Finishing Your Basement: 5 Tips If You’re Starting from Zero

This is a guest post by Matthew Candelaria

Matthew Candelaria is a full-time writer with internet marketing company Page 1 Solutions, but working on weekends and evenings he recently finished the basement of his home, despite his previous near-total lack of home improvement skills. In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his wife and son.

Finishing a basement is a daunting project, but if you complete it, you might double the room in your home and add significantly to your home’s value in the process. If your job situation is bad or unstable, moving to a new house might not be an option for getting the space your family needs. And with the housing market where it is, the chances are your home may have lost value since you bought it, and an improvement like this is a good way to bump up your equity, which can significantly improve your terms if you’re considering refinancing. So whether you are looking for more room or more equity or both, basement finishing makes sense.

For most of us, the cost of hiring a contractor to do the job is prohibitive, so it’s either do it ourselves or it doesn’t get done. But if you don’t have any experience with framing, wiring, plumbing, or other necessary skills, you might not know where to start. Here are a few tips to help you get on track and get good results.

Find a good book. If you’re really starting from zero, the most dangerous part of the project is what you don’t know you don’t know. A good home improvement manual will outline the project from start to finish and give you a good sense of what you’re dealing with. It will also give you the vocabulary for talking about your project to people who can help you learn what you need to know. Check several out from the library before deciding which one has the best illustrations and explanations that make sense to you.

1. Get a permit. No bones about it, getting a permit is expensive. Basically, they assess the projected value of the improvement and start taxing you on it up front, in addition to various other fees. But the permit is invaluable because it will:

a. Protect you from legal penalties if a nosy neighbor reports you to the code office

b. Ensure the value added from the project actually benefits you if/when you decide to sell the house. In some jurisdictions, assessors may look askance at work not to code, so the assessed value of the house will not reflect all your hard work.

c. Give you access to a wealth of practical information and advice.

2. Utilize the inspectors. Every time you call out the inspectors, they will not only assess your work, but also give good advice on how to do it better. It’s not a bad idea to call in an inspection before you get started to go over the project as approved by the planning office to ensure you understand what is being required of you. The inspectors are happy to give advice–it makes their job easier if you do it right the first time–but make sure you don’t abuse this resource or you can make an enemy that will make your life much harder.

3. Know when to tear it down and start fresh. Whether you’re dealing with work you did before you knew what you were doing or something done by a well-meaning, but completely ignorant previous owner, trying to preserve bad work can be more trouble than its worth. Tearing out the old work will save you time and grief.

4. Know when to call in a professional. There are some times when it is smart to call in a contractor because the job is too dangerous, technical, expensive, or time-consuming to do yourself. Think twice before trying to cut a hole in your foundation for an egress window. If you’re just not good at plumbing, you risk leaky or poorly functioning pipes when you do it yourself. And finishing drywall seams yourself can be excruciating–they can take forever and look terrible when they’re done. In these cases, a professional can get the job done better, faster, and for relatively inexpensive.

Following these steps will help you end up with a finished product you can be proud of, not to mention additional space and an increased home value. Good luck!

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