above ground level, which makes a basement an ideal living space than a cellar. On the other hand, a cellar is defined as an area of the house which is located deeper underground. You can still finish a cellar and turn it into a man cave. The building code does not describe the size of a cellar or basement, so the only apparent difference is its depth. 

For a building your man cave, the ideal space should have a large area for activities. A cellar might be good enough for an office, but if you want a full-blown man cave with all the essentials, a basement is a right choice. However, it can be possible to expand a small space if you have the knowledge and tools.

A basement can accommodate most of your belongings, such as an entertainment system, pool table, music studio, and classic arcade games. It is much more comfortable to move around in a larger space. You can also invite your friends to hang out and play some games. Having a place where you can escape reality is the main reason for having a man cave, but if it is more prominent, it is better.

A much smaller space like a cellar can also work as a man cave if you want a place for yourself. You can still add some equipment like a small couch and TV. You can always put a mini-fridge for your beer and snacks. If you like an office to finish up projects such as writing novels or producing music, I think a cellar will do.

Even if a cellar is located deeper underground than a basement, you can still treat the area to get the right ventilation. With the proper treatment, you can turn a cellar into a breathable space where you can spend hours without suffocation.

BASEMENT vs. CRAWLSPACE

A crawlspace is usually used for building houses in coastal areas. The sandy soil in these areas may not be suitable for creating basement spaces. If you want a man cave in these areas, you better chose an area above the ground like a garage, an outdoor tool shed, or an extra room in the house.

The crawlspace is an ideal area to place the internal organs of the household, such as the tubes, pipes, air ducts, and electrical wires. You can access the internals of the house by crawling underneath the space, which can be a lot messier than doing it in a basement.

The cost of a crawlspace is much cheaper compared to a basement but for the more obvious reasons. However, a crawlspace is much more suitable for earthquake-prone areas. Having structures deep underground like a basement can be damaged by a strong earthquake. It can affect the overall stature of the house and lead to many more hazards.

PROS

  • Warm house floors

If the crawlspace is conditioned, it can provide more heated floors. The proper ventilation of a crawlspace will protect the structural integrity of your home.

  • A lot cheaper than basement foundations

The average crawlspace will only cost about $8,000 to $20,000. Since you can’t finish a crawlspace, you will not spend more than that in the process of building the house. But you will still spend money on maintenance.

 CONS

  • Not suitable for a living space

Having no space to stand up, it is clear that you cannot use it as a man cave or any other purpose. The only useful purpose of a crawlspace is the essential function of keeping your house from falling apart.

  • Limited protection from storms

Unlike a basement, you cannot use the crawlspace to provide shelter from extreme weather conditions. Since there is no basement, your home can be flood-free from the bottom.

  • Prone to moisture

A crawlspace can be likely to the growth of mold and fungi. It is best to check for any signs of mold and mildew regularly. These elements can affect the structural integrity of your house, or worse, it can affect your health.

  • Prone to rodent infestation

The crawlspace has enough space for rodents to take shelter. Make sure you maintain a clean area so that creatures will not have any interest in the area.

REASONS FOR FINISHING A BASEMENT

  • Added Value

Additional living spaces such as a finished basement can add significant value to your home as long as you get the permits and have the room inspected. Even if you are not looking to sell, it is nice to have your property investment increasing in value. Regularly maintaining the finishes of your house will decrease the depreciation in value and add to your net worth.

Any upgrades such as upgrading a kitchen or adding a walk-in closet will increase the cost, as long as you get the inspections. Make sure you do the legal process, so all your work and money won’t go to waste.

  • Man Cave/ Game Room

You can put your finished living space to good use by turning it into a man cave. You can show it off to your friends if they come over and enjoy all the games together.  Basements that are finished are not just for just storage anymore.

  • Host Parties

Having more space in your home can be excellent for throwing parties. You can invite all of your friends and still have enough space to partake. Your guests will be amused by all the fun and games you have in store in your man cave.

  • Rent Income

You can get all the money you spent on the renovation by renting out space if you need to. Make sure there is an outside entry for your basement, so your tenant does not need to come through your home if you ever decide on renting it out. You can demand the price you want depending on the size of the basement, and the utilities the tenant is allowed to use, such as their bathroom and kitchen area.

PREPARATION

  • Identify Minor Issues

There are numerous issues you can find in the basement construction, especially in older houses. Some basements experience water issues, mold issues, and overall structural issues that you need to deal with beforehand. It is better to deal with these issues first before finishing the entire basement and turning it into an additional living space.

