You want to finish your basement and have a few questions like “How can I finish my basement myself?” and “Where do I start when finishing a basement?”
I have finished two basements on my own and am here to share ALL THE THINGS!
I even made you a checklist to print off and help you plan so keep reading!
You might need to pour another cup of coffee. This is a long one PACKED with info.
Here are 30+ things to think about when you finish your basement.
How much does it cost to finish a basement?
Consider how much time you have to dedicate to the project, your skill level, and your budget. I have finished two basements and for each one, I hired out about 40% of it and finished the other 60% myself.
Most of the cost is in the labor so any work you can or are willing to do will save you $$$.
My recent bids for our current basement were between $80k – $100k for a general contractor to arrange and coordinate the subcontractors, permits, supplies, etc. and get the basement finished.
That included 1800 sq ft., 2 bedrooms, a bathroom, a bar area with sink, a family room, a storage room, etc. These bids didn’t include any built-ins, shelving, or any real customizations and this was also at the time that lumber prices were sky-high!
Given the estimate, I decided that I was going to be the general contractor and hire out all the trades for the work that I couldn’t do and then finish the rest of the work myself.
Our most recent basement finish cost me about $45,000 in total including our bar, custom shelving in our storage room, a beautiful bathroom and more!
That is A LOT of savings!
How to find a good general contractor for your finished basement?
Get recommendations from friends and neighbors and get a few bids for comparison. Look at their reviews online and get referrals. By talking to people about the person you will be potentially hiring, you can find out about their work ethic, honesty, trustworthiness, time management skills, cost management, integrity, and character. These are really important to think about when a person will be in your home for a long period of time.
As I said above, I decided to be the general contractor and hire out some of the work and finish the other work myself. And I saved over half of the “basic” cost not including all the custom work I have done that the contractors didn’t even work into their bid like my entertainment center that I built from scratch.
Remember, most of the cost is in the labor.
How to make a plan for a finished basement.
Make an actual plan before you start! I used all of the measurements of the basement I had taken and made a plan using a free program called Smartdraw I found online. Since it is free it will leave a watermark on your printout, but it’s free so who cares? It was really just for planning purposes and gave me a layout (that didn’t look like a 5-year-old drew it) to hand to the trades.
If you don’t want to do it yourself, you can also hire someone for about $100 to draft a layout for you. You can have them come in, measure, tell them what you want and have them draft a plan for you with real measurements. You can tweak it until you are happy with it and then you will have a solid plan to hand your framer, electrician, etc.
Pull permits. You will need to have each step checked by an inspector in order to move to the next step. If you plan to resell your home, and the buyer knows the basement wasn’t finished when you moved in, they may ask to see the inspections, approval, and pulled permits for the finish.
Protect yourself. DIY can be dangerous in a lot of ways so be careful. Did you know once sawdust gets in your lungs it never leaves? Ever?
I have written a helpful post on all the ways to protect yourself when you DIY here.
Opening up the basement? If the basement will be open to the rest of the home, be sure to install a plastic sheeting wall to help mitigate the amount of dust coming through your home. This is the one I used with this zipper so I could get in and out of the space. **We ended up adding some wood pieces across the top, screwing them into the drywall because the tape was not enough to hold it up.
In what order should a basement be finished?
Planning a basement can be overwhelming! I have made a checklist just for you so that you can know exactly what to do next after completing a step! You can download it or print it out!
You can get my free finished basement planning checklist to help you plan here!
How do I hire trades to finish my basement?
The trades are all connected! Everyone knows someone. Get a few bids on a job you need done (like framing). When you get someone that you are happy with, and they do a good job, then ask them for a recommendation for the next job you need to be done.
I have had really good luck with this method. I also got really lucky with HomeAdvisor. My electrician from HomeAdvisor was amazing! However, the painter’s bid from HomeAdvisor was 3x what I actually ended up paying.
Just do your research and take your time.
How do I frame a basement?
Framing. Is it hard? Kind of. Is it expensive to have done? Yes. But, you may want to hire it out anyway.
You have to know the building codes in your area and how to finish a basement wall. example: where I live you have to have a 3″ floating wall and specific areas that have fire blocking.
Are you ready to do what it takes? You can do it but it will possibly take weeks.
How do I build storage in my basement?
Build storage shelves while framing. If you are incorporating a storage room in your basement, have your framers buy extra material and build your shelves in the storage room while they are framing.
One of the best decisions I ever made! They already have the supplies and the tools and room to move the wood around easily.
Add a piece of plywood to the framing where your TV will hang for reinforcement before they drywall. That way you can hang your heavy TV easily without having to rely on stud placement.
Run conduit in the walls and have an outlet placed where you plan to put your TV before they drywall so you can run your TV cords through the wall and they will be hidden and you can plug your TV in right behind it.
Insulation. Consider adding thick insulation between the floor joists over areas where you don’t want the sound to travel through the floors. example: I bought really thick insulation at Home Depot and installed it over my movie room and both bedrooms. It was an extra $500 dollars but SO worth it. I can’t hear my daughter’s questionable taste in music from her room below us.
