The Definitive Guide
If you're just beginning to think about finishing your basement we will show you how to get started.
If you've already started you can jump to the chapter that best pertains to you.
If you want to get the most comprehensive documentation about planning and executing a basement finish, you'll love this guide.
Are you committed to spending the time and money to add an extensive amount of living space to your home? If so, great, you should continue on.
In this section, we will cover the typical costs of a basement finish, how to prepare for and find the RIGHT contractors.
So, you've decided it's time to make an investment in your home by having your basement finished. Congratulations!
Before you ever invite a contractor over you should think about a few different things to ensure your time with the contractor is as productive as possible.
What are they?
In this section we will cover 3 items:
- What is your budget?
- What is your timeline to complete the project?
- What are you hoping to gain by finishing your basement? (i.e. what is your wish list)
1) What is your basement budget?
The most important thing you can do is stay within your budget. However.... we realize you may have no idea what a project like this costs. So, how much does it cost?
Of course, nobody likes that answer but you can expect to start around $25 per sq ft to finish a basement and go up from there. Utilizing these numbers will help you determine if your budget allows for extras such as a wet bar, theater room, etc. But if your budget is close to the $25 per sq ft number you should plan for a basic basement finish. For additional details on costs read our 'How much does a basement finish cost in Des Moines, IA' post here.
And a basic basement finish is NOT the end of the world if you were hoping for more! You can always add additional features down the road, just ensure you plan for those now in case plumbing or electrical need to be ran now.
2) What is your timeline to complete the project?
You can expect a basement finish to generally take from 4-8 weeks. This is only to complete the actual work in your house. Depending on the scope of work there could be weeks or even months of planning before the project begins. On top of that, many contractors have a backlog of work so they may not be able to even start on the planning process for a few weeks. The infograph below will give you a high level overview of the typical timeline but for additional details see our blog post "How Long Does a Basement Finish Take to Complete."
3) What is your basement wish list?
Determine what are your must haves and your nice to haves. If your budget restricts what can be done this will make it easy for the contractor to prioritize your wish list. Some items that may be nice to have but could increase costs are the following:
- Tile shower vs. fiberglass shower
- Hard surface flooring vs. carpet
- Bar 🙂 vs. no bar 🙁
- Built in cabinetry vs. no built ins
Meeting with Contractors
This is one of the most important steps in this entire guide. Selecting a reputable contractor is critical to your projects overall success.
In this chapter we will outline the steps to take to invite the RIGHT contractors into your home.
As mentioned, this step is soooo critical in ensuring a smooth and successful remodel. You know what they say - "you get what you pay for." In this section we will cover a number of topics in finding and finalizing the contractor you want to work with:
- How to find the right contractor
- Have a successful in home meeting
- Review initial proposals
- Determine the contractor you want to work with
1) How to find the right contractor
Luckily, we've done some previous leg work on this topic. You can check out our detailed blog post on this topic here. To get the gist of it check out the info-graph below.
2) Having a successful in home meeting
To ensure a successful in home meeting 4 things need to happen...
- A no brainer - Review the work to be done with the contractor.
- Discuss your wish list
- What are your must have and your nice to haves. Do you have pictures you've saved from Houzz, Pinterest, etc. to show the contractor? Inspiration pictures will help the contractor understand the look and feel you are going for and thus help create a more realistic proposal for your project.
- Discuss your budget
- This is an item most homeowners do not want to do at the initial meeting. However, if shared, the contractor can give you an initial sense if the project is within your budget or not. If the work you are wanting done is outside your budget the contractor can help ground you on other potential options to get the project within your budget.
- NOTE: If you are dealing with a reputable contractor you should not be afraid to share your budget.
- Understand the contractors process
- We would LOVE to say every contractor will follow our guide but that isn't realistic. Therefore, you should ask the contractors what their process is. Some questions to consider are...
- When should I expect to receive that estimate?
- If we decide to move forward, what would happen next?
- Do you offer design services?
- Will you help us select materials to be used in the project?
- Do you offer 3D modeling?
