So, you're thinking about finishing your basement, are you? Sounds reasonable. It is some of the cheapest space available when you are looking to expand your living space. As you start your planning, the first thing you need to do is ask yourself what it is that keeps you from spending time down there right now—things like, it's dark, dank, and has low ceilings. These are all issues you need to address as you plan your new space.
The first, and most important, issue is water. There's no point in spending good money to put nice materials in a basement that is subject to flooding or even just occasional seepage. If your basement has ever had water in it, you have to figure out why, fix the problem, then wait and observe awhile to make sure you really fixed the problem before you finish the space. Common problems are poor grading around the foundation and missing or faulty gutters—easy enough to fix. If the problem is due to a high water table, your fixes are harder and more expensive—you're going to need a sump pump and a drain system below the slab or around the footings to catch and redirect rising water before it makes its way into your basement. Call a reputable waterproofing contractor. Dampness caused by condensation is easily handled by conditioning the air in the basement, running a dehumidifier, and insulating the pipes.
Light is another important element if you want to create a space that doesn't "feel" like a basement. You have to have egress windows in any bedrooms and that will help bring in some light. Of course, you can add windows in the living areas, too.
Artificial light also plays a significant role. When a space has either little or no windows, you have to really pump up the artificial light. No one wants to spend time in a dark and confined basement.
From a design perspective, choosing the same style and quality of light fixtures for the basement that you have in the rest of the house also contributes to making sure the new space doesn't feel like a gussied-up basement. There are plenty of options when choosing light fixtures. Sconces tend to soften the look and feel of a space, while pendant lighting or track lighting are great for focusing attention on a particular area such as a table, desk, or countertop. Another good option is recessed lights. You can even get some that install in dropped ceilings and there are special shallow models if ceiling height is a problem.
Finally, there are a couple of other design tricks to help make your new space somewhere you'll really want to spend time. First, try to keep the area somewhat open by designing multi-use spaces, otherwise you end up with confined and overcrowded rooms that just aren't functional. And use nice-quality materials (assuming you fixed those water problems) to match the look and feel of the rest of your house will help.
Reprinted with permission of Hometime®. For further information about finishing a basement, tune in to Hometime or visit www.hometime.com. © Hometime 2003, all rights reserved.