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How to Finish a Basement: In Easy Steps

Add space and value to your home by finishing your basement.

Finishing a basement turns it from a dark and damp space to a usable addition to the family home. You may think that DIY basement finishing is beyond your skill set, but with our comprehensive guide, anything is possible.

We show you how to finish a basement and walk you through the dos and don’ts to keep you on track.

Key Takeaways

  • Finishing a basement adds value and usable space to your home.
  • Break the project into sections: walls, floors, and ceilings.
  • Consider waterproofing, insulation, and proper permits before starting.
  • Choose appropriate materials and designs for a moisture-prone environment.

How Hard Is It to Finish a Basement?

It may look like a daunting task to finish your basement, but it is easier than you might think. The best way to approach the project is to break it into separate sections. Start with the walls, and then move onto the floors and ceilings.

Finishing a basement yourself takes a degree of skill. Novices out there might be better getting help from a more experienced person. They can tackle the trickier aspects of the renovation while showing you the ropes.

When to Hire a Professional

Some tasks require the services of a professional. Overhauling the electrics will need a qualified electrician. For basement conversions involving toilets and laundry rooms, you may need the services of a plumber.

You will also be working around heating ducts and gas lines, so you may need professional assistance for that.

How Much Does It Cost to Finish a Basement?

Finishing a basement is not cheap. The average cost of finishing a basement is about $39 per square foot. If you tackle the job yourself, you might lower that cost to around $30 per square foot.

The costs ramp up when you call in the professionals. You could pay between $47 and $55 per square foot, meaning the overall costs will run into thousands.

A typical 500-square foot basement could be as much as $20,000, while a 1,500-square foot basement tops $55,000.

Is Finishing a Basement a Good Investment?

Basement in luxury home with white fireplace

Finishing a basement is a good investment. It adds value to your home, gives you more usable space, adds functionality, and increases storage options. While it may take several years to realize a return on your investment, you will still recoup your money.

Plus, if you have a rental property, you could increase your monthly rental yield by adding an extra basement room.

Where Do You Start When Finishing a Basement?

Starting a basement remodel can be daunting, so you need to formulate a plan. Breaking down the task into bite-size chunks helps you work methodically. It also ensures that you get it done in a timely fashion.

1. Clear Out the Basement

Before attempting to insulate and frame your walls, clear out the basement and inspect it for leaks, cracks, and other issues. Have a can of spray foam to hand to fill any gaps instantly.

Basements are typically dumping areas full of junk and old items you rarely use. Clear some space in the garage or shed and rope as many people in to help you shift the junk. Also, disconnect any appliances, like washing machines and spin dryers.

2. Waterproof the Basement

Basements are damp environments, so you need to find a way to stop moisture penetrating, or risk ruining your remodel before you start.

Some of the waterproofing work is performed outside. Redirect your downspouts so the water flows away from your basement walls. Also, slope the ground against the basement wall, so rainwater runs away.

Moving back inside, add a drain that leads to your storm drain or a pit fitted with a sump pump. Finally, coat your bare walls in moisture-resistant paint, like this KILZ Basement Waterproofer. It stops moisture from penetrating the walls and keeps your insulation and wall framing dry.

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3. Local Building Permits and Building Codes for Basements

You need to do your research before you start your remodel. Find out about ceiling heights, escape routes, and the minimum number of exits required. It could be the difference between a successful renovation and a non-starter.

Once you confirm your basement ticks the appropriate permit code boxes, apply for the permit and get to work.

4. Make a Plan

As the saying goes, failing to plan is planning to fail. Without a detailed plan, your project will be haphazard and without direction. There are plenty of software packages available to draw up a 3D computer model of your space; some are free, and some are not.

Take Note

Free design software has limitations and restricted functions. You get more applications when you pay for the software and more advanced features.

If you are not technically minded, it might be better to employ a professional designer to draw up your basement plans. They may come up with ideas you hadn’t considered and improve the design layout.

Making a plan is vital because you will need to submit it to your local building inspections department. They will need to see wall dimensions, window and door sizes, and know the room’s purpose.