Electrical. I only mess with electrical if it is a simple task like switching out light switches, moving an outlet or changing a light fixture. An entire basement took my pro a couple of weeks and he did it to code.
Also, have a plan and know ahead of time where you want things like 3-way lights, dimmers, sconces, outlets, etc. example: In my craft room I wanted all of my outlets above the cabinets, not lower on the wall like a typical install.
Add step lights. This is really easy for your electrician to do during construction and adds such nice lighting for safety at night when you don’t want the overhead lights on. These little touches take it to the next level.
TV Wires and Cables. After you add conduit for your TV, run your HDMI and other cables from the tv wall mount to the bottom where your A/V equipment will be. Before you do that, add a piece of tape to each end with a number or letter on it. That way when you are hooking each end up you will know which wire goes to what! example: #1 hooked into the TV is #1 hooked into the soundbar.)
HVAC. Consider what kind of system you want. Do you want a separate thermostat for the basement apart from the other part of the house? It will cost twice as much to add an additional thermostat as just adding runs of vents to all the rooms. Also consider where will your returns be? Where will you be adding cabinets? You don’t want an air return where you plan to put a cabinet. Talk to the HVAC installer and make a plan together.
Can you put plumbing in a basement?
You can definitely put plumbing in your basement. Even if there are plumbing rough-ins (where the builder placed the drains for a future bathroom) and they are not where you want them OR you want to add some waterlines for a bar or extra sink!
Decide where you want your bathroom drains and toilet to be (remember that rendering we talked about in the beginning?) and have a plumber break the concrete and relocate the plumbing lines for you.
Your plumber will add the water lines for the sink and shower and the valves for your shower as well.
They can also add water lines and a drain for a bar if you are adding one.
Be sure to check that your plumber will fix what he digs up before you start. That was my fault. I assumed a plumber would fill it back in. But in both basements I finished, both plumbers said “I don’t do that” when I asked them if they would fix the floor. So I got to work and did it myself! Luckily for me there weren’t big trenches in the foundation.
You should just be able to fill the dug-out/broken-up areas with pea gravel and then add cement on top of that yourself! Once this pea gravel was in, I mixed together some simple cement and covered the gravel. Then I troweled the cement smooth and let it dry, making sure it was level. That way, when I laid my tile floor, the cement was nice and level.
Know your shower valve type. Be sure to ask the plumber which kind of valve they are installing (example: mine is Moen) so that you can order a trim kit that will work with your valve. A trim kit covers the open hole where you turn on the shower and adds the handle that will make the shower turn on and off). Not all trim kits for a shower are created equal. However, you can use any shower head and the manufacturer does not matter.
Take photos of all plumbing lines and electrical runs before drywall so you know exactly where everything is and you don’t puncture any pipes, etc. in the future when installing any shelving, etc.
Can I drywall my basement?
In my opinion, leave it to the pros. They do this every day, all the time and they do it FAST! (It took them two days to hang all my drywall.)
Is it expensive? Yes. Can you do it? Probably. Can you do it in an appropriate amount of time and do it well? That is for you to decide.
Here are some things to think about with drywall
Match the texture in the rest of your home. What kind of texture/finish will be on your walls? Is it orange peel? Knockdown? Hand troweled? If you do the mudding (texture), can you do it well and do you have time to sand imperfections?
Wallpaper. If you are going to do wallpaper anywhere, be sure to know that ahead of time and avoid adding texture to those areas so that you have a smooth surface for the wallpaper.
Lay the paper down before the texture and paint go on. Texture spray is really a pain to remove from your unfinished concrete. Invest in some $30 rolls of brown painter’s paper and lay it all over the entire basement floor before any texture goes on. When it is finished, you just roll it all up and throw it away and your floors and sanity are protected! Especially if laying an LVP floor on top. The fewer imperfections in your floor the better.
How do I hang doors in my basement?
Doors. Find the name and style of your doors throughout the rest of your home and then look for them online. You may be able to find them at your local Home Depot or Lowe’s. You can take a photo to the pro desk in the door department and they can help you.
But if not, call your local builder’s supply house to see if you can get the same doors. They offer more options than you will find at a big box store.
You will want pre-hung doors. I hung all of our doors myself. I used an easy door-hanging system and the clips help you easily line up the door frame and screw in place.
Pre-hung Doors will come primed. When you get ready to paint your doors you can easily pop them off the hinges and spray them with this or roll them with a small roller made for smooth surfaces. If rolling, add a leveler to your paint like Floetrol for a nice finish, or use a really nice paint like Sherwin Williams Emerald.
Door Hardware. Find the same hardware that you have throughout the rest of your home or take it as an opportunity to change all of your door hardware to what you really want in your home. You can install these yourself.
How do I install trim in my basement?
Door and window trim, as well as baseboards, are really easy to install. I recommend matching what is in the rest of your home so it looks like it is all the same house as you transition from one floor of your home to the next. You can totally install these yourself with ease! Paint your trim before you cut and install – it will save so much time.
