Finishing a basement is no small task, but if you want to transform yours into a functional, inviting living space, we can help you get it done. Read the guide below for advice on how to prepare your basement, frame walls, finish ceilings, and more.
The key to a successful basement finishing project is preparation. Here are the essential steps of basement prep.
The first step in preparing your basement is to clear the area and clean it thoroughly. Begin by removing all items, including furniture and stored belongings. Once everything is cleared out, tackle debris, dust, and cobwebs.
Test for Moisture
Part of prepping a basement is testing for moisture. High moisture levels in a basement can signal leaks, poor drainage, or water seepage, which can lead to mold or mildew growth and structural water damage. To test, you’ll need the following:
- Moisture meter (available at most hardware stores)
- Paper towels or moisture-sensing tape
If you discover any moisture problems either visually or through high-moisture level readings, identify the source of the problem. Fixing the issue may involve waterproofing cracks, improving drainage, or repairing plumbing.
Choose a Layout
Assess your needs and goals for your basement once the area is clean. Do you want to design a home office space or a playroom? What about a home gym or an entertainment area with a home theater? Once you have a plan, measure the dimensions and then work to create a detailed floor layout.
While designing your layout, consider traffic flow and avoid overly complex designs. Working with a professional designer can help you optimize your layout with creative basement ideas and avoid costly mistakes.
Get a Permit
Permits ensure home improvement projects are completed safely and correctly. Reach out to your local building department or permit office to learn more about the specific permits required for your area. These may include:
- Building permit
- Electrical permit
- Plumbing permit
- Zoning permit
Once you’ve familiarized yourself with local building codes, gather all the required documents, including a detailed floor plan, and submit your permit application along with any associated fees. Permit processing times vary by jurisdiction, so plan your basement remodeling project accordingly.
Finish the Walls
Creating a welcoming and finished look in your basement starts with the walls. Painting directly onto concrete walls is cost-effective, while wood wall panels are easy to install.
Consider your budget, local building codes, and desired aesthetics when choosing a wall finish for your basement. Drywall is a particularly popular choice because of its affordability and versatility. Transform your basement by following these steps for hanging drywall.
Basement walls can lose heat if not insulated properly. Here’s what you’ll need to start the process of installing insulation:
- Hammer or screwdriver
- Insulation (R-11 fiberglass or R-10 rigid foam)
- Nails or screws
- Plastic sheets for a moisture barrier
- Safety gear (gloves, safety glasses, mask)
- Stapler or adhesive
- Tape measure
- Wood strips (two inches thick)
Follow these steps to install insulation in your basement:
- Attach wood strips: Using a saw, cut the wood strips to size and attach them horizontally to the concrete walls. Check that the strips are level and secure. Leave a small gap between the wood strips and the wall.
- Add a moisture barrier: Put a plastic sheet against the concrete wall. Make sure it’s snug, and secure it with staples or adhesive.
- Install the insulation: Fill the spaces between the wood strips with either R-11 fiberglass or R-10 rigid foam insulation. Push it in firmly and fill any gaps.
- Put up another moisture barrier: Add a second layer of plastic sheeting over the insulation. Seal any seams and edges tightly to stop moisture from getting in.
- Secure the insulation: Use nails, screws, or adhesive to hold the insulation in place.
Framing your basement is like giving the space bones. Here’s what you’ll need to begin framing:
- Air compressor
- Framing nailer
- Level (6-foot)
- Masonry drill
- Roofing nailer
- Safety gear (glasses, gloves, boots, ear protection)
- Tape measure
- Utility knife
Complete these steps to frame your basement walls.
- Plan the wall: Start by laying out your wall on the basement floor. Make sure your boards have a slight arch, called “the crown,” facing the same way. Mark where the studs should go—16 inches apart.
- Nail the wall together: After planning, use a framing nailer to attach the top plate, bottom plate, and studs. Make sure the studs are flush with the plates.
- Lift the wall: Lift your wall into place. If it’s a short wall, you can do it on your own. For taller ones, you might need some help.
- Attach to the floor: After lifting the wall, check if it’s level and attach the bottom plate to the concrete floor using masonry screws. You’ll need a chalk line to help line everything up.
- Check for level and plumb: Use a 6-foot level to check if your wall is both level and plumb, which means perfectly vertical. Adjust if needed.
- Attach the top plate: Once your wall is level and plumb, attach the top plate to the floor joists above. You may need shims for a snug fit.