How to Finish a Basement Cheaply

Taking the DIY route saves you money. There are no labor costs, and the only expenditure is the cost of tools and materials. The best approach is to break the project down into separate sections.

Finishing Basement Walls

It is easier to start with the walls because it gives you straight edges to work with. It also makes it easier to lay the floor with square corners. Before starting, gather the right tools and materials.

What You’ll Need

  • Caulk and caulk gun.
  • Circular saw.
  • Hammer.
  • Insulation adhesive.
  • Ladder.
  • Spirit level.
  • Masonry drill and drill bits.
  • Nail gun.
  • Sawhorses.
  • Tape measure.
  • Utility knife.
  • Polystyrene foam insulation sheets.
  • 2×4-inch lumber.
  • Nails.
  • Drywall screws.
  • Drywall tape.
  • Drywall.
  • Face mask.
  • Goggles.
  • Gloves.
  • Shop vacuum.

1. Install Insulation

Safety Notice

Don your safety gear before starting the project. Sawdust and other materials contain dangerous particles that can irritate lungs, eyes, and throats if inhaled.

When working with concrete walls, you need insulation because it gets damp and cold, affecting the ambient temperature. Polystyrene insulation sheets are easy to work with and simple to attach to your unfinished walls.

Measure the distance from your floor to your ceiling and subtract 0.25 inches. Cut your insulation sheets to that size and hold them against the wall to see if they fit.

Cover the back of the insulation sheet with adhesive and press it against the wall. Now fill the seams with caulk. Repeat this process until your walls are completely covered.

2. Frame the Walls

Measure four inches from your wall and draw a line. The line should intersect any walls at a 90-degree angle. Measure your wall and cut your 2×4 wood to that length. Do this twice because you will need a top and bottom brace.

Mark the braces every 16 inches for even placement of the studs. To make the line visible, extend it slightly wider than the stud. Now, lay the bottom cross-section on the line you drew earlier.

Grab your masonry drill and insert a masonry drill bit. Secure the brace to the floor by drilling into the concrete and screwing it in place at both ends. Repeat this process for the top brace, swapping the drill for a hammer and nails.

Secure the top cross-section into the ceiling joists. Check both braces are level with the spirit level. If not, add shims (thin pieces of tapered wood) to make adjustments.

Measure the distance from the top and bottom plates and cut your 2×4 studs to size. Install the studs on the 16-inch markers you made earlier, securing them with your hammer and nails. Insert the nails at a 45-degree angle on either side of the stud so the nail grips properly.

Top Tip

Use a nail gun if you want to speed up the nailing process.

3. Install Utilities

The utilities will need to be installed before you add the layer of drywall. This is a job for a professional contractor. Your wall will contain electrical cables, heating ducts, and plumbing, which are strictly regulated and beyond the DIY approach.

4. Mount the Drywall

This step requires more measuring and cutting than any other part of the wall framing. Keep your tape measure and utility knife to hand.

Decide if you want to hang your drywall horizontally or vertically (a horizontal pattern leaves fewer seams). Measure and cut your drywall to sit in the middle of the stud. This enables you to butt the next drywall sheet for a neater seam.

You will also need to cut the holes for utilities like sockets and light switches. Secure the drywall with drywall screws, fill in the seams and screw holes with caulk, and cover the seams with drywall tape.

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Finishing Floors

Now that you have installed the walls and insulated them, it’s time to get cracking on the floor. As with the walls, you will need to gather the right tools and materials.

What You’ll Need

  • Self-leveling compound.
  • 4×8 feet plywood sheets.
  • Polystyrene insulation.
  • Foam sheet insulation.
  • Miter saw.
  • Jigsaw.
  • Masonry drill and drill bits.
  • Masonry screws.
  • Spirit level.
  • Carpet or laminate.

1. Install the Subfloor

There is a good chance your basement floor is a giant slab of concrete. Installing a subfloor levels the surface and improves insulation.

Pour self-leveling compound, like this DAP Self-Leveling Patch Repair, into dips and cracks measuring 0.188 inches or more. Allow the mixture to dry and use the spirit level to check the floor is level.

Lay down the sheets of polystyrene insulation, securing them to the floor with adhesive. Lay 4×8 sheets of plywood on top of the insulation and attach it to the floor with a masonry drill and concrete screws.

