Basement Remodel Plans - How to Refinish it Yourself and Save Money
So you've decided to refinish your basement.
Refinishing your basement is the cheapest and easiest way to add tons of value to your house. And it turns an area of somewhat unused space into a totally new room and floorspace. You don't have to be great at building, electrical or carpentry. And you don't need to have lots of tools. But it does help to have friends who have done it before.
This will not be a super in-depth guide to refinishing your basement. I just wanted to go over some things i learned from what we did in 2001 and tips that will save time and money. And let me just say that i talked to as many people as i could about what i needed. People who have refinished their basements before know all the tips and pitfalls and will tell you things you need to do and things that you can skip. I also watched a ton of video's on youtube.
First, decide on what you want to do. We decided on just refinishing half of our basement. Our basement is around 1,000 sq.ft. and we figured 500 sq.ft. for a TV room/play room would be fine. The other half of the basement is my workshop, laundry and storage. Originally i had this whole area as my workshop, now i was being confined to the back 1/4 corner.
Another view from years before.
Here's the view to the stairs coming down. The boxes you see are from the bathroom tile remodel we did.
And another view of the stairs from an earlier date. Just your typical basement.
Next you want to measure everything. Measure all walls, ceiling height (noting that it might be shorter at the walls and higher where the floor drain is), location of windows, pipes, water meters, gas meters, electric boxes, heating ducts, vents, etc. Initially you can draw this by hand on paper, but i think it's super important to draw it out to scale on some type of computer CAD program. I use AutoCAD at work so it wasn't a big deal to draw it out using that.
Here's just the area we were going to remodel. You can see the stud walls, 2x4's, lights, electrical, outlets, etc. This is a necessity for getting all your material quantities.
Once i had that EXISTING drawing, i could start drawing the PROPOSED linework. Doing all this on the computer is great because it makes it easy to move and delete things. Also you can change where you want lights to go and how many electrical outlets you need. Here's my final version, probably the 30th different drawing i did.
Here's a later version where i had the ceiling drawn in.
A view from above showing the entire basement.
These views were great to get a sense of scale and how things were going to look.
And another view of the stairs. This was an earlier design where we had a door to storage under the stairs, which never happened.
Another great thing about drawing your basement plan on AutoCAD is getting quantities. I could quickly get dimensions of everything i needed since it was drawn to scale.
Another cool thing is to draw it on Google SketchUp. This is a free program you can download and really quickly draw an entire room in 3D. I found it really useful to get a feeling for how the room would look. Plan views are good, but actually seeing what the room will look like lets you get a better mental picture and think of things you might forget.
Drawing it to scale, for example with our 7' ceilings, helps to see whether it will look ok or not.
Our final plan was to frame the walls with 2x4's. Replace the old windows with glass block. Then run electrical and put up lights. Then paint the ceiling black. Next staple up insulation and do drywall. Install 2 doors. Then hire someone to install carpet. Paint the walls then nail up baseboard and crown molding.
COST OPINIONOnce everything was decided and drawn, i could then figure out how much it was going to cost. So i created a spreadsheet and separated everything into categories like Electrical, Drywall, Paint, etc. The columns are Item, Quantity, Cost, Total Cost. Then the total cost of everything at the top.
Here's the link to this Basement Remodel Cost Opinion Spreadsheet, it's on my Google Drive.
I got all of the costs by visiting Lowe's and writing everything down that i needed. The prices are from 2014, but they shouldn't have changed much.
This was the sheet that i took with me to either Lowe's or Home Depot to get a cost for everything and determine what the entire remodel would end up costing us.
This was a guess at our time frame. This basically got thrown out the window once we started working.
No only does the spreadsheet give you an idea of what everything is going to cost, but it's really important to have when you go to buy everything. It takes several hours in the store and you are pushing around a couple of carts. You don't want to be confused as what to buy and forgetting something. It's nice having a list of everything, how many you need and checking them off as you go.
I think we bought some of the stuff at Lowe's and some stuff at Home Depot. Just because of cost and we liked certain things better at the other store. (like recessed lights)
Here's a link to a blog post i wrote earlier on how to save 10% on every purchase from Lowe's. You can also do sites like Cards4Cash where you buy gift cards and get another 10% off, but that can be a pain sometimes.
So now you have your plan, you spent over $1,000 on materials and you are ready to get started.
GETTING STARTEDWe decided to frame all the walls with 2x4's. I did see that sometimes people anchor 1x2's to the walls and use that hard pink foam insulation. But the first step for us was to measure 4" off the wall and snap a chalk line. 2x4's are actually 3.5" wide but we wanted 1/2" for some air flow. The one downside of all of that is losing 5" of floor space on each wall, but it wasn't that noticeable.
