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Reno of the Month: How to remodel your basement

Image courtesy Synergy Design & Construction.

By Nicola Caul Shelley, Synergy Design & Construction

Basements always seem to be last on the list of priorities when it comes to home remodeling, yet they provide the opportunity to create multi-functional spaces that serve as the perfect place for family and friends to gather and unwind. For those who regularly have overnight guests, having a bedroom and/or bathroom on a different level also provides privacy and separation of space. Finished basements also add value from a return on investment perspective for resale.

Whether you’re looking to finish a totally unfinished basement or redesign your existing space to improve functionality or somewhere in between, here are some factors to help you kick-start your basement remodel. We’ll also take a behind the scenes look at a recent basement remodel in Vienna to show you how it’s done.

Figure out what type of contractor you need

Knowing the type of help you need is the first step. A simple project to finish a basement with drywall and add carpeting does not need a full service design-build firm. A more cost-effective way may be to use a general contractor (GC), but you will likely have to take on more responsibility for managing the project and making design choices and (sometimes) buying the materials yourself.

Synergy Design & Construction is a full service design-build firm, meaning we have an in-house team of professionals who partner with you on both the design of your space and its construction. Local home remodeling companies like Synergy tend to focus on design-thoughtful, complex basement remodels that involve reconfiguring the space, adding a bathroom, wet bar, laundry room, etc.

Still not sure what a design-build firm is? Read this article!

Let’s take a look at one of our recent basement remodels in Vienna. The space had an existing rec room and guest bedroom/bathroom, but there was also a large unfinished space that was ready to be put to better use. The design goal was to create different ‘zones’ within the basement by reimagining all of the spaces and refinishing it with modern — but family friendly — finishes. Our clients knew they needed the design expertise of a design-build company like Synergy as well as wanting to work with a deadline driven company who would project manage the remodel for them.

Create a ‘Must-Have’, ‘Nice-to-Have’ and ‘Pinch Me’ List

We recommend homeowners make this list for all home remodeling projects, not just basement remodeling. This is where you get to work putting together a list of what your needs really are — and those that you can live without. For example, creating a guest bedroom and bathroom might be a ‘must-have’, but adding a new wet bar with beautiful cabinets, a bar sink, a dishwasher and icemaker might be a ‘nice to have’. We know, we know: you want it all, but be realistic about how costs add up.

For our basement remodel in Vienna, our clients ‘must-haves’ were to transform the unfinished space into a TV/Rec Room and add a new bar, upgrade the existing rec room and turn it into a games room and add additional work space. Another must-have (and this often comes into play for below grade basements) was the need to add an egress window to the existing guest bedroom. Lastly, our clients decided that although the guest bathroom was functional, remodeling it to update in line with the rest of the basement was also on their list.

Set a Budget

Talking of costs, now it’s time to set a budget. Don’t be afraid to be upfront with any prospective home remodelers or contractors you talk to about what your budget is. It helps set expectations from the beginning of the relationship and any reputable company will be honest with you about your budget vs. what they deliver.

A number of factors will impact the cost of your basement remodel. The most obvious is the total square footage of the space, but that’s not the only item. Other things to consider are if the basement is completely or partially refinished and if existing plumbing lines or rough-ins are in place for bathrooms, washing machines and bar sinks/dishwashers, etc.

If you’re thinking of taking down walls or creating a different floor plan, then load-bearing walls, columns or other structures need to be taken into account. This will add cost to your remodel. Advice for tell tale signs if a column or beam is load-bearing can be found here. This also applies to ductwork. Ductwork that needs to be added, changed/removed or concealed will also add cost. Looking for ideas on how to hide ductwork? Read our blog “How to Hide the Awful Ductwork“.

The other big ticket item is the level of finish you expect. Adding things like a beautiful new built-in TV/Media center or wet bar with cabinets and all the bells and whistles will, of course, increase your cost.

Back to our case study. As with every home remodeling project we work on, we discussed the budget upfront so we could partner with our clients to create a design that met their investment goals. During the Preliminary Design phase, our Interior Designers worked with the homeowners to create the perfect floor plan and layout for their specific needs.

As the project progressed, we provided 3-D images to give our clients a realistic idea of what the finished space would look like. Our Interior Designers also worked with them on all the material selections, finishes and even paint color.

Although using a home remodeling company like Synergy might seem more expensive at the outset than a general contractor, most of our clients want the peace of mind of working with a company that does all the heavy lifting, manages the budget and timeline and sees the whole project through from start to finish.

Ask Your Chosen Contractor for a Timeline or Project Plan

You’ve done your research, made your list and decided on your contractor. Before anyone comes near your home and starts swinging hammers, ask for a timeline of how the project is going to unfold. No one wants to be in a position where the basement has been demolished and the contractor disappears for three months to work on other projects. Every company or general contractor works differently, but they should, at the very least, be able to provide you with a start and projected end date.

Read “Five Things to Do Before You Start a Home Remodel” for more guidance.

Before we started on this basement remodel, a customized project plan was provided so our clients knew exactly when we’d start the project, what was happening when and how long the project would take to complete. We always assign a Lead Carpenter to each project, so our clients had a day-to-day contact on site to oversee their project. A weekly status meeting was held to discuss upcoming work and a finish schedule (which details the cost of all the finishes like tile, fixtures, cabinets, etc.) was also provided so there was transparency in the budget.

Budget and timeline driven home remodeling is what we’re all about, and this project was no exception! See more before and afters of this basement remodel here.

Are you ready to start a conversation about your basement? Our consultations are free and we’re always happy to help local homeowners start their renovation journey. Find out more about us here.

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