How to Remodel Your Basement: Special Considerations for Basement Remodeling Projects
Basement remodels can expand your square footage, but they do have a few different requirements from other remodeling projects. Keep egress and moisture prevention issues in mind from the planning stages, and these concerns will not add excessive complications to remodeling your basement.
Finishing the basement is one of the most common residential remodeling projects in the country. When you think about it, it makes sense: by taking advantage of the unfinished space you already have in your basement, you can increase the square footage of your home without having to build a whole new addition. But whether you’re planning on having a remodeling contractor in to do the work, or you are considering tackling your own basement finishing project, it’s important to remember that remodeling basements requires a few special considerations. Educating yourself on these specific issues is the first step toward a successful basement remodel!
Residential building codes, although varying by municipality, all require two ways out of a bedroom, no matter where it is located in your home. Called “egress,” this is to provide safe exit for occupants in the event of a fire or other emergency in which one of the exits has been blocked. For ground-floor and upstairs bedrooms, this second way out is easily accomplished with a window, but for basement bedrooms, the situation can be more difficult. Installing a window as a basement emergency exit is certainly doable, but it definitely requires more planning. For starters, most basement egress windows will require a window well to hold back surrounding soils and provide passage to the outside. The window will also have to meet specific size requirements:
20 in. minimum width
24 in. minimum height
7 sq. ft. minimum opening size
44 in. maximum height from floor to bottom of window
These numbers reflect the common egress requirements according to IRC code, but be sure to check with your area building inspector for the exact regulations in your area. Also, keep in mind that window styles like casement windows often open in a way that can obstruct part of the opening, so the minimum area for egress will have to be calculated for the actual opening size, not just the size of the window frame.
Because of water in the surrounding soil, basements tend to have moisture issues. That’s typically not a huge deal when the basement area is just used for storage or a hobby shop, but if you’re planning to finish your basement into living space, you’ll need to eliminate the moisture first. Water can ruin building materials and foster mold growth, creating unsightly stains, structural weakness, and even health problems for your family. Depending on the extent of your wet basement issues, there are a variety of different solutions. Most minor problems can be resolved by sealing any cracks with a flexible crack sealer (like an epoxy) and sealing the interior foundation walls with a water-blocking paint. Dehumidifiers can also help keep moisture in the air from condensing in the basement. However, for major water issues, you may need to install an interior French drain system or consider a sump pump. These solutions do require professional installation, but they can handle large volumes of water and provide you with the peace of mind that your basement remodel won’t be ruined by damp.
Basement remodels can be an extremely cost-effective way to expand your home’s square footage. However, due to their subterranean construction, basements require some special considerations when it comes to remodeling. With a little planning, neither moisture prevention nor basement egress windows will be prohibitively expensive or excessively complicated, but it does make it easier to keep these requirements in mind from the very beginning stages of your basement finishing job.