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Concrete Basements Home
Basement Construction Checklist
Codes for Finished Basements
Foundation Drainage and Waterproofing: How to keep below-grade spaces dry
Enhancing & Repairing Existing Basements
Enhancing Basement Floors: Seven reasons why you should enhance rather than cover up concrete basement floors
Repairing Bowed Basement Walls: A carbon-fiber-reinforced grid system permanently stabilizes bowed foundation walls with minimal disruption and no excavation

Putting a concrete basement into your brand new home or finishing an existing basement is one of the best investments you can make. Basements provide inexpensive space for a variety of purposes, from a family room or entertainment center to an office or extra bedroom. Concrete is the most popular material used to construct basements. It is also becoming the preferred option for finished flooring of basements because of its resistance to moisture and many design options.

CAN YOU HAVE A BASEMENT?

You can have a basement in your new home even in areas with high water tables, poor soil conditions, or on a downward sloping lot, providing you install a waterproofing membrane with the ability to bridge cracks. In some areas of the country where the soils are extremely poor, caissons (deep piers) are used to support the basement structure also.

TYPES OF BASEMENT CONSTRUCTION

There are 3 basic types of basements:

Masonry Wall Basements

The basement walls are constructed with masonry block units. There are many joints where the masonry units connect to each other so make sure your basement is properly reinforced and the walls are waterproofed (not dampproofed) to avoid water seepage.

Learn about repairing bowed basement walls.

Precast Panel Basements

Poured concrete panels are lifted into place with a crane. See Superior Walls website for a description of this procedure.

Poured Concrete Wall Basements

By far the most popular type of basement construction. Here are some of the benefits of poured concrete walls:

  • Solid concrete is better able to resist cave-ins caused by lateral pressures of water, earth, and wind.
  • More fire resistance-because solid concrete is dense and is joint free.
  • More resistant to water because concrete has fewer and smaller voids than concrete block

Call your local building department and ask them what type of basement construction they recommend and that they hear few or no complaints about.

MOISTURE PROBLEMS

The University of Minnesota has written an excellent document titled "Moisture in Basements: Causes and Solutions” which is well-written, easy to understand, and has excellent illustrations. It outlines that the main causes of basement moisture problems are:

  • Inadequate grading around the house
  • Defective or missing gutters and downspouts
  • Improperly designed window wells
  • Ineffective drain tile and sump pit
  • Improper drainage with under-slab ducts
  • Structural cracks
Moisture Control Example

Solutions to basement moisture problems:

Rainwater or melted snow that isn't routed away from the house is also a common cause of basement and crawl space moisture. Read this article about Drying Out a Wet Basement from This Old House to determine if your wet basement is being caused by condensation, runoff, or if a subsurface water source is the cause.

The approach to moisture problems should always be to remove the source of the moisture-not to try to stop it at the last line of defense (the basement wall). It is appealing to try to solve a basement moisture problem with a membrane or special coating on the inside. In some cases that solution might seem to work for a while; however, the water will still be there.

MOISTURE PREVENTION

There are 2 types of moisture prevention: waterproofing and dampproofing. Waterproofing a basement is applying a membrane to the basement wall that has the ability to bridge cracks if they should occur in the basement wall. If your site has a high water table or poor soil condition you should use a waterproofing system. If the soil drains well many people waterproof the basement walls anyway for extra protection against water getting into the basement.

Dampproofing is a vapor barrier that retards water penetration. It will not bridge foundation shrinkage cracks or stop water under hydrostatic pressure.

Read more about waterproofing concrete foundations.

Regulation size concrete shuffleboard, designed by hand and etched into concrete surface with hand-held grinder provides entertainment in this basement. Allstate Decorative Concrete in Cokato, MNRead more about this project.

NEW HOME BASEMENT DESIGN

Are you building a new home? Chances are you'll live there for quite a while, and inevitably there will come a time when you wish you had more space. If you build your home on a crawl space, your only option will be an expensive addition later, but if you plan ahead now, you can have premium quality living space readily available right beneath your feet.

Smart new home builders are offering flexibility in their home designs, allowing for creative use of lower-level living space to accommodate growing, changing families. A basement offers some of the most economical space in new home construction today.

When planning your home, talk to your builder about these basement design ideas to ensure you get the most from your new home right away and in the future:

Choose the basement entrance carefully

Basement stairs are often in or adjacent to the kitchen and come down into the middle of the basement, which reduces the usable floor space. When positioning a basement stairway, consider how the basement might be used. If you’re planning to use the basement as an entertainment area, a stairway off a main entrance or living area offers good access for guests. Placing a stairway along a basement wall opens up the basement for maximum floor plan possibilities.

Stairway design

The basement stairway can be as attractive as the main stairway of a two-story home. Consider hardwoods with decorative turnings and posts for a rich traditional look or introduce wrought iron into your stairway design to bring a bit of the garden indoors. Finishing the walls of the basement stairway like the above grade walls helps add interest and appeal.

Include windows

Sunlight can transform any room into a cheerful gathering place. Abundant sunlight also can help a basement space look more natural. Consider adding daylight windows with window wells that are the same size as above ground windows.

Vary lighting

Use lighting to highlight certain areas of your lower-level living space. Consider built-in lighting in the stairway and recessed or track ceiling lighting to highlight personal collections or create warm conversation areas.

Don't scrimp on finishes

When selecting a finish for any part of the basement, consider the type of activity that will take place in the space. Will the basement be used as bedroom, home theater, exercise room, home office or playroom, for instance?

