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Basement Renovation Project: Checklist of the Steps to Follow

Last modified: 2020-07-28 | Approximate reading time 23 mins

Humans have been building habitats below the earth for thousands of years. From caverns to catacombs and mysterious passageways, subterranean living areas are a special area of the home, with a building process that presents interesting challenges.

To create a liveable space in a basement, the needs of the people who will be using it have to be taken into account, particularly regarding ventilation and luminosity. This is even more true if the layout is intended for long-term and constant use.

We have written dozens of articles about basement renovation projects on our blog.

To help you organize your project, whether small or large-scale, we have prepared this article that compiles essential information and is meant to help you manage the different steps that are a part of the project.

This guide can be used whether you decide to hire contractors or you want to carry out the work yourself.

Would you like to access the checklist directly? Click here! We also have a version that is already filled out to give you an idea of how to use it (click here)

Bureau dans sous-sol_office in basement

BEFORE YOU LAUNCH THE PROJECT

Whether the project has already been started or you’re still thinking about the basic elements, you must make sure you have clear objectives. The following paragraphs will serve to guide you in your brainstorming process.

THE KEYWORDS FOR BASEMENT RENOVATION PROJECTS

Efficiency

The basement is a space that can fulfill different roles. It can be turned into a family room, a bedroom, an individual apartment, a workshop, storage space, a home theatre and so many other possibilities. In any case, the main goal when thinking about organizing this space is efficiency. If you are going to use this space, why not make the most of it?

Comfort

If you plan on creating an environment where you or your close ones will be living, you must prioritize comfort. This means thinking about ventilation, the presence of natural light, the humidity level, air quality, the materials that will be used to cover the surfaces and so on.

Budget

The budget is an important factor for all renovation projects but it is especially essential to think about it for a basement renovation project, especially if the process involves an excavation process or a crawl space that is not liveable. Indeed, you’ll have a hard time managing this type of project with a small budget and creating a liveable space that meets building standards and offers a secure space in the long run.

Salle familiale dans sous-sol_family room in the basement

HOW TO DETERMINE YOUR NEEDS

If you have decided to renovate your basement, you probably have a basic idea of what you are trying to achieve with this transformation. You may have started looking at home decor magazines, saving photos on Pinterest and drawing plans using design software.

Now is the time to delve deeper into the subject before you start working on tangible things. Instead of wanting too much to recreate what others have done, think about what you need. Establish a list of criteria and check with experts to see whether it is realistic.

Here are a few examples of criteria:

  • Maximizing the luminosity

  • Creating storage rooms

  • Closed rooms or loft space

  • Separate entrance from the outside?

In the following section, we will present a list of questions that you can ask yourself to develop your thoughts.

THE QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF WHEN PLANNING YOUR BASEMENT RENOVATION PROJECT

Is the basement already accessible?

This first question may seem obvious, but it is still important to take into account the fact that the renovation or transformation project will be very different if we’re starting with a basement that already exists or a basement that hasn’t been excavated and built. A whole series of steps will have to be added to the process and the budget will be much higher!

Keep reading the list of questions to get a clearer idea of the process for building a new basement or refurbishing one that already exists.

If we have to excavate to build the basement, is the land suited for this process?

Before anything else, you have to know whether the excavation is possible or if it will be more complicated due to the nature of the land underneath the home. This could make the basement construction project impossible or much more complicated than expected.

Here is an article about this subject:

Do I want to expand a space that already exists (basement or crawlspace)?

Some homes are equipped with half-basements or crawlspaces. These areas can be used for storage, but will not work as an accessible living environment. It is possible to transform these areas into a finished basement. To do this, you should follow this advice:

Will the foundations and house structures need to be modified?

If you have to excavate your land and modify the structure of your home, you will most certainly need to do something with your foundation. This is even more true if you are living in an old home. Different techniques can be used to dig and reinforce the structure. Here is an article about underpinning a home, which is a technique you may want to consider:

And here are a few articles about the different techniques to reinforce structures:

Excavation de sous-sol_excavating a basement

Will you need to add windows?

