Finishing the Basement

Basement, Blog, Home, Woodworking / Wednesday, June 13th, 2018

This is only the beginning. This is not a complete story. It’s a work in progress and a learning experience all in one. Aren’t the best projects always like that?

We didn’t buy the cabin up north, but that same weekend we decided to improve the home we own. It was a part whim, part something we had been planning for a long time. And 100% of it was a smaller investment than buying a second home and land elsewhere in the state.

Let me explain from the point of view of buying the house. The upstairs of our house looked great when we first viewed it. The basement, however, was lacking. It was unfinished and painted weird colors but had potential. Why? Because the previous owner had hung a bunch of studs to the walls and walked away from the project. From my point of view, that was the hard part. They had a vision and acted on it until they didn’t. Somehow, when buying a house, that’s better because now Ellie and I can make it our own. We have a clean slate where we can prove to the world that not all DIY basement finishing work looks like garbage. There is more to the world than drop ceilings and paneling. That tile you find in old schools? That will never see the light of our house! We’re going to do it right.

Basement framed at move in

The basement is conveniently split in two. There is the area where you enter the basement which was framed up for a big room, a small room, and already had a (murder) bathroom in it. Then the other half of the basement is beyond a wall where we have storage and the furnace and washer and dryer. My shop lives over there too. For now, we aren’t really touching the second half of the basement (though I have done a few projects down there to improve it recently). For now, we are focusing on the basement living area.

So what’s the plan?

The plan is simple. We are going to put up drywall throughout the half of the basement we are finishing. We’ll insulate it and run some new electrical beforehand. We are also going to add in a few lights and drywall the ceiling (possibly put in some insulation for a bit of a sound barrier too). The floor will be finished with a laminate. We’ll paint and make it all pretty and warm and livable. The main room will have some built-in shelving and a place for a TV. The small room will have a bed and a cabinet to hold all of the network stuff. The bathroom will be completely redone and we will make it usable. New fixtures and shower and the works. This isn’t going to be a quick project but it will be simple, right?

Basement Layout
This shows the half of the basement we are working on finishing.

Since the upstairs of our house is roughly 1100 square feet, and there’s only two of us living here, then what’s the need to add on to the basement? Actually, there are a lot of reasons. 

One, because we can. It is our house and we get to do what we want with it. If we want to cut a hole in the wall, so be it. If we decide that hole was a huge mistake then we are the ones who get to cover it up. It’s a liberating feeling knowing you have so much control over where you live. I’ve never been in a situation like this before and it is intoxicating.

Two, because it makes sense financially. The real estate market in Madison is nuts right now. The online estimates for the price of our house have gone up roughly $40,000 since we purchased the home last year. But we aren’t fools, that market cannot sustain itself for a long time. If and when we are ready to sell our house it will likely be worth what we paid for it unless we make improvements to it. If we are making improvements to it while the market is hot, it’s easier to justify the expenses. Based on the price per square foot for our house right now, finishing this half of the basement would add on something like $80,000 to the value of the home. Again, nuts. Even if we tack on only a third of that in value then I think we’ll be ahead. It’s just easier thinking I’m spending so little and gaining so much.

Three, because we want to learn how to do these things. I helped my parents out with things around the house growing up but I didn’t retain everything. I want to learn how to do everything I can and maybe this time I will remember it. So much needs to be covered to finish this half of the basement. Drywall, mudding, electrical, building a wall, plumbing, the list just goes on and on. I’m happy to soak it up like a sponge so next time I can do it even better.

Four, because we are considering renting it on AirBnB. Or at least have a guest area in our house that is private. It’d be great to make some money having people stay with us and enjoy the work we did but it would also be great if our friends could come visit and have a quiet place to stay with their own shower and TV to unwind with. Doesn’t that sound nice?

We have already bought some of the materials and started on some of the work. I’ll be writing about it in the coming weeks and months. It will be a long journey and I doubt I will call an official end to it for some time because I’ll always want to be doing more. Stick along for the ride and you can learn with Ellie and me as we finish our basement!

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