Basement Finishing Info
I'm looking for a beginners guide
that will walk me step by step through the process of finishing my
basement. The books I've seen in stores do not provide the level of
detail I need. I need something that tells me how to do this project
from the beginning. What is the first step, etc.
could devote an entire web site to finishing basements. There is
lots to talk about, but then, much of the discussion isn't any
different from regular above-grade construction methods.
I've seen lots of quick-and-dirty approaches to finishing
basements, such as gluing 1x3 furring strips to the walls,
installing foam insulation between the strips, and tacking
paneling on that. But I think that method is far from adequate.
The only way I approach basement finishing is to treat it like a
normal house that happens to have an exterior wall of concrete. I
build regular 2x4 walls and tip them into place. The exception is
that I use treated 2x4's for the sole plate (the bottom plate)
because any wood in contact with concrete has a high risk of
But before I install the wood framed walls I make sure that any
moisture problems are fixed. What I have done in the past (as is
mentioned in this
letter about building a closet in a basement) is acid-wash the
walls with muriatic acid and water (50/50 mix), rinse, dry, and
apply a premium basement paint. Glidden makes a good oil-based
basement paint that has a lot of Portland cement in it. I have
glued sheets of polyethylene plastic to the walls to deter
moisture from wicking through the concrete. I have used 3M
Super 77 spray adhesive, which is pretty expensive but is one of
the few adhesives that sticks to polyethylene plastic.
After the walls are framed, I approach wiring as usual. Plumbing
is pretty normal except that some concrete cutting may need to be
done to get the drains below the floor. Don't let this scare you,
I just use a 7" diamond blade on a circular saw, which cuts
about 2/3 of the way through a 4" slab. I've always been able
to bust up the cut-out by whacking it with a sledge hammer. A cold
chisel helps too. Wear eye protection!
Once the utilities are done, I insulate as usual with fiberglass,
and install a wallboard material. On my first house I used
3/8" T1-11 rough-sawn plywood, with the 4" groove
spacing. It's expensive but durable. But Moisture Resistant
drywall (the green stuff, used for bathrooms) works well, can
tolerate some minor flooding and is finished just like ordinary
drywall. An even better wallboard is Dens Armor Plus, which
has fiberglass mats on both surfaces instead of paper. This
new drywall material was introduced to solve the problems of mold
growing on cellulose (paper) wallboard surfaces.
You can use carpeting on the floor, but there is a good chance
you'll have a mildew problem just from lack of air circulation.
Sheet vinyl might be better. An oil-based concrete paint with some
throw rugs works well. Just keep the rugs away from the corners
where the mildew lurks.
For the ceiling, many people choose suspended (drop) ceiling
tiles. I'll say that the 2x2' tiles look much better than the less
expensive 2x4' tiles. For low ceilings there is now a tile that
clips onto the track rather than laying on top. This means that
you don't need to waste a lot of valuable headroom for the dead
space above the tiles. Most ceiling tiles require perhaps 6 inches
of space above the track to allow the tile to be manipulated into
position. This is wasted space, space that is normally in short
supply in basements. Home Depot is selling some sort of newfangled
tiles that clip in place from below, but I haven't even stopped to
look at them.
There is also this (alleged) radon issue. Radon is one of the
inert gases, found way over on the right column of the Periodic
Table Of The Elements. Being inert, radon doesn't chemically react
with anything, but it's radioactive. Some people claim that radon
might cause thousands of cases of lung cancer every year. Or maybe
it's just hysteria. Radon seeps out of the soil (in some areas)
and gets whisked away by the winds. They say that radon can build
up in basements. I'm of the mind that good ventilation can solve
all such problems. Panasonic Whisper Lite fans are made to be left
running continuously and are very quiet. Anyway, there are radon
test kits/device available. It's nothing to be alarmed about, just
something to be aware of.
The moisture control problems are the biggest concern. Any short
cuts that you take here are probably going to come back to haunt
you, either as humid basement air, mildew/odor problems, paint
peeling, rotting wood, or water damage to items stored in the
basement. There is no reason why a reasonably modern house with a
poured concrete or cinder block basement can't have living
conditions equal to that upstairs. I spent most of my teenage
years living in the basement of my parent's home. It worked fine.
Or maybe that explains some peculiar behaviors...
Bruce W. Maki, Editor.