Another decision we made was to attach the pressure treated 2x4's to the floor with TapCon screws (they are the blue ones). In hindsight this wasn't the best thing. Having to use a hammer drill to drill 30 or 40 holes in the concrete was a real pain. I thought that one of those RamSet nail guns would be too expensive, but i found out later that they are only like $30. If i had to do this again i would use the RamSet because it's a whole lot quicker and easier.
Another picture from early on in the process, had to work around all the materials.
The first door I framed up. You can see at the top that i somehow screwed up the measurement and had to saws-all an inch from the top board.
A couple of things to know about framing. We were able to buy 7' 2x4's because our ceiling was only 7' high. That saved us some money. Next, you need a good miter saw. I bought a DeWalt 12" miter saw a few years ago and it's been great. Making all of these cuts with a hand saw or circular saw would have been a real pain. Having a nice table setup makes everything easy and accurate.
Here's what it looked like when we started, dark and lots of stuff in our way.
Here's the miter saw stand that i built a few years ago for my 12" DeWalt miter saw. Having this is a must. You are making tons of cuts and it's nice having a dedicated station to try and minimize mistakes as you go along.
Here's the blog that i wrote for making the stand. Plans for folding miter saw cart.
More junk. Also you need to have a good table for working on and going back to reference your measurements/plans. But it gets cluttered.
This was after we had all the walls framed up and i was looking at building the shelves for under the stairs. Just trying to get an idea of how the new shelves would fit in there.
And another view of looking back at the plans and measurements to check that we didn't forget anything. Also here you can see one of the doors and frames we bought, as well as the hard foam we use for down the stairs.Another thing you need to have is a big framing nailer. I guess you could screw or nail all the boards together, but again having a framing nailer is a huge help. It's fast and easy to make the stud walls. I borrowed my brother's framing nailer (he bought it to do his basement years ago). I already had a 6 gallon air compressor and smaller nail guns.
These nail guns were only good for small stuff like baseboard, crown molding and trim. For the 2x4's i had to borrow my brother-in-law's big framing nailer. But the 6 gallon compressor worked great.
Here's a blog post where i talk more about the tools and when i got them. 6 gallon air compressor and nail guns.
Another tip is in building the stud walls. Don't just cut the wall to be the exact height of the ceiling. Meaning if your ceiling is 7'2", don't make the stud wall 7'2". One of my friends who does construction said to measure the entire wall in several places, take the shortest height and subtract 1/2". Cut all your board to that height. Meaning if you measure your first wall and get 7'2", 7'3", 7'2", 7'4".... cut all of your boards 7'1-1/2".
I know what you are thinking, that would be way too short. But you will realize when you frame up your first wall and have to beat it into place with a hammer that it's much easier to slide the wall into place and secure it with some wood shims. Who cares if it's an inch or two short, it's not load bearing, just put up a bunch of shims and nail it into the ceiling joists. We cut a wall that wouldn't fit, had to take it down, pull all the nails, recut the vertical 2x4's then put it back up. After that we made sure it was at least 1/2" shorter than all the measurements.
Straight walls area easy, it gets a little tricky when you have to go around pipes and water meters. Our water meter was 3' from the back corner, and we decided to bump out the wall around it. I figured that i could build shelves in the void later. I was going to get fancy and only box in the lower part, but we just boxed it in all the way to the ceiling.
We didn't want to lose 4" of stair width, so for that wall we attached 1x2's directly to the concrete wall with TapCon anchor screws. The 1x2's provided an anchor point for the drywall screws. Then we used 3/4" pink hard foam to insulate the spaces between. This way we only lost 1" and not 4" from the stair width.
We ended up buying 2 doors from Home Depot. They came with the hinges and already attached to the frame. One door was to access the furnace, that was only 30" wide. For the door to the back laundry room i bought a 36" wide door so that i could get any big items in and out. I would hate to build everything then realize that the washer and dryer wouldn't fit through the door.
To mount the doors i used these metal alignment brackets. They were great. I was able to mount it by myself. You attach the brackets to the frame, draw a vertical line, then align the brackets to the line to make sure it's perfectly plumb. I probably could have done it with wood shims but it would have been difficult to do by myself.
You can see here that i miss-measured and the door frame wouldn't fit, i had to do a little hacking with the SawsAll to take off another inch.
The small windows we had down there we just thin glass and looked terrible. So i decided to replace them with glass block. It took a while to figure out what size blocks i needed. Figuring that i needed a 1/2"-1" gap all around, i bought blocks with widths of 8", 6", 6", 6", 8" to fit the opening.
