Finished Basement Code Questions

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For the homeowner, finishing a basement increases a home's living space, but it is often an expensive investment that may add little to property value. Increasing living space can be financially beneficial, however, when the basement is rented. Potential renters will want the place they rent to meet or exceed local codes for finished basements. Before you use or rent out the finished basement as living space, ask questions to determine whether it meets local code.

Were Plans Submitted and Approved?

  • Was the basement layout plan approved for construction beforehand, or did the homeowner build without approved plans for matters such as the location of the kitchen, bath, and bedrooms? The answer to this question sets the premise for what to look for behind the walls of the basement--whether it is suitable as a living space, or whether the owner took shortcuts in the layout and there are hidden problems.

Is Construction Up To Code?

  • For a basement to be up to code, a detailed floor plan must have been submitted to the local building department. The floor plan must include details of the floor's construction, materials and measurements, and the measurements of the walls, stud spacing, doors and windows. The basement steps must be structurally sound, pitched properly, and constructed with code-approved railings.

    Is the ceiling height at or above the minimum height required in the code? If it is not, the only way the basement can be used as a living space is to dig the basement floor down to attain the required ceiling height. Digging a basement floor is an arduous, precise task that must be done properly so as not to compromise the foundation support of the house.

    Were appropriate safety materials used during the construction to keep moisture levels low in the basement? These would include vapor barriers, weatherproofing of the foundation walls, and moisture-resistant wallboards in the kitchen and bathroom areas.

Does the Basement Meet Fire Code Standards?

  • Was the basement inspected by the local fire inspector before, during and after construction? It is important to use fire-safe materials in a basement space, such as fire-resistant insulation and 5/8-inch plasterboard versus 1/2-inch plasterboard.

    Are fire-protection essentials installed in the basement? These include smoke detectors in the sleeping and living areas, a fire extinguisher, and sufficient wall barriers between the basement living area and the utility spaces that house the boiler and hot-water heater.

Is the Basement Approved for Sleeping?

  • Basement codes for sleeping areas require an avenue of emergency egress in addition to the main door. If a person cannot comfortably exit through a basement window, or if emergency personnel cannot enter the basement through the window, the space will not pass inspection. Each sleeping area must have its own window, for both natural lighting and emergency exits.

    The basement plans must include the dimensions of the windows in each sleeping area, as well as the square footage of the room, according to the Residential Basement Finish Checklist used by the Hamilton County, Ohio, Department of Building Inspections.

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