How to Turn a Cinder Block Basement Into a Living Space

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A finished basement can increase the enjoyment and the value of your home.
A finished basement can increase the enjoyment and the value of your home. (Image: Billiards room interior image by Nikolay Okhitin from Fotolia.com)

Fully finished basements can increase the productive square footage, and the value, of your home. As long as the basement is dry, and has a reasonable ceiling height, even a basement with cinder block walls can be remodeled into something more aesthetically pleasing and useful. While basement remodeling isn't the easiest do-it-yourself project, the homeowner can do much of the job for substantial savings.

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Determine whether your basement is a good candidate for remodeling: ceiling height is a critical factor. Once you add drywall or install a drop ceiling in the basement, you need at least 78 inches of floor-to-ceiling height for comfortable use of the space.

Determine the dryness of the basement. A perfectly dry basement is a non-negotiable factor. The cinder block walls should never be wet or damp to the touch. If they are damp, work on exterior drainage issues and seal the foundation walls from the outside first. The minimum effort you can make is sealing the walls from the inside with a special liquid latex product. If your basement suffers from frequent puddling of water on the floor, especially after a heavy rain, correct this fault with new foundation drains or a sump pump system.

Plan for heating, cooling, and ventilation needs in the new space. If the central heating and cooling units are located in the basement, simple extensions of ductwork are possible. Route any new ductwork along the outer edges of the space, not down the middle, to preserve good headroom throughout the basement.

Cover the cinder blocks with a moisture barrier. A good, thick moisture barrier plastic is suitable for this use. Tack it to the walls with furring strips and a masonry driver “gun.”

Erect standard wall studs. Use wooden or metal studs, placed on 16-inch centers. Properly tie the wall headers and base plates to the joists and floor.

Add insulation to everything. You want your basement spaces to be “tight,” and perfectly warm and cozy in winter. Use special soundproofing insulation products in the ceiling joists in particular. Use spray foam insulation between the new walls and any outside foundation walls. If you are building a new subfloor, insulate this as well.

Install proper electrical service to overhead lights, switches, and receptacles to standard building code for basement construction. You may need to hire a licensed electrician for this work to pass required permit inspections. Upgrade your current electrical service box to cover the new load.

Install new windows. The creation of generous windows that let in plenty of natural sunlight is very important. If you’re planning to locate a bedroom in the new basement space, an egress window (one large enough for a person to escape through) is required in most communities.

Design new floors with comfort and aesthetics in mind. Polished and stained concrete floors can be attractive but are often very cold in some climates. Vinyl and laminate floor covers are good alternatives, especially if the product is installed over some kind of padding that reduces contact with the cold concrete. Hardwood floors, and porcelain, ceramic tiles should only be installed over properly prepared subflooring.

Tips & Warnings

  • Acquire the proper building permits before starting a major basement remodeling project. Even if you "get away" with remodeling the basement without permits, this deficiency can return to haunt you later, especially when you try to sell your home. Most home inspectors can quickly spot no-permit basement remodeling jobs.

References

  • "Converting Garages, Attics, and Basements;" Jeff Beneke; 2001
  • "Finishing Basements and Attics: Ideas and Projects for Expanding Your Living Space;" Black and Decker; 2000
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