Basements are often the neglected spaces of a house, but many homeowners are turning their lowest level into bright, welcoming rooms for recreation, exercising and enjoying a movie. However, basement remodels can pose more challenges than redesigning the upper levels due to their location, function as a foundation, and susceptibility to flooding. Our expert Home Artisans of Indiana members pooled their experience and advice to give you the top five risks of a basement remodel, and what you can do to avoid them:
- Remodeling Risks
There are quite a few things you can overlook in a basement when making major changes. Make sure the space is watertight and you don’t have any water intrusion that will occur behind the walls once you frame them up. Check for any obvious water stains, and if found, contact a professional who can give you options. There are usually multiple ways to repair this problem, some ranging from the quick fix to a more permanent, though more expensive, solution.
In basements, remodelers are reducing the size of mechanical closets to maximize living space, but it’s probably not a good idea to squeeze them too much. It could mean trouble down the road if your repair person does not have room to get to a part to fix or replace it.
- Foundation Risks
If you are building an addition that requires a basement, the new foundation should not be dug within 4’ of the original foundation; the pressure from the excavator doing the digging can push the original wall in, causing severe damage that is expensive to fix. Use lintels to connect the foundations. Be sure to use a company that hand digs or uses a small excavator for the job.
- Flooding and Power Risks
Be sure to protect your new finished basement with a battery back-up sump pump system so that when the power goes off or your main pump quits working, you have protection and time! Use your home alarm system to tie into your sump pump for additional warning when it fails. You may also want to consider a whole-house generator to run your major pumps and appliances in case the power goes out.
- Drainage Risks
Drainage for basements has to be considered even when simply adding a window or planting shrubs around a new remodel project. It is important to consider how the remodel or addition will affect the slope and drainage away from the basement.
- Contractor Risks
With any remodel, choosing your contractor carefully is essential. Your best bet will not be the “guy in a truck”, but a professional remodeler who is licensed, bonded and insured, experienced in all phases with multiple remodels under their belt. Horror stories abound about contractors that leave a long job to “squeeze in another project”, and a remodel that was supposed to take 4 weeks stretches to 3 months or more. In your contract, it is advisable to write in clauses that define completion dates and exact financial penalties for missed deadlines. It is also wise to pay for completed work only. Paying for materials at the beginning is fine, as lumber and drywall are pricey, but after that you should only be paying for completed work, not what is about to start.
For basements built before 1979, you may also need to find a contractor certified to deal with lead-based paint. That way you have someone who is able to do all the work related to any removal of wallboard, studs, paint and etc.
Finally, make your bid as all-inclusive as possible. Change orders can kill you if you let them. Think through everything that could require a change order and try to address that up front and include it in the bid: electrical (how many lights you want, do you have to move existing lights, how many outlets and where, etc.), plumbing (do you need an ejector pit and pump for a bathroom, do you have a wet bar, etc.), and interior additions (does it include miniblinds on windows, access doors for crawl space or sump pump pit room, etc.).
A remodeling professional that has a proven and tested process can tackle all these considerations for you, and make sure your basement remodel project is a success from start to finish. For your various remodeling needs, reach out to these Home Artisans of Indiana members: Cathy Stegemoller, Steg Plumbing; Brian Schutt, Homesense Heating & Cooling; and Eric Schneller, Crew Property Improvement Specialists. For a foundation builder, reach out to Tim Eckert of Weber Concrete.