An unfinished basement is like an open invitation to start remodeling. If you’ve got one yourself and you’re tempted to convert it into usable living space, you’re hardly alone. Who wouldn’t want to add to — in some cases practically double — their home’s living area? It’s a project that makes a great deal of sense from a number of different perspectives.
A basement remodel is one of the most ambitious home improvement projects you can undertake, though. Besides the sheer scale of the project, the basement remodeling job also presents unique concerns that apply to no other part of the home. When you’re finishing a basement, you have to account for the rest of the home’s vital systems (e.g. plumbing, wiring, heating, and air conditioning), the increased risk of water damage, and much more. The right time to consider all of these special issues is long before you get to work on your basement project.
Below you’ll find six of the most common errors made in basement finishing jobs.
1. Failing To Account For Increased Water Damage Risk
A basement is essentially a pit carved out of the earth and finished in porous concrete walls. In all but the very driest of climates, basements are naturally susceptible to water infiltration. Moisture will seep straight through the concrete, as well as through any seams or cracks that develop over time. Basements also suffer the worst during any type of flooding, be it weather-related or caused by a plumbing malfunction. This means that every proper basement refinishing job has to include intelligent drainage provisions. A decent sump pump is a virtual necessity, and most smart homeowners also make plans for installing robust dehumidifiers when turning their basements into livable spaces.
2. Choosing The Wrong Materials — Walls
In above-ground home improvements, walls are relatively simple. Wooden studs, drywall, and fiberglass insulation are more than enough to get the job done. Below ground level, though, everything changes. All of these materials are united by one common trait: They degrade quickly when exposed to too much moisture. (Even fiberglass insulation is usually manufactured with organic backing and adhesive components.)
The solution to this problem is to prefer inorganic building materials for basement construction. Wet fiberglass insulation loses all its ability to prevent heat transfer, and perpetually damp drywall gives off toxic fumes and provides a superb breeding ground for mold. You should use completely inorganic (and completely waterproof) materials when constructing walls in your basement.
3. Choosing The Wrong Materials — Floors
Here once again, organic materials are your enemy. Hardwood flooring, bamboo, cork, and wooden sub-floor members are all bad ideas in basement renovations. No matter how strenuously a manufacturer asserts the water and mold-resistant qualities of its flooring products, it’s always smart to assume that your basement floors will sooner or later have to deal with flooding. Fortunately, there are tons of different inorganic flooring systems available that stand a much better chance of withstanding intense water exposure. Tile and stained concrete are just two of the smart options available to you; do your homework and strike a balance between aesthetic appeal and water resistance when you pick out your floor.
4. Betting Everything On A Single PumpWisconsin homes are amply supplied with basements, and every year sees millions of dollars spent by local homeowners who have to deal with basement flood damage and restoration. This damage is rarely covered by standard homeowners’ insurance; even flood insurance typically features sharp limitations on the amount of coverage provided for basement living space. You shouldn’t consider yourself fully protected just because you do good waterproofing and install a basic sump pump. You need a battery or generator-powered backup pump to provide total protection. A lot of the floods you’ll be facing are caused by storms, and the same storm that sends floodwaters your way can have a nasty chance of knocking out your home’s power. For full protection against power outages or malfunctions in your primary sump pump, you need an independent backup you can rely on.
5. Too Much Faith In Vapor Barriers
A vapor barrier is an outstanding building material. It’s a thin sheet of synthetic material (usually polyethylene) designed to prevent moisture transfer from the exterior of a home to the interior. While vapor barriers work wonders above ground, though, you need to exercise extreme caution when using them in a basement. Too many contractors believe that a vapor barrier is infallible and all-powerful, advising you to use whatever building materials you want in combination with one. The fact is that most vapor barrier materials used in the basement act as permanent water-traps, collecting moisture in between the barrier and the concrete where it will stay for ages. If you place building materials between the vapor barrier and the concrete, they will fail quickly! It’s much better to build a durable system that’s designed to accommodate water intrusion and allow moisture to evaporate safely.
6. Overconfidence In Water-Resistance
Even if you avoid every one of the blunders listed here, if you assume you’ve made your basement impregnable to moisture you’re doomed to be sorely disappointed. Even the best-made basement will tend to be more humid than the house above it. This is an inevitable fact caused by the difference in temperatures above and below ground. You need an active dehumidifier to deal with the higher moisture levels in your basement. A system that monitors the ambient moisture level is ideal, and your goal should be to keep RH levels below 55 percent. If they climb above 60 percent, you may have to deal with mold no matter how wisely you’ve chosen your building materials.