Plan electrical outlets and utilities

When designing a basement, consider the placement of electrical outlets and switches, HVAC ducts and the entrance to the utility room and group main electrical utilities (electrical, water and main sewer lines) together in one area of the basement. This area can be left as an unfinished room that hides the utilities, and gives you more design freedom in your basement living area.

Select ceiling height

Many basement designs now include 9- and 10-foot ceilings. Higher ceilings help to open up the room and create a more appealing basement space.

Consider a fireplace

A fireplace not only provides light and warmth, it can serve as a focal point in a room. Consider installing a flue at the time of construction, even if there are no immediate plans for a finished basement. The option to install one in the future can be a significant selling point in a homes' resale.

Consider a walk-out basement

Walk-out basements are increasingly popular features in new homes today. Generally built on a sloping site that exposes the basement to the outside, a walk-out basement allows for maximum light and convenient access for indoor-outdoor entertaining. A walk-out basement can lead to a terrace, patio or deck that unites the two entertaining areas of a home.

POPULAR USES FOR EXISTING BASEMENTS

When most people think of an addition to their home, they think about adding on to the existing structure. What many seem to forget is that their "addition," already 30% completed, is literally right under their noses in the basement.

Realtor surveys consistently show that finished basements rank just behind kitchen renovations and bathroom renovations in repaying homeowners. Payback on the cost of remodeling the basement comes in at between 20% to 115%. Keep in mind, though, that this means professionally finished basements. Unprofessionally finished basements are a minus. Prospective buyers have consistently shown themselves uninterested in undoing — or living with — the mistakes that are commonplace with do-it-yourselfers.

Remodeling and finishing a basement space offers several advantages:

  • Basements are naturally insulated by the earth, which means they’re cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.
  • If the house doesn’t currently have room for a family room, home office, guest bedroom, etc., these can be built economically in the basement.
  • Moving an existing family room, home entertainment center, home office, or children’s playroom to the basement frees up additional space in the main living area, which can mean an expanded kitchen or bath, a larger master bedroom, or an additional guest bedroom or living quarters.
  • By putting a home entertainment center, exercise area, workroom or other "activity" room in the basement, the rest of the house can be quieter. Conversely, a den, sauna or whirlpool can be put in the basement as a quiet retreat from other household activity.

Remodeling a basement to fit a specific need may also involve special considerations outside of what would be found in a "normal use" type of room. Here are just a few examples:

Basement Home Workshop

Having a basement workshop is ideal, as it isolates the often-noisy activities from the rest of the house. Here are a few things to plan for:

  • Sound insulation: This prevents the shop noise from permeating the rest of the home. Also consider weather stripping for common doorways between the shop and other parts of the house. This will not only add to the soundproofing effort, but will also help eliminate sawdust and other materials from entering the living spaces.
  • Electrical outlets: Adequate power for home workshops is always a concern. For those with a lot of heavy-duty power tools, plan on adding one or more circuits routed through a subpanel to keep circuit breakers close at hand.
  • Dust collection system: This is essential for woodworkers. Supplement this with plenty of ventilation from windows and/or fans to eliminate fumes such as those from paint or glue.
  • Lighting: Good lighting is essential for the close work often encountered in workshops. Evenly spaced fluorescent lights with diffuser grids, and light-colored ceilings and floors all contribute to good lighting conditions. Have adjustable work lights focused on individual workstations and machinery.

Concrete Basement Laundry Room

Locating the laundry room in the basement is ideal as many of the necessary components, such as hot and cold water and a drain system, are already available. This can also be a noisy activity, best isolated from the rest of the house. Some items to consider:

  • Floor drain: Protect against burst or leaking hoses to and from the washing machine with a floor drain to prevent flooding throughout the basement. This drain will have to be connected to the home’s drain system. However, proper installation can be tricky and is best left to a licensed plumbing contractor.
  • Large sink/tub: Consider draining the washing machine into a large tub or sink with hot and cold faucets. The tub can come in handy for soaking clothes, cleaning large objects, or other household chores.
  • Water-resistant floor coverings: Paint the concrete slab with a heavy-duty paint or cover the floor with glue-down vinyl if the slab is smooth and crack-free. See other basement flooring options.

Concrete Basement Media Room

The dark, theater-like ambience of the typical basement can be finished into an ideal media room. Some special considerations:

  • Sound-dampening: Install sound insulation material such as corkboard over the walls or hang heavy curtains to achieve the same effect and add color. Insulate between floor joists with fiberglass batts and cover with drywall or suspend an acoustical ceiling. Carpet the floor and furnish the room with heavy sofas, overstuffed chairs, and plenty of pillows.
  • Lighting: Use indirect lighting (usually aimed at the walls or ceiling) for a soft, glare-free light. Install dimmer switches to further control lighting.
  • Wiring: Plan component installation well so that sound and video components are easily accessible in their appropriate cabinets and so the appropriate wiring may be run through walls, behind cabinets, etc.

CHOOSING A BASEMENT FINISHING CONTRACTOR

It is critical for you to know the right questions to ask about basement finishing so you get the job done how you want it. An experienced and reputable basement finishing contractor will have the experience to point out and remedy potential problems or obstacles that an inexperienced contractor will either not detect or will fail to mention.

Here are several questions to ask when choosing a basement finishing contractor:

  • Do they have extensive experience in this line of work? Basement finishing should not be one item in a long list of things they "specialize" in.
  • Are they a licensed, bonded, and insured contractor?
  • Do they have a list of recent references you can call and/or visit?
  • Will they listen to your vision of the finished basement and discuss the viability or your idea?
  • Will they specify in their proposal the exact brand and quality of cabinets, tile, carpet, doors, etc. so you know what you are buying?

Last updated: August 9, 2018.