2. Install The Flooring

Once the subfloor is set, it’s time to lay the flooring material. The most common is either laminate or carpet. Laying laminate is straightforward enough. Start by installing some foam sheet insulation to cushion the laminate planks.

Laminate is grooved, so each plank interlocks, removing the need to use glue. Use the miter saw to cut the laminate planks to size. Use the jigsaw to cut irregular angles and shapes.

Leave a 0.25-inch gap between the floor and the wall. This allows the laminate to expand and shrink with changing temperatures.

Finishing the Ceiling

You get three main choices when it comes to finishing your ceiling: drywall, a drop ceiling, or leaving it open. Which you choose depends on the look you are going for. It also depends on your skill levels.

What You’ll Need

  • Drop ceiling kit.
  • Tiles.
  • Caulk and caulk gun.
  • Drywall.
  • Drywall screws.
  • Drill/driver.
  • Driver bits.
  • Utility knife.
  • Drywall paint.
  • Drywall tape.
  • Sandpaper.

1. Installing a Drop Ceiling Kit

The advantage of a drop ceiling is you can mask unsightly joists and still access the utilities. You can buy drop ceiling kits from hardware stores or online. This EZ-On T-Bar Grid Cover Kit is an excellent choice for 96 square-foot basements.

Start by installing the L-shaped channels on the walls. Fit the T-shaped channels along the ceiling joists and connect them to the L-shaped channels. Connect the T-channel cross frames to the T-channels and place the tiles in the frames.

2. Installing a Drywall Ceiling

Mark the holes in the drywall with a pencil and cut openings for utilities like light fixtures. Coat the joists with adhesive and press the drywall into place. Now, screw the drywall to the rafters at seven-inch intervals.

Use the utility knife to cut irregular shapes and continue until the entire ceiling is covered. Fill the seams and screw holes with the decorator’s caulk. Wait while the caulk dries and sand the caulk smooth before applying drywall tape on the seams.

Finally, apply a layer of primer and two coats of your desired color to the drywall.

3. Open Ceiling

Open ceilings are the easiest to complete because they need minimal effort. If you like the industrial look, this is the best option.

However, if bare pipework and joists are not your thing, consider painting the ceiling a dark color. It hides all the utilities and gives a neat finish to your ceiling.

Take Note

If you opt for an open ceiling, your basement will not be as soundproofed as it would with a ceiling. This is crucial if you are converting the basement into a studio.

Paint and Trim

Painting and trim is the easiest part of the entire process. It is also more satisfying because you get to see the transformation instantly.

What You’ll Need

  • Primer.
  • Paint.
  • Roller and tray.
  • Paintbrush.
  • Baseboard.
  • Trim.
  • Hammer.
  • Finish nails.
  • Miter saw.
  • Tape measure.
  • Spirit level.
  • Sandpaper.
  • Caulk and caulk gun.

1. Prime and Paint

Smooth the caulk with sandpaper and then apply a layer of primer. This mold-killing primer by Zinsser is an excellent choice for damp environments. After the primer has dried, apply two coats of top color.

You get a faster coverage with a roller and tray, but for a neater finish, use the brush to cut in at the edges and corners.

You can use any color, although it is worth noting that basements are dark spaces, so a lighter color might be better. Also, a satin or eggshell finish will reflect light better than a matte finish.

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2. Attach the Trim and Baseboard

Measure and cut the baseboard to size using the tape measure. Push it against the wall and secure it with finish nails. Run a caulk line to seal the gap between the top of the baseboard and the wall.

Attach the trim to window and door frames using the hammer and finish nails. Use the miter saw to cut perfect 45-degree angles for the corners. Once installed, seal the trim with caulk.

How Long Does It Take to Finish a Basement?

Finishing a basement is not a quick job. On average, it takes between two and four weeks to complete. This timescale depends on your skill level and the help you get to complete the task.

Extra Basement Finishing Ideas

Whether your basement is a laundry room or a gamer’s space, there are several fresh ideas to help you create the ideal environment.