According to the law, unless your basement is equipped with sprinklers or a door that leads to the outside, having windows is mandatory and some of these must be usable as emergency exits.

In your layout plan, you will have to think about the areas where these windows will be located. If you already have windows that are there, you may want to replace them with models that are better suited to your new decor.

Here is an article you can read about basement windows:

How much space is available/ how much space do I wish to occupy?

When you are organizing your basement renovation project, you should think about the layout you are looking to create. Where will the walls be located? What will the rooms be used for? Here are some articles that will help you reflect on this question:

Will you be installing a bathroom or kitchen?

Kitchen and bathrooms will involve modifying the plumbing and electrical systems of your home. Therefore, if your basement transformations include either or both of these rooms, you will have to consider that.

Will there be a door that leads outside?

For a basement to be considered habitable, building norms require at least one easily accessible emergency exit. In most cases, it doesn’t have to be a door. A window that is big and that opens from inside will work.

However, if the basement includes an individual apartment, especially if the house is considered a multigenerational home, you’ll need to think about installing an independent door providing access to the outside. This is another factor to take into account when organizing the project.

What type of staircase will be used to connect the basement with the upper floor?

In most cases, you will have to install a staircase and build a stairwell that provides access to the basement. This might affect the layout of the upper floor, causing you to lose a little bit of space.

Consult an interior layout expert (architect, interior designer, specialized contractor) to determine which type of staircase would be best adapted for your home. Will you be installing a spiral staircase? A straight staircase? A quarter-turn staircase?

In another section of this article, we will talk about the different options for staircase models and materials.

Logement dans un sous-sol_apartment in a basement

WORKING WITH A CONTRACTOR FOR A BASEMENT RENOVATION PROJECT

This guide will help you if you decide to take on the work yourself but know that for a large-scale project like this one, we strongly recommend that you hire contractors. This tip is even more important if you are working on a big project.

If your project involves building and setting up a full basement, you should think about hiring a general contractor. They will be able to act as a conductor of sorts for the project, as they will be there to manage the other contractors and make sure the desired result is achieved.

In general, these contractors offer turnkey renovation projects. For the types of projects they can’t carry out themselves, they have contacts to find the specialized contractors you will need to go about the work.

You can act as a manager for the project, by overseeing the different steps of the project and the contacts with contractors. This is a considerable amount of work and it can be done, but it will require a lot of time.

One important thing to remember: you must always have written contracts with your contractors. Would you like to know why? Check out our article: Renovation Project: 3 Reasons to Sign an Official Contract

Who are the types of experts you might have to work with for a basement renovation project?

Depending on the type of work to be done, here is a list of contractors with whom you may have to do business for a basement renovation project:

  • Cabinetmaker

  • Foundation expert

  • Plumbing

  • Electrician

  • Structural expert

  • Painter

  • Flooring expert

  • Demolition expert

  • Excavation specialist

  • Air conditioning and heating experts

  • Exterior siding specialists

  • Soundproofing and insulation specialists.

And let’s not forget interior designers, architects and engineers.

Check out this interview with a contractor who was working on a basement renovation project:

Sous-sol chambre à coucher_basement bedroom

All about the budget for a basement renovation project

You might be consulting this article for a small-scale renovation project. However, chances are that the project you are organizing is pretty big.

This means that you will certainly fork out a considerable amount of money to carry out your project. It’s hard to give precise numbers, but in our article The costs to remodel a basement we present a few numbers to give you a general idea.

The most important thing to remember is that the best way to stay on top of things in terms of finances is to calculate an ideal budget and a maximum budget. When you are making this calculation, don’t forget to take into account labour costs, materials and a portion representing 15% of the total amount for unplanned expenses.

Our article How to establish a realistic renovation budget? will give you a few ideas on how to prepare your budget. Otherwise, you can talk to the contractors and experts you will meet.

