by Keith Vaughan
Throughout the mid-Atlantic and New England, and especially in urban row houses, the chances are good that your home has a lower level basement. The chances are also pretty decent that it is under-utilized, outdated, or maybe it was just poorly designed from the get-go. A well-planned Basement Addition is a great, cost-effective way to increase usable living space and the overall enjoyment of your home. Whether you need a home office, a recreation room for the kids, theater space for watching movies and sports, or an arts and crafts room, you will love the way this addition space transforms your life. And it will also create a well-earned return on your investment.
What do you want? Only you know your list of wants and needs, but these are the questions: Is it practical space or bonus space? Is it primarily for your family, extended family, or yourself; or is it for gathering and entertaining? What are your fun-time needs: a ping-pong or pool table? Piano? Wine room? The practical uses tend to be utility rooms, bathrooms, and bedrooms many young families today are using the Basement Addition as a way to stay in their in-town house for many more years to come.
What can you get? A lot of this has to do with how much space there is to play with. Almost all Basement Additions are multi-purpose with the most common uses for the basement level to include in-law suites, en-suites for guests, recreation rooms, wet bars, and media centers. Others turn to mudrooms, yoga studios, activities equipment storage - or even rental apartments that generate cash flow each month (legal occupancy rentals are complicated and you must ensure they are done properly and to all current building codes!).
What are the musts?
#1: Mitigate the damp: Control the moisture from the outside first, and if needed, the inside as well. Do not finish your interior space if moisture is still a problem as it will surely lead to disappointments and future costs - down the road. The majority of moisture and humidity in basements can often be controlled once properly thought through.
#2: Egress: Make sure that the space is safe and that there is an easy way out from any bedroom or family room in the case of emergency. Even if this does not have to be done to meet building codes, it is a smart practice and can be accomplished with window wells and egress windows. It is also a great plus, if your basement can be designed to be walk-out/walk-in, if it is not already.
#3: Ceiling Height: 7 feet is typically the minimum requirement; 7-1/2 feet is more comfortable; and anything at 8 feet or more lives grand. While a lot of older buildings are grandfathered not to have to meet this requirement, it is definitely worth considering digging it down, even if it is just a bit.
#4: Floorplan: consult your architectural designer to make sure that your new floorplan is what you are looking for and what you are asking for. Get the lines on paper, get ideas, and work the plan. Re-work the plan several times and talk it through with your partner or family. And when needed, make sure to use a consulting engineer for any re-works to the home's structure.
#5: Light and Lighting: Everyone loves natural light and this can be accomplished, but some solutions can be very expensive. However, basements more than any other space require a detailed lighting plan with good fill and spot lighting in order to make the rooms feel alive and well. In other words, don't skimp on good lighting!
Like life, there are exceptions, but, Basement Additions are typically less expensive than actual additions since the footprint for the new living space is already there - and this has a side benefit of the addition having a lower impact on the environment. Also, in today's world of zoning implications, many urban residences simply can't create larger footprints for their homes.
The bulk of basement projects are much more akin to additions, or The Basement Addition. New space, new functions, new entertainment, and new aesthetics all blended together for a new way to enjoy your home. And in today's world of design+build+remodel, these are NOT your parents dark, dank, and panel-boarded rooms with shag carpets and a slight stench of mildew and disintegrating McDonald's fries!
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