The first step was to knock out the old windows and metal frames. I used a small sledge hammer and prybar.
The next thing i learned is that it takes a LOT of grout. I think i used an entire 50 pound bag for each window. So definitely buy more than you think you need. Next, you have to mix it pretty thick, too thin and it will be too runny and slump. You need a firm base or else it will be hard to get it to stay level when you set the blocks on them. Mine started slumping at one end, but it's difficult to notice now.
ELECTRICALI've never done any electrical apart from changing an outlet, switch or installing a ceiling light. So i knew i needed help and asked my brother in law. We were able to do everything in a weekend. That included lights, wire and switches in the unfinished room, then outlets, wire, lights and switches in the finished side of the basement.
Here's running wires from the breaker box, thru the joists, then down into the walls.
The first thing you have to do is decide how everything will be connected, meaning what lines will supply power to what things. One tip i got was never have more than 9 "things" per line. Meaning no more than 9 lights or 9 outlet per circuit breaker. Otherwise it might be overloaded and trip the circuit breaker.
So we decided to do all the recessed lights on 1 circuit breaker and all the outlets on the other. There was already a light that worked on a 3-way switch at the top and bottom of the stairs. For that we just cut the wire to the switch and ran it to the new switch location. Then we split the wire to feed the 2 new lights.
Another view of the lights after i painted the ceiling black. I painted the lights black too and that helped to blend in.
Next we hung the recessed lights by nailing it to the ceiling joists. Then we nailed the plastic outlet boxes to the studs where we wanted the outlets to go.
Here's wiring the switch for the basement lights. 1 wire for one half of the basement and 1 wire for the 3-way lights coming down the stairs.
Then we went to the circuit breaker box, turn off the main breaker, and installed 2 new circuit breakers. From each breaker we ran lines to the finished basement area.
Determine how much wire you need, then double it. I figured that i needed about 200' of wire, we needed about 400'. The wire comes in 250' rolls which aren't too expensive. We bought 14-2 wire for everything except the 3-way switch, we needed 15 feet of 14-3 wire. The 14 represents the gauge (thickness) of the wire and the 2 represents the number of wires in the sleeve (not including the ground wire). It took a long time drilling 3/4" holes in the stud walls and ceiling joists and figuring out the shortest route for everything. We probably could have installed 8 or 10 recessed lights but since the contractors box only included 6 lights, that's what i went with. It's a little bit dark down there with the BR30 bulbs.
Another tip my brother in law said to do was to not just run the wires to the outlets, but to install "pig-tails". That way if one of the outlets is bad or wired incorrectly the rest will still work. If you wire 1 in and 1 out then if one outlet is bad, they all stop working. Also i decided to use the fancy light switches with the dimmer on the side. I thought we would watch movies down there and want it dimmed, but so far we haven't really needed it.
The difficult parts of all the electrical wiring was figuring out the 3-way switch and routing all the wires. Other than that, it wasn't super complicated.
INSULATIONOnce the wires were in, it was time for wall insulation. Each roll will cover something like 40 sq.ft. of space (it says on the roll). We needed 11 rolls, but it only cost like $12 per roll. We stapled the paper tabs to the studs and had to cut a slit for electrical wires to pass without being pushed. Putting up insulation is pretty easy, but you are itchy afterwords.
DRYWALLAfter insulation it was time for drywall. Putting up drywall isn't too hard, but it's a pain. We decided that the easiest thing would be to run the boards vertically. That way we would only have 1 seam running vertically every 4'. Also we only had to cut off 12" from the top of each board (8' long boards, 7' ceilings).
This took hours and days and weeks.
Again it would have gone faster had we known what we were doing, but the learning curve meant for extra mudding and sanding.
Putting up the drywall isn't too difficult, just measuring, cutting with a utility knife and big T-square, then screwing it to the wall. Next you nail up the corner guards with the air nailer.
The hard part comes with taping and mudding. It always takes me several days of mudding and sanding, then more mud then more sanding. It's one of those things that you are terrible at first, then slowly get better and better. Just remember that the more mud you put on means the more sanding you need to do. Although having the sanding pad on a long pole made sanding a lot easier.
PAINTWith the drywall done it was time for painting. We decided to paint the ceiling black. We did this for a couple reasons. First, because our ceiling height was only 7'. If we did a drop ceiling or drywall on the ceiling it would have made the room look small and cramped. The black ceiling just makes it look higher. Second we thought that painting would be a lot easier and look better.
I borrowed my brother in law's heavy duty paint sprayer. It was a real nice one that had tons of pressure. It took a while to setup and prime the pump but once it started going it was great. That sprayer was able to go through a gallon of paint in a couple of minutes. Here's what i looked like after i was all done.