You can also use our cost calculators to get an idea of certain prices for projects that will be a part of your project:

Do not hesitate to check out our home renovation price guide that could be very useful.

Chambre à coucher sous-sol_bedroom in a basement

The plans for your basement renovation project

You must never start a large basement transformation project without having a plan on paper (or on the computer) that will serve as a blueprint to guide the process.

This plan could be created by a general contractor, an interior designer, an architect, a technologist or an engineer, depending on the type of work.

And check out our article

Excavating the ground to build a basement – is this a home extension project?

Earlier in this article, we mentioned that you may have to dig out the ground to build your basement. We have a complete article about this subject so you can learn more:

It is also relevant to share the following paragraphs from our article on home extension projects:

It's important to mention that you must make sure you are always complying with the law for your renovation projects and this is especially true for large-scale projects like home additions.

Know that in Quebec, home extension projects are subject to bill r-20 and thus imply certain obligations. For example, if you decide to oversee the home extension project yourself, this law indicates that you then become the employer of the workers that are taking on your project. Therefore, you must comply with several requirements from the CCQ (Commission de la Construction du Québec). You can check out the CCQ website for updated information on this subject.

If you neglect to comply with these rules, you will be exposed to fines and legal proceedings. It should be mentioned that CCQ agents are highly gifted in finding wrongdoers! You may very well receive a visit on your worksite and be required to prove that your project is following the law.

If you decided to hire a contractor to oversee the project, make sure they have the right licence to carry out the work. For example, they should only hire workers that have competency cards delivered by the CCQ.

Other provinces of Canada

Every province has different building regulations for home extension projects. We will soon add information about the different rules that apply in each of the provinces covered by the RenoQuotes.com platform. For now, we invite you to check out your government websites for up-to-date information.

Salle à manger dans un sous-sol_dining room in a basement

Building standards for a basement construction or renovation project

If you decide to launch your basement renovation project without being aware of the current building standards, you may have a hard time obtaining permits and you will even be exposed to fines if an inspector notices anything.

Standards vary from one city to another, so we can’t share any specific information here as our readers live across the country. We invite you to check out your city’s website, as this type of information can often be found there. For more details, you can contact them directly. Lastly, know that the contractors who work in your area should be aware of the standards that are currently in effect. You can address this subject with them.

The permits that are required for a basement renovation project

Some projects require a permit. For a basement transformation project, you will need to get permits from your municipal authorities. To learn more, check out this article:

Salon et cuisine dans un sous-sol_living room and kitchen in a basement

Building an apartment in a basement

There are many things to take into account when we decide to build an apartment in a basement. First of all, it should be noted that we can’t set up an independent accommodation without taking into account municipal by-laws, especially if you want the apartment to have an independent address (for example, if you want to have a tenant).

We’ve written a complete article about setting up a basement apartment and we invite you to check it out to learn more about this subject:

Setting up a home cinema, a recording studio or a workshop in your basement

The basement offers an environment that is intimate and soundproof, which is why many people decide to use this area for setups that benefit from these characteristics, such as home theatres, workshops, recording studios and home offices.

For home recording studios, soundproofing is key. You can hire soundproofing experts to find the materials and techniques that will suit your needs and your budget.

Concerning workshops and home offices, be sure to create an environment that is welcoming and that fosters comfort and productivity. If the activity you are planning on carrying out in this space requires good air circulation (example: if you are using products that contain a high level of volatile organic compounds), make sure that you take this aspect into account to avoid creating an environment that is harmful to your health.

Studio d'enregistrement sous-sol_recording studio in a basement

Installing a kitchen or a bathroom in a basement

If you aim at building an apartment in your basement, you will want to install a kitchen and a bathroom.

