Basement Renovations [Full Guide 2020-2021]

Basement Renovations [Full Guide 2020-2021]

Whether increasing square footage, adding a new family room or just boosting value, basement renovations have a lot to offer. Still, before you can enjoy all the benefits of one, there’s a lot to consider and factor in first. Unlike most other renovations, basements have many more steps and preparations involved to ensure the overall value and safety of the space. Being aware of humidity, budgets, finishing costs, and design ideas are just a few things to consider.

Following this guide will help breakdown all the steps, tips, and guidelines for basement renovations.

Start with the purpose 

Before you delve into the costs and planning for a renovation, decide how you want to use the basement. Renovating the basement alone will recoup some of your investment, so don’t focus on the ROI aspect to start. Instead, decide what is missing from your home that could be added to improve it, like more bedrooms or a living room. Alternatively, choose a feature that would benefit your own lifestyle, like a home theatre or personal gym.

Bedroom and flex room 

Adding one or more bedrooms to a basement is popular, even if they are just as guest bedrooms. This also opens the future possibility of transforming the basement into a new suite, either for tenants or in-laws. Just be sure to check for any basement renovation regulations or codes if you add a bedroom. For example, proper heating and ventilation, finished features such as walls, floors, lighting, and an egress window are typically required. According to the National Building Code of Canada (NBCC), an egress window must have an area that is no smaller than 3.8 ft. around the window and be large enough to use as an escape.

A flex room or bonus room is another great way to give the basement a multi-purpose design. On its own, a flex room can double as a living room, family room or entertainment space for friends and family. If paired with basement bedrooms, then it can act as a suite addition. Use the space as a TV room, playroom, storage and laundry, or even a home office. There are plenty of ways to use a flex room, and just like a bedroom, it can be included in future plans for a full basement suite.


Basement bathrooms are convenient, if not a must-have for most homeowners. If you have a bedroom already planned, then a bathroom is a must-have addition. Even just a simple powder room with a toilet and sink is enough to add to a basement. However, to really get value out of the bathroom, make sure to design it to suit the basement’s needs. A living room or playroom, for example, likely doesn’t need a full bathroom with a shower and tub. A home gym or suite, in comparison, would benefit from a bathroom with at least a shower, if not a bathtub. You can save time and money by adding a new bathroom beneath an existing upstairs one. That way, you can use the same plumbing without the extra cost to install new pipes.

Home gym 

For those tired of the commute to the gym, basements are the perfect space for a home fitness area. The basement will have plenty of space to accommodate various workout equipment and to customize the layout. Different types of flooring, like rubber for heavy equipment or luxury vinyl plank for yoga, are easy and cost-effective to install. Keep in mind that gym equipment may have different electrical needs, so bring in an electrician to help. That way, you can maximize the layout and prevent any circuit panel overloads and costly electrical repairs.

Home theatre 

Another of the most popular choices to consider is transforming part of the basement into a home theatre. Not all basements have large windows either, making the darker space a perfect setting for movies. Invest in the right features, like recessed lights, a projector, and a skilled electrician for the sound system. The transformation will be a well worthwhile lifestyle boost, plus it can benefit resale down the road. While not everyone may want a home theatre, the recessed lights and installed electrical system will appeal to many buyers. Who is making the popcorn?

Legal secondary suite 

If you want a way to have some added income after your basement renovation, then a secondary suite is a perfect means. Any money that you invest in a homey suite will have an excellent payback by attracting potential renters and rental revenue. Installing a kitchenette is the ideal way to add a kitchen with all the right appliances, without taking up too much space. Kitchenettes are likewise much more cost-effective, making them ideal in a legal suite transformation. Maximize the open layout design to blend the living room and kitchen area, and then decide how many bedrooms you want. Don’t forget to build a full bathroom as well to complete the suite. Even if you don’t rent right away, you can also use the space for relatives, guests or rent to your college kids.

Basement dangers to look for 

Basement renovations are different from other renovations because the space is below grade. As a result, this brings some unique risks and restrictions for materials that other rooms don’t have. Before you begin renovating, it’s important to make sure your basement is ready and safe to work in. It’ll also make the renovation process easier by knowing what materials are safe to use and how to avoid costly damage.


Moisture is the biggest problem and potential risk that basements face. Not only is it an issue during renovations, but moisture can easily lead to health issues if mould develops. Spotting signs of moisture isn’t always a noticeable puddle of water on the floor, so knowing how to find it is key.

Moisture can get in from both exterior and interior leaks or as a result of poor ventilation. Other causes can be from leaky pipes, cracks in the foundation wall, or humid air from outside seeping into the basement. Since the temperatures in a basement are cooler, the humid air condenses once inside.

Signs: damp, humid air, condensation on the walls and floors, strange odours like mildew, or blistering walls, are all warning signs.

Preventative tips: basement dehumidifiers are a great way to keep the air quality and moisture at optimal levels. Waterproofing the walls and sealing foundation cracks will also help lessen the issue. Make sure exterior gutters and downspouts direct water well away from the home’s foundation. The best solution is a combination of preventative steps to ensure there are no missed areas or ways for moisture to get in.