Drywall is lightweight, affordable, and great for transforming a basement from a cluttered storage space into a stylish showcase. When hanging drywall, first gather these materials:
- Drill or screw gun
- Drywall panels
- Drywall saw
- Drywall screws
- Drywall/taping knives
- Joint compound
- Mesh and paper drywall tape
- Tin snips or scissors
- Utility knife
Follow these steps to hang drywall:
- Measure and cut drywall: Find and mark your wall studs. Cut the drywall panels to fit, making sure the ends align with the center of the studs.
- Install the drywall: Start in the upper corner of the room and work horizontally. Attach the drywall to the studs using screws or nails. Repeat this process until one row of the wall is complete.
- Mudding and taping: Cover the seams with drywall mud compound and tape. Apply multiple coats, letting each one dry before moving on to the next.
- Sanding and finishing: Use a pole sander to reach high spots and a handheld sander for the rest. Sand until smooth, prime the wall, and paint your finished basement in your color of choice.
Finish the Floors
Basement flooring can pull the entire look of your new living area together. Flooring also adds durability and comfort. You’ll need these tools and materials to finish your basement floors:
- Caulk gun
- Circular saw
- Flooring material of your choice (such as vinyl, tile, or carpet)
- Insulation adhesive (for subfloor, if needed)
- Masonry drill
- Plywood or polystyrene sheets (for subfloor, if needed)
- Screws and nails
- Tape measure
- Utility knife
Consider moisture levels when choosing a basement flooring type. You’ll probably want to use a moisture-resistant material such as vinyl planks or tile.
Start with a clean, dry, and level floor when finishing your basement floors. You may need to install subflooring first to prevent moisture issues and provide insulation. Subflooring is essential if your concrete floor has cracks or uneven areas or if you prefer extra cushioning beneath your flooring.
After installing the subfloor, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your chosen flooring material. Use the proper installation technique, whether that includes adhesives, grout, or underlayment. Don’t forget the finishing touches, such as painting the trim.
If you lack DIY experience or have chosen a material that is difficult to use, consider hiring a professional floor installer.
Finish the Ceiling
Finishing the ceiling is a crucial step in completing your basement’s transformation. The job requires:
- Ceiling tiles (for drop ceiling)
- Drywall jack
- Drywall sheets
- Insulation kit (if needed)
You can proceed with either a drop ceiling or a drywall ceiling.
- Drop ceiling: This ceiling is a quick, budget-friendly option that involves installing ceiling tiles using a grid system to conceal pipes and electrical wiring
- Drywall ceiling: Attach drywall sheets directly to joists. This offers a polished look but requires more skill.
Consider adding insulation for noise reduction and energy efficiency.
Pro Tips for Finishing a Basement
Unlock your unfinished basement’s hidden potential with these pro finishing tips:
- Adjust the bottom stair into the basement for better alignment.
- Check local codes for basement ceiling height requirements, and adjust ductwork and pipes accordingly.
- Choose flooring suitable for moist basement environments.
- Double up on sump pumps with a battery backup for flood protection.
- Ensure proper lighting by using recessed cans and spacing them effectively.
- Insulate hot-water and cold-water pipes to prevent heat loss and condensation.
- Select drywall and baseboards designed for basements to prevent mold growth.
- Strategically place rooms to maximize natural light. Consider egress windows for bedrooms.
- Use stackable machines to save space in a laundry room.
DIY vs. Professional
Consider your skills and budget when deciding between a DIY basement finishing project and hiring a professional. If you’re proficient with tasks such as framing and electrical work and have a tighter budget, DIY finishing can cost around $8,000* for a 1,000-square-foot basement.
If you lack experience or prefer a hassle-free solution, hiring a professional contractor at an average cost of $15,000 may be safer. Evaluate your abilities and financial resources to make the right decision for your project.
*Cost data in this article was sourced from HomeAdvisor.
The potential for a basement finishing project is enormous. However, between preparing the area, framing walls, finishing ceilings, and choosing the right flooring, there’s a lot to do. Hiring a team of professionals can provide peace of mind and exceptional results.
How to Finish a Basement FAQ
Can you finish a basement yourself?
Yes, you can finish a basement yourself and make it a DIY project, but you need to be able to pull the proper permits and pass inspections. Failure to do so can result in stop work orders, doubled fees, potential fines, insurance claim denials, and even a negative impact on your home’s resale value. Go with a pro if you doubt your DIY skills.
Does a finished basement improve the value of my home?
Yes, a finished basement improves the value of your home. Buyers favor homes with the extra space finished basements offer, which can translate to a higher selling price. Homeowners can expect up to a 70% return on their investment when finishing a basement.
How much does it cost to finish a basement?
It costs between $7 and $23 per square foot to finish a basement, with an average cost of $15 per square foot. The final price depends on the basement’s square footage, chosen materials, layout, and additional furniture and decor.