Dear PoP – More Basement Reno Suggestions

Photo by twitter user @ruSERIOUSINGme

@ruSERIOUSINGme writes, “Car dies halfway out garage? Rebuild garage around car.” Awesome.

And in other renovation questions – another reader has some serious basement reno questions:

“Dear PoP,

Currently, our basement is completely unfinished – exposed pipes everywhere, crumbling asbestos tile on the floor, etc. It is probably 600 sq. ft. and we are using it for storage as well as for laundry (our washer and dryer are down there). It does, however, have the potential for a basement apartment (small 1 bd., 1 bath), which we are hoping to do. We are good on the 7 ft. ceiliing height and have two egresses – both a separate front and back entrance from the outside. The questions I have for your readers are:

1. Once we make this an apartment, we will lose access to the washer/dryer downstairs. We’ll presumably leave them for the tenants. Where do people usually install laundry on the first or second floors of their rowhouse? I can’t think of any place in our house that would seem realistic. When we demolish the stairs to the basement (right now we also have access down from our kitchen), it will create a small pantry-size room that could work. I was hoping to make this into a 1/2 bath, though, since we currently only have a full bath on the second floor. Any other ideas?

2. What do readers think of flooring options for the basement? We’ve been told that tile is best for mositure/possible flooding reasons, but I’m not a huge fan of tile at all. We really want to go with concrete floors. Do readers think that that would go over well with possible tenants or seem too “cold” and industrial-feeling?

3. Does anyone have good contractor recommendations? Like I said, this is a big job as the basement is not currently finished at all. I’d love to hear what others have done and who they liked. Also, I know costs vary tremendously based on finishing touches (countertop choice, appliances, etc.), but any idea how much this would cost us? We have one estimate that came in at $46,000.”

41 Comment

  • On the floors….definitely stained concrete or wood. Both are attractive to renters (everyone hates carpet, although it fairly easy to replace if a tenant ruins it). Concrete is relatively impervious (the best if you are going to allow pets), but to do it well can be expensive. I love tile!

  • Put the laundry in the second floor bathroom. It’s convenient because you already have a water line, and instead of tossing dirty clothes in the bathroom hamper, you can just toss in the washing machine. Another good option is a hallway linen closet.

    I would never sign a lease in a basement with tiles. Tile gives the impression that you’ve already had problems with flooding.

    • I assume every house in DC has a problem with flooding.

    • Tile don’t indicate flooding. Tile is insurance — just in case. If in many decades the house’s use, you get one good flood, your carpet or hardwood needs to be replaced or refinished. You’re SOL.

      And no, not -every- basement has a flooding problem — many do.

  • ah

    We put pergo flooring in our basement. It can’t get wet but can withstand some moisture. Obviously Pergo isn’t the only brand. Also, less expensive than wood (but doesn’t look quite like wood either). We found it a good compromise on looks, performance and cost.

  • For the washer/dryer issue, go for stackable high-efficiency washer and ventless dryer. You can stick it anywhere (so long as you can run the 240 volt line to it) and you don’t need to mess with venting out a dryer. I have one in the upstair of my rowhouse and it works great.

  • Spend the money to have a good drainage person get the roof water away from your house before you spend the money to renovate the basement. Poor drainage kills basements and you’ll never get the rental income out of a basement that’s moldy and dank. I’d budget $5k to fix slopes and maybe have a french drain installed.

    I second the stained concrete. I think stained concrete looks awesome, but it could be a dead look in 10 years. I hate, and I mean hate looking at travertine tiles, but you can always replace them (not sure what you do with stained concrete). What you do also depends on how many spare inches you have with the 7′ ceilings. You’ll probably lose 2″ with wood and 1″-ish with tile.

    If you’re renting, Ikea carpets are the solution to cold floors. What’s worse is living with moisture damaged wood floors or damaged wall to wall carpeting which the renter can’t fix and you won’t want to fix.

    My house has the same basement concept with no main floor access. I’m planning on putting the W/D in the top floor eventually. W/D in the kitchen isn’t bad though.

    I’m guessing the basement floor will cost you $4-5 per sq ft in labor then add your tile/wood/carpet.

  • Our first-floor powder room is in the dead middle of the first floor, with the plumbing stack running up to the W/D on the second floor, and down to the kitchenette in the basement. It’s a teeny tiny bathroom, so doesn’t really take much of a bite out of the usable first-floor space. The W/D are in a closet of their own, between two bedrooms. Very convenient. I’ll never go back to laundry in the basement.

    As for flooring, it almost doesn’t matter what impermeable surface you choose, tile or cement, because you’re going to need rugs rugs rugs to combat the chill. We tiled, then got a giant piece of plain carpet edged.

  • If it were me I’d consider doing away with the dryer entirely — for most people it’s not necessary.

    • “For most people [a dryer] is not necessary.”

      Really? Query, how do you dry a washerload of clothes between mid-November and mid-March? Or do you believe “most people” have a fetish for damp, moldy clothes?

