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Make Your Dream Finished Basement a Reality

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Finished basement home theatre

Written by: Stephanie Stevens

Has the lack of space in your home been irking you for some time?  Have you been considering finishing your basement but it seems more like a wistful dream than something that is doable?

While some put off finishing a basement for lack of skill or financial reasons, others simply don’t know where to start.  If there isn’t a handy person in the family, the task can appear daunting. That’s where local contractors fit in. They are not only skilled at finishing basements but are passionate about it. A good contractor knows the “Ins”, “Outs” and “How-To’s” you’re looking for. He will be able to guide you in putting together your wish list, and will give you a detailed quote to help you assess if you will be able to make your dream come true.

Before hiring a contractor, it’s important to narrow down what it is you really want. Basement remodels vary greatly, from a simple finished open room with no plumbing added, to a luxury space that includes a home theatre, fireplace, four piece washroom, wet-bar, guest bedroom and office.  A contractor will need to know if you plan to finish the entire basement or part of it; how many rooms you want; what plumbing is needed; the types of finishes and fixtures you want; and extra details such as if you want sub-floors, heated floors, extra heat sources, sound proof insulation, drywall or suspended ceilings, and so on.

Begin planning your remodel by looking through magazines or the Internet. Check out home shows, or watch remodeling shows on television for ideas. Visit building supply stores to get ideas for finishes, fixtures and accessories, and their costs. Visit homes with finished basements and ask the owners what they love about their new space and what they might have done differently. Ask them about any glitches they had in the process and how they handled them.

Remodeled basement with hardwood floors

Have several conversations with your family to learn what each member thinks should be included in the remodel. Consider its use three, five and ten years down the road. Prioritize your list and check with your banker about how much funding will be available to you.

With that homework done, ask for referrals of contractors from workmates, neighbors, and professionals whether it be your dentist or a decorator with a furniture or paint store. Chances are one of them has had a basement finished by a contractor they were pleased with, or knows someone who has. You can select a contractor from the Internet or telephone book, but it is more trustworthy to have a personal reference from someone you trust.

Farming out the job to a local contractor instead of tackling it on your own makes a lot of sense. Not only will you prevent mistakes, frustrations, and setbacks, but the project will be tackled quickly, in most cases over a few weeks. Contractors may also be able to get contractor pricing or purchase in bulk which helps lower his cost to you.

Once you have a few names, take a leap and make informational phone calls. Have a few questions ready and ask about scheduling and how they feel about working with permits. If you find someone who prefers not to use permits or offers to do under-the-table type work be cautious, you never know what other corners he will cut, where he’s getting his supplies from, and he probably won’t guarantee his work.  Don’t be afraid to communicate that you expect professionalism, permits and no under-the-table type deals. Reputable contractors will not hesitate to work according to building code and get required permits and will give you a detailed quotation and signed contract.

Finished basement with custom bar

Once you have a good idea of what you want and a few contractors narrowed down, invite them to walk through the space with you as you detail your ideas. Be prepared to listen his suggestions offered.  Contractors are used to working in a variety of situations and know what works and what doesn’t. He may be able to offer suggestions that are even better than what you’ve planned.

Be wary of a contractor who wants to revamp all your ideas or tells you “It can’t be done”.  If you know what you want can be done, press your point, get more information, or select a contractor who will accomplish your vision.  It’s your investment and your space.  It should reflect what you want, not what he thinks.

A contractor knows a lot, but doesn’t know everything. Fashions and styles change quickly and he may not be up-to-speed on the latest.  For instance, maybe he’s used to purchasing melamine cabinets, separate countertops and basic sinks for bathrooms because that’s what he’s always done and is inexpensive. He may not know that classy bathroom vanity “kits” can now be purchased which include a vanity, sink, mirror and even granite countertops all in one box for, the same price as a melamine cabinet, counter and sink. Of course the modern vanity will be the wiser choice, and if you’ve done your homework, you will be able to make simple upgrades like this.

Ask the contractors for written quotes. A quote (which may double as a contract) should include a detailed list of the building supplies.  Make sure it is very specific, for instance, if you asked for sound-proof insulation in your ceiling, make certain the quote is for sound-proof insulation and not regular insulation.Make sure what he is quoting you matches what you discussed and expect to be installed.

The quote should also outline the fixtures and accessories that are included in the price and it should be discussed who chooses the style. The quote should include the cost of drawings, permits and labor.  Ask about the estimated number of workers that will be in your home including who will be doing the bulk of the labor. Some contractors use employees to do the bulk of the work and are hardly around themselves. If you know this upfront, you won’t be surprised later.

Fully furnished finished basement

Ask for an expected work schedule, ie. will workers show up at six am or nine am? Will they expect to work into the evening or quit at four or five?

The quote/contract should include an expected start date, estimated end date and a payment schedule that will include a down payment and subsequent payments as the work progresses.

Once you compare quotes and choose a contractor you feel good about, sign the contract and shore up your finances.  Take “before” pictures and clear out the basement.

Plan to stay out of the way, but make frequent visits to make sure the work is progressing according to the plan, and you will be in a better position to make substitutions before it’s too late. For instance, once the contractor brings in the light fixtures or other finishes, you may decide you’d rather upgrade or change them.

If you pay for upgraded items out of your own pocket, there should be an adjustment applied for the items you are replacing that were in the quote but not used. 

It will be helpful to be accessible for consultations during the process. You may be needed to confirm locations for cable, internet or speaker wires; to authorize slight changes in design such as moving a wall or doorway a few inches forward or back, creating niches or reworking small spaces; and to finalize paint colors and flooring.

If, while you’re checking in, something doesn’t look right, ask thorough questions. Call in assistance if you aren’t pleased with the answer.  Get your facts straight before making accusations or interrupting the flow of the work. Try to keep a harmonious relationship with your contractor and his assistants throughout the process. It isn’t easy having your space intruded on and things in your way, but in time it your renovation will be completed and you will have several more square feet of wonderful space to enjoy, and you will be glad you did it.

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