And here's what i looked like when i was done. The paint suit started out being white.
Again, like the electrical wire, figure out how much you think you need, then double it. Especially with the ceiling joists, it's not just a flat wall, there were lots of corners and sides. I thought that i would only need 2 or 3 cans, i ended up needing 5.
Just painted over the smoke alarm, again it just blended in and no one notices it.
I bought paint that was pre-mixed black, and cost $18.
Next we primed the walls with white primer. That's important because the drywall seems to suck up the first coat of paint. So just use the cheap $9 primer for that and not the $35 can of paint.
After primer we painted the walls with the green paint we chose.
CARPETA year ago we had our dining room and living room carpeted from Home Depot. We got a good deal, it was on sale, and since it was over a certain square footage, install was free. This time we only had about 500 sq.ft. so we had to pay for the install. We bought the cheap 40 cent padding but got slightly better $2.00 carpet.
Here was that carpet pad from a year ago.
And also here's a link to that blog, which goes into more detail about the carpet and cost. Plus it has that Lowe's coupon generator code for getting 10% off your total purchase.
One thing we did to save money was SAY that we were going to do the stairs ourselves. Home Depot charges like $7 or $12 per stair. That was going to be another $150.
The people who do the install are not Home Depot employees, they are a separate carpet company, where Home Depot is the middle man. So what we did was ask the installers, "hey if we give you $50 would you carpet the stairs for us?" They said "ya for sure". I guess they only get paid $3 or $4 to do the stairs, so we saved money and they made money.
Another thing was we thought that we had to do the tack strip ourselves. But they charged less than $1.00 per foot so we had them do it. And that was the hardest part i think, having to drill into the concrete.
TRIMWith the carpet done it really started to look like a finished room. So we got started putting up all the trim, baseboard, and crown molding. I started with the baseboard because i knew that i could do that quickly. I've installed baseboard in several rooms in the house. It's way way easier to use a good miter saw and air nail guns. Without that it would be difficult.
Here's a link to a blog post i wrote about how to easily install baseboard.
Again, you need to have a good miter saw, air tank and nail guns.
Ready to install doors.
Then i started with the crown molding. I know it sounds a little weird putting up crown molding when there isn't any ceiling boards, but it turned out great. The crown molding hid the rough drywall edge and really made the room look taller. It somehow tricks the eyes and provides a break between the green walls and black ceiling.
Then i installed the framing around the 2 doors. This was a little tricky, i had to rip down the top width to fit it in below the crown molding.
I did have to cut a bit off the bottom of each door because of the long carpet and thick pad.
And it was a bit screwy at the top where i had to trim some off the door trim because there wasn't enough room for the frame and crown molding.
Then i put up trim around the glass block window, a ledger board and then trim around the opening below the stairs.
Some stuff that seems like a big screw-up gets forgotten when you near the end. Plus most of the time you are the only one that notices small imperfections, like glass block that isn't perfectly level.
For all of these we bought the 100' contractors packs. They were a lot cheaper then buying individual lengths of boards.
After that we hung the TV on the wall with the stand. The cool thing about that is i put an outlet box on the wall and another box to run the wires. That way you didn't see any wires hanging down.
Then we moved in all the furniture. That was a bit of a mistake because all work stopped after that. It's been over a year and we still haven't done lots of things. We still have to spackle nail holes on the trim, attach trim under the stairs, build shelves under the stairs, and build a door to access the water meter and water shut off. I'm sure it's something we will wait to do until we sell the house.
I drew it up on AutoCad so that i could get the spacing to look right. You can see here that i took a picture, inserted the picture to scale in AutoCad, then drew over-top of the picture.
And again i did the same thing here for the shelves i was going to build under the stairs. But this drawing wasn't to scale, just a concept to see if i would like the box and triangle design layout.
I saw a few drawings like this for my inspiration. Nothing fancy, but able to hold a lot of kids toys and things.
Our product tester at work.
Another thing i still have to do is staple up thick felt/insulation between the joists on the unfinished side of the basement. Since that's my workshop, the felt would cut down on noise and sawdust blowing over to the finished side. Also i bought some thin 1/8" hardboard that i wanted to put on the back side of the stud wall. That hasn't happened. And as you can see the shelves under the stairs didn't happen either, just a big area to throw stuff.
But we are super happy with how it all turned out. It's become a playroom for our son and all the kids that come over. And for less that $3,000 we have another 500 sq.ft. of space in our house. It's a lot of work and takes some time but it's totally do-able for anyone. Just invite your friends over to help.