Small Basement Ideas

Basement in new construction home with bar

Add a molded ceiling to liven up a small basement. It creates height, a point of interest, and adds a touch of glamor to an otherwise ordinary space.

Also, consider built-in furniture and fixtures like folding tables and chairs or beds that fold away to create more space.

Use Lighter Colors

Use whites and creams, and consider different half-wall shades. A slightly darker color on the base adds balance to the lighter half of the wall. Basements are typically dark rooms, making it crucial to reflect the limited light.

Use Storage Inventively

Remodeling a basement allows you to invent ingenious space-saving features like hidden doors in walls and crawl spaces for bulkier items.

Create a Cinema Room

Home Theatre

Basements are often sad and neglected spaces. The bonus of transforming your basement is turning it into whatever you want. Why not create a fun room like a home cinema, a games room, or even a man cave.

Important Point

If you create a cinema room in your basement, you need to consider the additional soundproofing and a recess for the projector and screen.

Create an Ensuite

If you turn your basement into a guest bedroom, why not add a small ensuite? Macerating toilets, like the Saniflo SaniPlus Macerator, enable you to install an ensuite below the sewer line.

It works by macerating solid waste and pumping it along a series of pipes. It doesn’t rely on gravity as a traditional toilet does.

DIY Basement Finishing Dos and Don’ts

So, what are the best and worst practices when it comes to remodeling your basement? Which ones do we avoid, and which do we embrace?

Don’t Forget to Dry Out the Basement

Before starting your basement renovation, ensure that it is completely dry. Use floor-mounted heaters to dry out the walls and floors before commencing. Moisture will rot your materials and ruin all your hard work.

Do Use the Correct Materials

As we’ve said, basements can be damp environments. Your local building code calls for moisture-resistant materials and treated timber. Using incorrect material could lead to moisture damage and rotting.

Do Get a Permit

Before making any major changes to your basement, you will need to obtain a permit. You might be tempted to skip a license because your basement is hidden below ground. Do this at your peril because you could end up paying a substantial fine.

You might even have to rip out all your hard work and return the basement to its original condition. It could also delay the sale of your home, should you decide to move.

Don’t Forget an Egress Window for Basement Bedrooms

If you create a new bedroom in your basement, building codes dictate that you need an egress window. Essentially, an egress window is a window that doubles up as a means of escape.

The window opening should be a minimum of 20 inches wide and 24 inches high. It should offer 5.7 square feet of escape space, and the base of the window should be 44 inches from the floor.

Do Consider Modular Design

Modular wall designs enable you to change the layout of your basement because none of the walls are fixed. This gives you more options because you can adapt the room depending on what suits your needs.


Is It Worth It to Finish a Basement?

It is if you want to add another usable room to your house. A finished basement can also increase your home’s value, and it might attract a buyer who wants a finished basement.

Does a Finished Basement Add Square Footage?

A finished basement doesn’t add extra square footage because the square footage was already there. It does make that unusable space a valued additional room inside your home.

Do You Need a Subfloor In a Basement?

You need to lay a subfloor to control moisture and level uneven concrete surfaces. Subfloors also add a layer of insulation, making it easier to regulate the temperature inside your basement.

Should I Put Carpet In My Basement?

You can lay a carpet in your basement if you have laid a subfloor with the correct amount of insulation. The most popular flooring material is laminate because it is relatively cheap and hardwearing.

How Do You Keep the Air Fresh in a Basement?

The easiest way is to open windows if you have them. You could also use a dehumidifier to extract moisture, improving air quality. Drying out the atmosphere restricts mold and mildew growth, which reduces odors.

Start the Finish

Finishing your basement is not for the faint-hearted. It takes weeks of commitment, lots of hard work, and considerable expense. However, it is incredibly satisfying, worth every penny, and increases the usable space within your home.

The secret to success is to draw up detailed plans and make a budget. After that, have some fun and get stuck in.

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About the Author

Mark Weir

Mark spent 24 years working in real estate, so he knows his way around a home. He also worked with contractors and experts, advising them on issues of planning, investments, and renovations. Mark is no stranger to hands-on experience, having renovated his own home and many properties for resale. He likes nothing better than seeing a project through to completion.