  • Solve Minor Issues

Once you identify the issues, you can resolve some of the minor ones before starting the actual remodeling of your basement. If you have found cracks on the raw concrete walls, you can use waterproof cement to seal them off. You can also fix the downspouts and gutters and pint them away from the wall foundations so that water goes in a different direction away from the wall.

  • Weather Conditions

Before deciding on what kind of finish you want for the walls and floors, you will need to determine the weather conditions in your area. In areas that experience cold weather and snow, plan on getting wall insulation or heating devices. The weather condition of your geographical location will be a guide to decide what materials you need for finishing.

  • Egress

Building codes require rooms to have fire escapes and exit. This process will also be the case for finishing a basement. Your basement can be classified as a legal living space if you install a suitable fire escape in case of emergencies. For a basement, you can but a window well ladder and use it for a fire escape. You will need to indicate the location of the fire escape in your sketch later on.

  • Outline the Project

Once you have planned out all the electrical, piping, fire escape, etc., you will need to outline the plan on a white paper written with blank or blue ink. You will need to indicate a detailed plan for the city building department to see. An outline is a government requirement, but a personal requirement as well, especially if you plan to finish the project by yourself.

  • Budget and Mindset

It is time to prepare a budget. Make sure you prepare a little more than the estimated price of the renovation. In old houses, you might spend a lot more on discovering small problems later in the process. With hidden problems, you will need extra money for those issues. It is best to prepare the payment for emergencies on top of your first budget.

  • Get the Required Permits

There will be multiple permits for different types of work. Here are the four types of licenses that might be applicable in your area:

  • Building Permit

You will need the building permit for working on the structure and architectural elements of your basement. A building permit will cover the flooring, walls, stairs, and windows of the project. Basically, the building permit allows you to work on the permanent fixes you will need to build in finishing a basement.

  • Electrical Permit

All electrical installations, including rewiring and addition of outlets and switches, will require an electrical permit. Having this permit will ensure the safety and legality of the procedure. Once you get the license, you can now start working on the project. Remember, do not finish the walls and flooring after doing all the wiring.  When it is time for inspection, all the wires and circuits are best to be visible.

  • Plumbing Permit

You will need a plumbing permit if you will be working on the plumbing. If you plan on building a bathroom in your man cave, a license like this is necessary. You might need this permit for installing a sump pump or better yet, an indoor hot tub. When you draw your outline for getting a plumbing permit, make sure you point out the locations of all fixtures. Write a specific sketch up to the final detail.

  • Mechanical Permit

You will need a mechanical permit for installing any appliances associated with air conditioning and ductwork. When finishing a basement, you will need proper ventilation to prevent any mold build-up and to protect the integrity of the appliances you will store in the basement. In your draft, indicate the location of your existing furnace and air ducts. You will also need to mention any new tubes you are planning to add.

  • Materials

Now that you have the legal permits for the project, you can now decide and purchase the materials you will need. This list will include all the materials you will utilize for renovation such as the walls, the ceilings, the flooring, etc. You will also need to prepare the tools you need to work within constructing.  Make sure you also have everyday safety items such as gloves, eye protection, and face protection.

  • Who Will Execute the Job

If you plan on doing this whole project by yourself, you need to be confident in your ability to use power tools and work with dangerous things like electricity. Hiring a professional will cost more but will save you a lot of time and work. Hiring a professional will get the job done faster because they will only focus on the project. Doing the project by yourself will take a long time considering you have a job and will only be able to work after hours and weekends.

  • Clear Out the Space

Whether you decide to hire a professional or doing it yourself, it is better if you clear the entire area. Clean working space can optimize workflow. Make sure you remove all the unnecessary items away from the area to ensure a faster phase with no distractions. At this point, there should not be any floods, and the place is ready for execution.

BUILDING CODE

The Building code will vary depending on which state you are residing in. Here is a list of information that is standard in most states. You must follow these requirements in sketching your overall plan that you will later present to the local building and zoning office.

Electrical Requirements

  • GCFI outlets must be installed in the following areas:
  • Bathrooms
  • Dedicated sump pump switch
  • A wet bar surfaces

Lighting requirements

  • One wall switch in every habitable room, bathroom, hallway, stairway, and exterior doors
  • Lighting in stairwells should light up the entire staircase which averages one light per 6 steps
  • If a basement is not finished, it requires at least one light switch
  • The light switch should be at the point of entry
  • Electrical Panels
  • Circuit panels are required to be concealed
  • Circuit panels are prohibited in bathrooms and closets
  • The minimum clearance required in front of each electrical panel is 3 feet