      • Drying racks? Or clotheslines in the shower? My clothes are dry by the time I need to use it the following morning. You’d be surprised at how quickly things dry in a forced heat environment. Few people use dryers outside of the US and their clothes aren’t damp and moldy.

        That said, unless there are major space constraints you’d probably want to stick a dryer in for future buyers or tenants.

      • ah

        Or, worse, in the humid summers. You can hang clothes inside in the winter and they’ll dry out fairly quickly because it’s so dry.

        Not that I’m advocating that, I’m just saying.

        • I hardly use my dryer, and I use it even less in summer, when I use a rack on my back deck. Clothes last longer the less you dry them, too.

          Bath towels though…now those you need a dryer for!

    • for most people on the planet, sure. most people in america use a dryer.
      unless all you wear is fleece and polyester.

      • How do you wash and dry sweaters? I do them by hand because they’d get beat up in the dryer. No issues with that, and wool is probably the slowest-drying material.

        • Yes, but washing a few sweaters at a time and putting them out to dry takes maybe one drying rack. Washing an entire load of clothes and putting them out to dry would require at least two racks, probably more. It would really limit the number of loads of laundry one could do in any given day.

    • Why not forgo the washer and get yourself a nice washboard, too? Or maybe you hate the environment.

  • I would take that budget of $46,000 and add another 10% on top unless you are building it yourself. The plumbing will probably eat at least a third of that budget.

    Finished concrete costs double what tile does. I agree it looks really nice, but can be super expensive to most likely re-level the floor with a new pore and then a sealer to make sure moisture does not seep into it. As soon as water gets into concrete it just crumbles apart. Tile might be half the cost, depending on what you get.

    I would just do a fire seperation on your stairs between your first floor and basement and don’t demolish them…you may want them later. I also second whoever said putting in a proper french drain in your basement.

    As for the laundry I would knock out a wall upstairs and make a proper laundry closet with a single roof penetration for the vent. That way you don’t have to haul laundry up and down stairs. Also you will need to hire an electrician to install a proper amperage wire and dedicated circuit on your breaker box for the laundry as they draw a lot of juice…

    • I’ll 3rd the French drain. Think of it as necessary — if you can’t afford it now, save longer. Nothing would be worse than having to tear up the floors you laid down in 3 years if a renter complains about flooding.

      I prefer the W/D upstairs idea.

  • I put in a basement apt. – also from nothing – about 5 years ago. Used local Petworth company – Positive Space – Not the cheapest bid but absolutely worry-free – honest and reliable – and knowlegable – which is invaluable.

    (On the same note I had lousy experience on a different project with “Renaissance Handyman” – Mike Jones)

    1. We first did Pergo-type floors, but a pipe burst upstairs a year later and ruined a big area, so replaced it with tile. It is a basement – even if like mine, it is completely dry, you can still (and will eventually) have some kind of leak from above. I’d go with tile floor and buy area rugs. No wall-to wall carpet – everyone hates it.

    2. Go look at a bunch of basement rentals on CL to see what is good and bad.

    3. If you put in a high-efficiency w/d upstairs be very certain your floor is extra-reinforced. The spin cycle is very fast and there have been problems with vibrations.

    4. I personally hate ceiling “pot lights” in any circumstances – If you have good ceiling height, consider regular low-profile ceiling fixtures – it makes it feel much less basementy. Also wall sconces – good lighting is a huge feature.

    5. We put in an Ikea kitchen which has held up very well for 5 years so far. Do NOT however buy Ikea plumbing fixtures – they can’t be repaired and fail at about 3 years.

  • If you haven’t seen it, there’s a good program on HGTV called “Income Property” whereby a contractor works with folks to convert their basement (usually) into a rental apartment. There might be some good tips there; it airs often during the week at various times.

  • Concrete looks and feels great but most likely would be too cold in a basement apartment (as it’s an uninsulated slab). I would place adding a vapor barrier and maybe radiant heat in portions of the floor (electric) as a priority over a concrete look. Potentially you could go with a thin topping slab to get the concrete look without the cold floor. Another idea: there are rubber wood-look planks that look great and can withstand chemicals, water, whatever (Konnecto or similar). With proper insulation between it and the existing concrete slab, you could end up with a unique, warm looking (and feeling) floor that potential renters would love.

  • If your basement is prone to flooding, be careful about expensive renovations. Spend some of that renovation money on waterproofing, or all of your flooring will be written off when a flood happens. You never recoup your investment without proper flood insurance! I painted my concrete floor with floor paint, it works well, and cleanup is easy. Oriental rugs, make the floors look nice otherwise. I spent 14k on my renovation on a 730SF basement. The ammount you spend will vary based on the materials you use. If you want granite and stainless steel, you’re gonna spend $23k+ if you can do with a modest conversion, you should probably spend no more than $16k for up to 800SF [labor included].If you spend a lot on the basement, make sure upstairs matches, otherwise, you’ll face a loss when selling or doing a re-fi. That’s the best I can help.

