Monday, May 9, 2011

What We Learned: Finishing a Basement

You can probably tell, I'm so super happy to have this project complete!
Over the 10+ months it took to finish our basement, we learned a LOT.
Today's will be a long post, but hopefully it will help you out if you're thinking about taking on a similar project.

My best advice:
Get Organized.
- Plan everything out before you order your first 2x4. 
Take inventory of the tools you own or have at your disposal (available to borrow). 
- Price out big things like cabinetry, carpet and bathroom fixtures so you know what to expect (and can budget accordingly). 
- Don't be afraid to shop around.  Big box stores like Lowe's and Home Depot come through in a big way with great prices for hundreds of smaller items and raw materials.  But they can also ding you on other items like carpet.  Check out your local vendors and you may find comparable price but a higher quality product and better service.  You just never know.
- Do your design boarding/planning at this stage, rather than after the drywall is up and it's time to do the flooring. 
Knowing how you want the space to look in the end helps provide a blueprint for all the nuts and bolts that have to go into it prior to all the "fun stuff". :)

Start a Binder. 
Those of you who know me personally are laughing out loud right now, but this system WORKS.  I made binders for planning my wedding, for preparing for my first child, and building our house, and anyone will tell you I was pretty darn organized with all of those things. 
- Save invoices, measurements, paint samples, estimates, plans--Everything related to the project goes in this binder so you eliminate having to search through the trash or all your pants pockets for that one elusive receipt. 
I also used binder pages with old transparent disk holders (who uses disks anymore?  Ha - Recycling! :) ) for all the receipts.  This way, you can file them as you go and they're automatically organized by date for ease of reference.
- Make it mobile.  We also took the binder with us each time we took a trip to Lowe's and it saved us the headache of having to make several trips because we couldn't remember the layout or weren't sure of a measurement.  You'll thank yourself for it! :)

Take Pictures of the "Guts"
-Once you have the electric and the plumbing in place, take pictures of the work. 
For example, this:

is what's behind this:

Take a close up so you can see how things are wired, but also take wide enough shots so that you have perspective as to where that particular pipe or connection is in relation to everything else.
Bathroom plumbing:
- Label the pictures and stick 'em in your binder.
Once the drywall goes up, you'll be thankful you have a reference in case you have an electrical or plumbing issue.  This can help you have to do the least amount of re-work, and that's always a plus!  :)

Have a plan - not just framing and building code. 

- Plan for function:
 How will we really be using this room?  Think about where outlets and light switches will be most convenient based on what you'll be doing there. 
How much room do we have for furniture?  Knowing your allowable square footage may change what pieces you envision in the space.
Realistically, how much time are we going to be spending down here?  We considered this basement to become a real family space, so that guided our choices and helped us decide to upgrade certain things, like the carpeting and the entertainment center/cabinets/bar.  We also knew that this would be a play/relax area, but not a space where guests would be staying (i.e. the "bedroom" would be functioning as a playroom), so we opted to do a 3/4 bathroom with just a shower vs. a full with a tub. 
If it was going to be more for storage and organization, we wouldn't have spent what we did on some of the "extras".  But because we knew what we wanted, we were able to plan ahead and put money for those things away so it didn't catch us by surprise in the end.

Watch a LOT of "Holmes on Homes". 
No joke, Mike Holmes is The Man.
Mr.V. used TiVo like the public library for old episodes.  Our Mantra: "What Would Mike Holmes Do?"
And, we are lame.  So take that for what it's worth ;)

I'm sure as time goes on, there will be things that, in hindsight, I might wish I/we had done differently.
But today, enjoying this space that we basically built with our own hands, I don't think I would change a thing. The space is comfortable, Newman and The Redhead have ample place to play, and we have a retreat where we can spend time together and don't even have to leave the house.

If you're planning on finishing a similar space, I hope the above tips can help take some of the stress out of the project for you, and help you create a place you love.



  1. Thank you!!! We are about to begin refinishing our basement but are still at the "stand in the basement and stare wondering where to begin" stage. Those are some great pointers- I'm going to send my husband the link now! (FYI- I'm with you on the binders!)

  2. that is so helpful, especially about the pictures. i think it's a great idea to know what lies beneath or behind. we have been working on our basement for flipping ever, but that's b/c we had to do a lot of work changing what it was. i have still yet to post about it, b/c it will involve so many pictures and explaining. thanks for posting this, it's great. what would mike holmes do has now replaced what would jack bauer do for us. ha!

  3. Such good advice! Thank you so much! I found you on Paisley Passions linky and I am so glad I did. Having a binder is such an obvious and great idea that I didn't think of! I am your newest follower, I would love it if you would come check out my blog and follow back!

  4. What a cute idea!!! I am now following you through Thrilling Thursday Linky Party! Hope you will follow me at Thank you!

  5. Yay! So glad that it turned-out so well. We're just about (one week away finally) from breaking ground on our addition and will be "doing up" the basement fairly soon.

    Thanks for the inspiration and tips. Martha also does not live at our house.

    Glad you linked to ShabbyNest.

  6. so daunting! I could never afford to do this or have the patience for it. :)
    I'd just settle to have my basement cleaned out a little. hahaha
    You gave some great tips for people wanting to do this!
    saving all those receipts would depress me! hahaa

  7. Thanks for the information, it's been useful.