Plumbing Requirements

  • Show location of fixtures including:
  • Bar sinks
  • Bathroom sinks
  • Toilets
  • Bathtubs
  • Hot water heater
  • ShowersFloor drains
  • Sump pump
  • Washer hose connection

Minimum Requirements

  • Showers doors should open outward
  • All glass should be safety glazed
  • Shower heads should have a maximum flow rate of 2.5 gallons per minute
  • The limit for hot water is 120 degrees F
  • Bathroom sinks are required to have waste outlets that are 1 inch in diameter
  • Bathroom sinks should also have a strainer, a pop-up stopper, or a crossbar
  • Bathroom faucets must be water conservative with a maximum flow rate of 2.2 gallons per minute at 60 psi

Mechanical Permit Requirements

  • All of the additional ducts and water heaters should be easily accessible for inspection and repairs
  • Water heaters should be easily replaceable without removing any permanent construction
  • A furnace room should have an opening door that is big enough to move the most significant piece of equipment in the place
  • Fuel-burning appliances should be supplied with an air combustion
  • You will need to indicate the opening space of any vertical and horizontal windows
  • You can exhaust a half-bath or bathroom to the attic

Drawing Requirements

  • You will need to draw a ¼ scale of the project on white paper in blue or black ink, including the room dimensions.
  • Indicate the location of the furnace, water heater, stairs, and existing windows.
  • Label the intended use of all areas of the unfinished space.
  • If you are required to have a fire escape, you will also need the approval of the fire department before submission.

RELATED QUESTIONS

  • Can you finish a basement with low ceilings?

There are particular ceiling finishes to choose from to maximize the headroom space of your basement. A drop ceiling looks fantastic and attractive. Although, you do not want to select this type of ceiling finish for a low-headroom basement. It is your choice if you wish to have a beautiful ceiling that comes with a cramped-up feeling. I would not suggest this option. It could ruin your posture and hurt your back in the long term.

You can opt for not finishing the ceiling instead. It may not look as lovely because of the exposed air ducts and wires, but in this case, you want to choose comfortability rather than the aesthetic. To resolve this the inexpensive way, you can paint the exposed floor joists with the color of your choice. It will still look good, as long as you pair the aesthetic your man cave with an industrial vibe type of ceiling.

You can also try wood paneling. It is an inexpensive option that can close off your ceiling without compromising the thickness. It will leave enough space for the headroom. To apply this method, you can staple or nail the panels of wood directly on the floor joists to give it a more finished look.

  • Remove the subfloor

Another way to maximize the space and add more headroom is by eliminating the subfloor. It can about 3 inches of height to your basement. You can always change the flooring to solid concrete. You can either leave the pavement as it is or lay down a rug. You can also use vinyl or tiles to give the floors a more polished finish.

  • Find the right colors

You can make the room more prominent than its actual size by choosing the right colors to paint the drywall. Light color walls allow light to bounce off and make the room less gloomy and cramped. Your man cave will feel much larger than it is. Plus, the color can also affect the mood of the entire basement.

  • Lighting

Low ceilings can be a little dark. To overcome the darkness of a room, you can try ways to get light o pass through. If the basement has windows, remove anything that blocks the light from passing through. The sun will affect to make the room seem more significant. If you do not have a window in your basement, you will need to install one if there are not any vents.

You can also opt for artificial lighting by installing a generous number of light fixtures. Although it can light up the room, it can make the temperature higher as the basement ceilings are low. Make sure you have an air conditioner, so it won’t feel that hot when all the lights are turned on.

  • Can you expand a basement?

There are several factors to consider when you are planning a basement expansion. If you haven’t made up your mind, I listed down numerous aspects to think about. Your man cave is supposed to be considered as a living space where you can spend a lot of time. Expanding the basement is not just for storage; it has to be a safe place where you can breathe and feel safe. Here is a list of factors to consider:

  • SAFTEY

Consider the safety of the operation and how it will affect the overall stature of the house. If not, you can always try other ways for expansion such as excavating your lawn where the house foundations are not affected. Your home is safely situated on the soil underneath, so digging up crawl space for a basement expansion will require extensive knowledge of construction.

  • CONSTRUCTION SAFETY

The proper training for construction work is another safety factor. If you are not adequately trained to operate any heavy machinery; I suggest you take a course on how to properly use the equipment. Safety is not limited to knowing how to operate heavy machinery. There are specific topics such as hazard identification and learning how to maneuver and troubleshoot heavy equipment.  In working with heavy equipment, make sure you use the tools for what they are designed for. Also, make sure you wear all the necessary safety gear such as goggles, gloves, and other protective equipment.