The main elements to take into account when building this type of room inside a basement are the following:

  • Weatherproofing

  • Air circulation (ventilation) and dehumidifying

  • Installing new plumbing and electricity systems

  • Insulation

  • Lighting

We also have checklists for kitchen and bathroom renovation projects that you can check out:

Connecting a basement with a garage: what to take into account

Having a basement that is connected to a garage is quite common. In this case, to create a safe environment, you have to be especially careful about the air quality. If the insulation, caulking and ventilation are ill-conceived, polluting elements from the garage could penetrate inside the living space.

Check out this article:

Porte d'entrée sous-sol_front door of a basement

Weatherproofing your basement

To ensure a safe environment, make sure your basement is adequately weatherproof. One of the worst nightmares for a homeowner is water infiltrations. Even minor infiltrations can have a negative impact in the long run and this isn’t even talking about flooding which can destroy the whole structure of the house.

With this in mind, it is important to evaluate what your house needs, such as installing a french drain, using materials that help weatherproof the foundations and the concrete slab, as well as properly caulking around the different openings.

Here are a few articles you can check out to learn more about this subject:

Pyrite, radon gas and other potential issues that often come up with basements

When you are renovating a basement, certain problems with potentially major consequences may occur, leading to obstacles during the work or at a later time. Examples include discovering pyrite which could cause the renovation project to be stopped or a lack of ventilation which could increase the amount of radon gas that leaks into the house. For all of these problems, there are solutions. The first thing to do is to be aware of them:

Apartement dans un sous-sol_apartment in a basement

THE TYPES OF MATERIALS FOR A BASEMENT RENOVATION OR CONSTRUCTION PROJECT

Basement insulation materials

When selecting an insulation material for a basement, it is especially important to avoid products that store too much humidity and that could be prone to mould. In the following articles, you will learn more about the different materials available on the market and their characteristics:

Once you’ve read these articles, you will be well equipped with information when comes the time to meet with insulation experts!

Basement soundproofing

Whether you’re planning on installing a bedroom, a home cinema, an apartment or a home office, soundproofing will be key in creating a pleasant environment. Here is a full article on this subject:

Floors and subfloors

When it comes to choosing the floor covering materials for a basement, you must not forget to think about the subfloor. This layer will play an important role in creating a comfortable environment and expanding the lifespan of the construction materials used in the basement. For example, you may have to install a vapour barrier and/or an air barrier.

Moreover, some materials should be avoided in the basement, such as hardwood. Installing a heated floor is possible but the process can be more complicated than in other parts of the home, especially in older homes.

Here are some of the better options:

  • Ceramic

  • Vinyl

  • Engineered wood

  • Stratified wood

And here are a few articles that are relevant to look at:

Wallcovering materials

As is the case with flooring, some wall covering materials will be less appropriate for basements. Remember that the walls have to be able to breathe. If you decide to install decorative panels, you will probably need to include protective layers such as a vapour barrier and an air barrier.

Looking for ideas for your basement walls? Check out our guide:

Salon dans un sous-sol_living room in a basement

Staircases

If there isn’t a staircase to connect the basement with the main floor of your home, you will need to think about this aspect quite early on, as this is one of the main elements of the project. Indeed, building a staircase and a stairwell will have a major impact on the layouts of both the first floor and the basement. A layout specialist such as an interior designer or an architect could guide you in this sense.

Here are a few articles about the different types of staircases:

Plumbing and electricity in a basement

If you want to create a basement that is inhabitable, you will want to install or improve plumbing and electrical systems. This is even more important if your project involves setting up a complete apartment or a space that is equipped with a bathroom.

The installation process will be very different depending on where you are starting with your project. For example, if you haven’t built the concrete slab, you may have to install certain parts of the system before you start working on it.

To get a better idea of the course of action to adopt, you will need to consult experts. They will be there to help you make the best decisions with regard to the types of installations that should be carried out. Here are a few relevant articles you may want to check out:

Salle de bain dans un sous-sol_bathroom in a basement

Basement doors and windows in a basement

For a basement to be considered inhabitable, you will have to adhere to certain standards, including window installation. If you plan on including a door that leads to outside, you will also have to exercise specific precautions. For example, you will need proper caulking to avoid water infiltrations through doors or even windows.