Window Sills. You can cut these yourself. Easy Peasy.
Get a board that is a little larger than the depth and width of your opening and cut to size, leaving couple of inches for overhang in the front and a couple of inches on each side of the opening. Match the sills in the rest of your home. You can use a router with an ogee edge on the sills if you have a more decorative sill.
What kind of flooring can I put in my basement?
You can do carpet, tile, linoleum, or LVP (luxury vinyl plank) in the basement. You can’t do regular hardwood or engineered flooring due to moisture. Hardwood will warp or bow with moisture.
Concrete. When you go to install your flooring you will notice small dips in the foundation floor. Be sure to level out your floor where it has any dips and fill in any cracks appropriately. The dips may take a toll on your floors over time.
You can see my BEST tips for installing LVP here.
How do I install stair railing?
If you are adding an open railing with balusters, you have to know your local building codes. You have to have a specific distance between balusters and the handrail needs to be a specific height off of each step. In my most popular post, I show you how I installed my stair railing for under $500 and you can get my free stair railing project planner!!!
How do I plan a bar in my basement?
You can visit ikea.com and use their free kitchen planner to design your bar (even if you are not installing ikea cabinets). Doing this before you have your contractors in will help you know exactly where to put the plumbing for a sink and where you will need electrical outlets need to go for appliances and where to add electrical for any decorative lighting. I did this and the end result was PERFECT!
There are a lot of great options out there for a bar that you can install yourself and if you have the skills you can even make your own cabinets!
If you do IKEA cabinets as I did, try my genius microwave cabinet hack. Super easy!
Check out my IKEA microwave hack for our bar here!!
Is it easy to paint a whole basement?
This you absolutely can do yourself. Be sure to prime all of your drywall well, including the ceiling. They make a special drywall primer. If you don’t prime, the drywall will just absorb the paint and you will have to do MANY coats of paint.
The primer will create a barrier to the drywall and a non-porous surface to paint on. You will want to paint your ceiling in flat and the walls in eggshell. Consider matching or go one shade lighter than what you have throughout the rest of the home as basements tend to be darker. You can roll or get a sprayer depending on your budget and time. I have this sprayer and I LOVE IT!
How do I finish a bathroom in a basement?
This sounds daunting, but YOU CAN DO IT! Be sure to check the building code in your area. You need to know that the toilet needs to be a specific distance from your shower and also from your vanity, etc. This will help you plan the space well and to code.
You just might want to check out my basement bathroom series.
Install a recessed light/fan combo over the shower. You have to have an exhaust fan in the bathroom and will need to be sure it runs outside the house. Your HVAC installer can do this. I like to avoid as much ugly as possible so I searched for a fan/vent combo that was functional but wasn’t ugly. I have bought this one for both bathrooms I finished and it is really good!!!
Water-proof your shower. For me, Schluter was the way to go when installing my shower. They offer a kit with all the pieces in it that you need that are customizable to the size of your shower and their online tutorials are easy to follow. But you can also paint on a water-proofing barrier. I used this exact one! I also used this shower niche for my daughter’s shampoos. Do your research and make the best choice for you!
Tiling the bathroom. If you have never tiled before, read my top essential tools you will want to have before you begin. For showers, large format tiles are harder to install than smaller tiles (like subway tiles). If you are fairly new to tiling you may consider sticking to the smaller tiles. I just installed 750 subway tiles, one by one, ha!
Choose the right mortar. Be sure to use the correct mortar for the size of your tile and the waterproofing system you installed. Also, choose a tiling leveling system based on the size of your tiles as well. The instructions/dimensions will be on the packaging.
Add a tile edging trim like a Schluter trim. The white trim in this photo lies on the edge of the shower. You mortar it in and then butt your tiles right into it! This gives a really nice edge finish to the shower.
Installing a bathroom floor is REALLY EASY. You can tile this yourself or continue your LVP flooring right into the bathroom since it is waterproof!
Add a handheld sprayer to your showerhead. This will make cleaning the shower a breeze! You don’t have to have an additional plumbing line run for this. You can get a shower head with a sprayer combined in one unit.
Shower door. You can choose to just add a simple shower curtain to your new shower or add a sliding or swing glass door. If you choose to add glass you can go with a glass company to make your doors and install for you. Lowe’s and Home Depot also offer DIY options that you can easily install on your own.
I installed a chrome bypass shower door in just an afternoon with a little help from my son! I didn’t want to go too crazy because it is a basement bathroom so I was able to pick it up for about $360. It was really easy to install and I don’t know why I waited so long!
Whether you do all the work, act as the general contractor and piece it out for contract or have it done entirely by a professional team, I hope these tips prepare you in the best way. Decide what you are able and willing to do and what your budget and time allow for.
If you are trying something new, do your research! I would love to see your projects when you complete them so shoot me an email or tag me on IG @aprilcolleen.
Cristina Caldwell says
Thank you April!
You took the time and share all your ideas. That is supper noble.
You’re so welcome, Cristina! I hope you found it helpful!