  • FOUNDATIONS

Now that you have considered the safety of the operation, you can move on to the next part. You should inspect how your house was built and supports the house. Determine the possible course of action. To determine where you want the expansion to take place, you have to find out which zone is safe for excavation.

When a house is built, the basement and the soil surrounding it is the original plan of supporting the building. Any expansions are sometimes not included in the program because some houses are built as it is. There are different types of house foundations. The type of foundation is based on several factors, such as the geographical location, climate, soil, and moisture.

The full basement foundation is one of the most convenient ways of building a house. It gives you extra living space almost the size of the entire house space. The main objective of finishing with a full basement is the extra living space. In this case, your man cave is the best thing you got out of having basement space.

  • SURROUNDINGS

Be aware of your surroundings when you will start the construction. Once you have all the permits to begin construction, strictly follow the parameters to make sure you will not disturb anyone in the neighborhood. If the license says do not work at night, it is because of the loud noise of construction equipment. You should follow that so that you would not get complaints and ultimately not be able to finish the expansion.

Digging a new basement will produce a lot of soil and dirt. Make sure that you dispose of the ground properly and not make a mess on the public roads or your neighbors’ lawn. You should respect the boundaries and scope of the legal permits given to you.

  • PIPE INSTALLATIONS

If your basement already has a bathroom or water supply, you don’t need to add any pipes. Installing pipes for a new water supply will take a lot of work. If you are expanding for extra space, do not mind the correctly working pipelines.

If your expansion happens to affect a significant pipeline going to the basement, you should choose a different spot if possible. If it is not possible to change the location, you must hire a professional plumber to rearrange the septic tank system and piping.

  • VENTILATION

 A living space should have proper ventilation. It can be dangerous to add extra space with no room for air. If you have the extra budget, have your extra basement space covered by your home’s centralized air conditioning. If not, you must consider doing all the necessary steps for proper ventilation. 

To properly ventilate a basement, you should add windows for natural ventilation. This method reduces electricity usage. Windows should be strategically placed so that it can be open and closed. Having proper ventilation will eliminate bad odor from mold build-up. The EPA suggests that homeowners properly ventilate their basement so that residents can breathe fresh air while in the basement. Fresh air also inhibits mold and mildew growth.

  • SUNLIGHT

Some basement can get sunlight if a window or transparent roof is placed where the soil meets the open space. The advantage of getting sunlight is to reduce energy consumption. Having sunlight hit the basement will also make it feel livelier.

ALTERNATIVE MAN CAVE LOCATIONS

The ideal size of your man cave will depend on what you are planning to do with it. There is no such thing as a man cave that is too small or too big. The ideal man cave size depends on you and the activities you plan on doing once you have a man cave.

It is all about the purpose. Reading, writing, watching movies, and drinking alone does not require much space. If you plan to have a lot of company, you will need the extra space so that you and your friends can be comfortable. If your small space for doing activities, it might add more stress instead of lessening it. Remember, the goal is to destress and refresh.

  • SPARE ROOM

Depending on the size and location of the room, you can use it as a man cave. It is quite evident that If the room is small, the activities and equipment are limited. A good rule is to think of items that are for relaxation first before adding big things such as pub games. Think of a Lazy boy perhaps, an average recliner measures about 41 x 40 x 41 inches. It could go up to 70 inches when it is fully reclined. That alone takes up about six and a half feet in length.

That chair would take up significant space, but if that is all you need to relax, then you’re good with the spare room in your house. You can probably even add a TV or computer so that you can watch your favorite movies. You also need to think about the budget you have for this project. If a room is smaller, you do not need that big of a budget when it comes to the number of appliances you want to purchase for your man cave.

  • GARAGE

A garage is a suitable place to set up as a man cave. It has space, and only little finishing is needed to polish the area. The only problem with using your garage as a man cave is where to park the cars. However, if like cars and plan to do any car or motorcycle projects, you may have found your perfect man cave spot.

If your man cave focuses on playing around with cars, you do not need a lot of finishing to do. The garage has the space to work on cars. All you need is a spot to organize all the different tools you need for automotive work. If you have a big enough garage, you can also throw a little other essential man cave equipment in there.

If you are putting something like an entertainment center in the garage, you must do a little finishing such as flooring, ceilings, and ventilation. You can put flooring on the side where you will add the entertainment center. The other half for cars does not need any adjustments for flooring.

CONCLUSION

Given that there is enough plausible space to move, most basements can be finished. Prices of renovations will vary on the size of the basement, its raw condition, and the amount of work needed for the finish. Doing it yourself will save you a substantial amount of labor but will take up a lot of your time. Always remember that basement sizes do not matter as long as you can enjoy the benefits of having the space that you need.

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