Here is a list of articles to check out when you will be thinking about the doors and windows you will be integrating into your basement:

Basement ventilation

Another important aspect when looking to create a comfortable living environment is ventilation. You have to tightly control the air quality and the humidity level in your basement to avoid the spreading of mould and other problems such as radon gas.

Decorating a basement

Some people will look forward to reaching this step. When designing the decor in the room(s) of your basement, you can have fun and go according to your taste, but you should also follow some criteria:

  • Find a way to maximize the amount of natural light coming in

  • Chose materials with a low level of volatile organic compounds to ensure good air quality

  • Everything is a question of taste of course but to avoid creating an environment that is too stifling, it’s best to opt for lighter shades and a smaller amount of furniture

An interior designer could help you create a dream decor that answers your needs and maximize the room’s potential.

Need ideas for your basement decor? Here are a few articles that could be useful, as well as a link to our Pinterest account where we gather photos of interesting decors:

Outils de rénovation_renovation tools

THE BASIC TOOLBOX FOR YOUR BASEMENT RENOVATION PROJECT

Regardless of whether you have decided to hire a contractor or to do certain things on your own, you should have access to some basic tools to be able to make repairs later and/or to contribute to the project such as:

  • A drill
  • Pliers
  • Oscillating saw
  • A multi-headed screwdriver
  • A hammer with short handle
  • An adjustable wrench
  • A siphon
  • A box of finishing nails
  • A tape measure.

HOW A BASEMENT RENOVATION PROJECT COULD HAVE AN IMPACT ON YOUR EVERYDAY LIFE

Here are the questions that you will need to ask yourself when building or renovating a basement and the process may affect your daily life.

  • Will I be staying home during the renovation?

  • Will the work affect the rest of the house?

  • How much time will the project last (if everything goes well)?

  • Do I have any solutions if the work lasts longer than planned?

Check out this article for more on this subject: 6 tips to manage stress related to home renovations

CHECKLIST TO USE FOR YOUR BASEMENT RENOVATION PROJECT

Download the checklist + Download the version that has already been filled out

 

TO DO 

NOTES 

WORK WITH AN EXPERT?  

DONE 

PLANNING 

Determining your needs 

 

 

 

Determining your budget 

 

 

 

Creating the basement renovation plan 

 

 

 

PLANNED DATES FOR THE PROJECT 

 

 

ELEMENTS 

MATERIAL CHOSEN/BOUGHT 

CONTRACTOR CHOSEN 

DONE 

STRUCTURE  

Interior walls 

 

 

 

Foundations 

 

 

 

Floors 

 

 

 

Exterior structures (windows, exterior doors) 

 

 

 

Interior structures (stairs, interior doors.) 

 

 

 

PLUMBING, ELECTRICITY, VENTILATION 

Electrical systems 

 

 

 

Other electrical equipment (switches, lamps, electrical panel, etc.) 

 

 

 

Pipes, toilets, bathtub, faucets 

 

 

 

Other plumbing equipment (water heater, heated floor, etc.) 

 

 

 

Ventilation 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WALLCOVERING 

Exterior siding 

 

 

 

Wallcovering materials 

 

 

 

Mouldings 

 

 

 

INSULATION AND SOUNDPROOFING 

Insulation 

 

 

 

Soundproofing 

 

 

 

 

 

Caulking/weatherproofing 

 

 

 

 

Get 3 renovation quotes for your basement transformation project

RenoQuotes.com can help you get quotes for your basement conversion proiect. If you submit your project to us, we’ll put you in contact with 3 qualified professionals. Fill out the form on our homepage (it only takes a few minutes), and you will receive quotes from trusted renovation specialists.

Dial 1-844 828-1588 to speak with one of our customer service representatives

 

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