  • 1. I relocated my w/d to my first floor enclosed back porch. Getting thru the concrete floor to vent the dryer was a pain, but doable. I also added a half bath next to the w/d closet, since I was already running the plumbing.

    2. for the floor, I’m planning to use cork. The experts recommend a moisure barrier for a basement, in case of water problems. Cork is mold and mildew resistant, and is a heckuva lot warmer than concrete.

  • Second the plumbing cost issue. Plumbing is going to be your most expensive permit and it has to be done before you pour concrete unless you get one of those goofy toilets with the pump.

    I think dow/corning is pushing under concrete insulation:

    I’m not sure how well it works, but if you’re going in fresh, might as well give it a look.

  • 1) We took out the stairs from the main floor to the bsmt and put the washer/dryer in the landing for that stairwell.

    3) “Justin Sullivan” ,
    They redid our entire kitchen along with a lot electrical work throughout the house. they did a great job and are great craftsman. Oh and they were the lowest bid we received for the complete gut and renov of our kitchen.

  • Whatever you do, be sure to separate the electricity. I learned the hard way that tenants go “hog wild” using electricity when the landlord is paying.

  • Thanks, all! This is really helpful information. We’ll send photos when all is complete (hopefully soon!)

  • Have you thought about a mud room/foyer kind of situation? So that there’s an essentially shared space in the basement, but still locked doors for ingress and egress to each unit. You could have a shared washer and dryer that way, which may or may not be workable, but it could be cheaper if you have a lot of expensive work to do in other ways.

  • David TOpouria is licensed and really good 202-316-4044. Tell him you ar egetting multiple bids, he will match reasonable low bids. tell him greg sent you

  • Voice of reality. Our basement was just finished. The square footage is approx 800 with 9′ 8″ ceiling height. (Full disclosure, we dug out a 7′ 2″ basement before finishing out the space.) It is now a 2 bedroom, 1 bath space. We got a C of O. The time to finish, excluding the digout was 4 months, twice as long as the estimate. This is typical. The cost was 52K for finishing out the dug out basement. The contractor held to his price. He was in the middle of 3 bids. We had worked with him before and liked his style. We paid for countertops, appliances, fixtures, and flooring.

    Our plans called for the replacement of an old boiler and placing the new one in a mechanical room area, separate from the basement living space. That cost was extra.

    We chose tile for the flooring. Etched concrete was nice, but expensive. If you do wood, I’d recommend a sealed subfloor with a moisture barrier. Watch the loss of ceiling height.

    Although we addressed all forseen problems of water seepage during the dig out, new pipes, 4″ of gravel under a 4″ slab, and a sump pump with a battery backup, we decided to go with tile instead of wood just in case. We were told by our structural engineer to not put in a perimeter French drain, but instead but a center line French drain that empties into the sump pump.

    Soundproofing: Go for two layers of drywall with a layer of rubber material in btween. Use Roxall sound-proofing material between the joists.

    We did spend way more than Jack5 for a the same approximate space. It does match the upper house. The basement was designed in such a way that if we ever wanted to connect it to the upper house, all we would have to do is take out a closet in the basement that is in the original stairwell area.

    Think lots about the details and how you will use the space long term. Do all the work that is needed upstairs before closing up your basement ceiling.

    Some problems can will only be discovered once you are finished. Good luck.

    • Thanks! Would you be willing to share your contractor’s name? Also, I assume your flooring, countertops, etc. were in addition to the $52K?

  • We used marmoleum for our basement floor and we love it. Total cost of finishing our basement was about 20k. The finished space is about 500 square feet and includes a full bathroom. We didn’t install a kitchen (it’s not a rental, just a rec room for us). We also saved money by ordering certain materials, like the marmoleum, on-line.

  • I finished my basement four years ago. It already had a half bath, half shower next to a compact washer/dryer, but it lacked fresh paint and a decent floor. We had carpet, but there is always flooding, either from an appliance that malfunctions or rain during cloudbursts.

    So we went with a nice ceramic tile floor. It is cold but has held up well. We got compact kitchen appliances from the now defunct Candey Hardware. The appliances are narrow fridge, stove/oven. Everything looks good for a Pee Wee Playhouse, but my current tenant is 6-7 with a petite wife and they are happy in the space.

    Knowing washers as I do, I did NOT want to put one upstairs and then flood both me and the basement dwellers. It’s inevitable, I’m sorry. So in our lease we have a designated laundry day when we can invade their space. Or we make an appointment or use the laundromat a mile away.

    The cost for the appliances, painting, floor, and a lot of sprucing up was in the low 20’s. Unfortunately my contractor went out of business. He was a real genius, creative and too cheap, I think.

    Separating the electricity was considered, but we didn’t bother. We do have the thermostat upstairs, though, but the basement needs less heat in the winter than the upstairs and of course less a/c in the summer. (We have central air for both.)

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