If there is severe moisture in your basement, then there is a likely risk that mould may be growing somewhere. Dark, humid environments are the perfect setting for mould to grow and flourish. If it does, there is a risk of it leading to severe health issues, such as asthma or respiratory illnesses. If you have mould exposure symptoms––difficulty breathing, throat irritation, or your basement has a musky smell––have a professional come in. While there are DIY mould testing kits, a professional is far more experienced and skilled at testing for and locating mould. They’ll also safely remove what is found and help offer tips or plans to prevent any more from growing back.

Material factors to consider 

With the issue of moisture and mould in basements, there are certain materials that are just not recommended to use. Porous materials, especially, risk absorbing any water and becoming damaged. Other materials, such as mould-resistant drywall, are recommended to help keep your basement safe and make the investment into it worthwhile.


Hardwood flooring may look beautiful and attractive upstairs, but it’s an unnecessary risk to use in a basement reno. If it comes into contact with water or even moisture, the wood will expand and crack and become damaged beyond repair. Instead of an attractive investment, you’ll have to pay even more to replace the hardwood floors. Laminate is another floor that should be avoided, which, while low-cost, is just as absorbent.

Best floors: The best floors for basements are resistant to moisture, water, and durable. These include ceramic tile, vinyl floors, carpet, and, as an alternative to hardwood, luxury vinyl plank. Each of these floors can easily last for 20+ years, plus with ceramic tiles, you can install heated flooring.


The great thing about using drywall is it’s convenient, cost-effective, and very flexible in its design. It can be used for walls, ceilings, or archways for some decorative touches. Once installed, it can be painted any colour or given a texture and painted white for a classic finish.

When used to renovate basements, there are some factors to consider. First, make sure the basement is free of any moisture; otherwise, the finished drywall risks becoming warped or developing rot or mould. Also, use moisture and rot-resistant drywall sheets, just like when drywalling a bathroom. Another factor to consider is whether you want to DIY or not. Generally, basement drywalling is best left to a professional. With all the work involved, safety steps to follow, and building codes, an experienced contractor may be a better investment.


If you plan to convert your basement into a suite, be aware there are specific HVAC codes in place that must be followed. If you own a pre-existing legal suite, you can use the heating and ventilation from the main house to save on costs. New suites, however, sometimes require a separate HVAC system installed in them. The same consideration will be a factor even if a legal suite is not in question. Living rooms, home theatres, or gyms will need comfortable temperatures to spend time in. If a new HVAC system is needed, it’s important to know right away so you can plan it into the renovations. The best way to handle this is to hire a contractor to discuss where to house the new system and what size is necessary for the basement.

Cost breakdown 

According to Remodeling Magazine, basement remodels can easily recoup upwards of 70% of the cost, making it a great investment. Before homeowners can enjoy that return, there is first the cost of finishing the basement reno to consider. Finishing work includes waterproofing, framing, drywalling, installing wiring and windows, and possibly more. By knowing what to expect from the cost and work involved, you’ll be able to better budget and plan for your basement reno.

Average cost: $20,000 – $60,000 (These costs are per finishing a 400 to 1,500 square foot basement.)

High-end cost: $100,000 +

Per square foot 

Generally, expect to pay between $35 and $70 per square foot when finishing a basement. These costs may also vary depending on the contractor and quality of materials used in the renovation.

400 square feet: $14,000 – $28,000

800 square feet: $28,000 – $56,000

1200 square feet: $42,000 – $84,000

1500 square feet: $52,500 – $105,000

Finishing costs 

All finishing costs are taken from HomeAdvisor from various basement renovation reports.

These will vary depending on what your basement needs and the overall size, but are generally priced as such:

Waterproofing: $4,500

Framing: $1,795

Insulation: $1,650

Drywall: $1,750

Electrical: $1,325 – $2,880 (Electrical work includes new wiring, outlets, and lighting. Depending on the basement’s use, whether a home theatre or legal suite, the electrical work involved and the final price will vary.)

Permits: $1,160

Other finishing work includes flooring and painting. These can be handled by a professional, but it can just as easily be DIYed to save a bit on overall expenses.

Basement legal suite 

Legal suites are a bigger investment, but also offer big paybacks thanks to the potential for added income. The costs will largely depend on the quality of appliances, how many bedrooms are included, the size of the kitchenette, and the involved work for a new bathroom.

Average cost: $61,000

High end cost: $110,000


Basements will need their own permits before you can renovate. The cost for permits varies depending on location, the amount of work involved, and the basement’s size. Besides a building permit, additional permits may be needed for electrical work, plumbing, or a new HVAC system.

Average cost: $1,350

DIY or professional help 

As with any renovation project, the question of whether or not to DIY will come up. The decision will ultimately come down to a matter of skill, budget, and overall value. A professional can always guarantee that the project’s value will go up and appeal to potential buyers if you plan to sell. DIY can save money, but it also invites the risk of making costly mistakes that a contractor could help prevent. As for the cost factor, it typically comes down to the size of the basement.

Professional vs DIY cost 

The bulk of a professional’s cost comes from the labour, which accounts for up to 25% of the total cost to renovate basements. Before you hire a contractor, make sure to get several estimates to find the right fit for your budget.

While hiring a professional is more expensive, think about the long-term value and ROI. A contractor will have the right skills, tools, and expertise to guarantee a quality basement renovation.

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