- Are you licensed and insured?
- Should we decide to move forward what are your payment terms?
- We would LOVE to say every contractor will follow our guide but that isn't realistic. Therefore, you should ask the contractors what their process is. Some questions to consider are...
3) Review initial proposals
Once you receive the proposals you may be overwhelmed. Likely, each proposal will be in a different format and each will offer varying levels of detail.
Needless to say - it may be difficult to compare apples to apples on the proposals you receive.
BUT, it is very important to take the time to comprehend each of the proposals. Ensure you don't just look at the total price. Look at the details of what each proposal is outlining for the work. One contractor may have included allowances that are larger than another contractors. This may make your preferred contractor seem higher priced or the other contractor may have low balled their allowances to make their total price look better.
This is a HUGE watch out for.
Ultimately, what you are going to pay for some materials will depend on what you pick out during design. YOU can control how much is spent on allowances. Try to split out the material allowances from the rest of the estimate to begin to get a better comparison on the numbers.
And remember - in life the general rule may ring true, "you get what you pay for." If one contractor comes in considerably lower than everyone else AND they have not yet established a reputation, it is probably a red flag.
4) Select your contractor
If you've followed the steps outlined above you should have been able to weed out a contractor or two. Whether it was due to price, reputation, personality, etc. All of them are perfectly legitimate reasons to make a cut.
One final rule before making your contractor selection - Maybe the most overlooked quality of working with a contractor is their personality or soft skills. Some personalities just don't mix and the last thing you want is to choose a contractor that doesn't seem like a good fit - that will only make for a few very long and stressful months.
We ALWAYS recommend bringing in professional help to design your space. This includes layouts of the rooms themselves but also in helping with material selections and 3D Designs.
The absolute last thing you want to do is spend money on a reputable contractor only to have the design fall flat on its face!
Finding a Designer
Choosing a designer is a critical step when transforming your basement. The right designer will bring your ideas to life. Professional design could also introduce you to concepts that you hadn’t previously considered.
When working on a remodeling project it’s common to come in wanting to fly by the seat of your pants. We get it. Finishing your basement is exciting. It would be nice to think that your budget and time are both unlimited. The reality is that they aren’t. There are limits to how much you can spend, and nobody wants to be stuck on a project for months without seeing progress.
A designer will maximize your basement’s potential. Professionals can easily see opportunities to create space and effective storage. You may know what you will use your basement for, but you might get stuck when it comes to achieving your vision.
There are a number of simple steps to follow which will help you to find the perfect designer for the job.
1) Look for Interesting Designs
The best designers think outside of the box. Sure, the amount of room in your basement is finite, but it’s all about how you use it. Designers that are able to create innovative layouts will be perfect for your basement finishing project. Ask to see previous work to get a feel for the designer.
2) Craftsmanship is Everything
Innovative designs are critical, but how about craftsmanship? If you invest in a designer, then you will want the final results to be reflective of the original plans. Designers and contractors work together to make the original vision a reality. Make sure you choose a designer that has a history of seeing their projects through to completion.
3) Versatile Options to Suit Your Unique Sense of Style
Every home is different. What you think is impressive and beautiful might not be quite the same for the next home down the street. You should be offered a broad range of design concepts with variations in style. This will help to inspire you. In many cases, you’ll see interesting designs that you may not have considered.
Experienced designers will start with various unique styles and then narrow down the options based on your feedback. Remember, this is a creative process, and it’s one of the most important steps in your basement finishing.
4) Accommodating Staff
Friendliness, professionalism, and transparency can all go a long way to making your project a success. Work with a designer that is open and communicative. The best professionals will understand that it’s ultimately your vision that they need to bring to life. If you aren’t getting the right vibe from a designer, then it’s worth looking for alternatives. Basement finishing is a significant investment, so make sure you have complete confidence in the professionals that you hire.
5) Client References
References, testimonials, and examples of previous work can all give you confidence in a designer. Don’t be afraid to ask for references if you aren’t quite sure. A designer could display all the right qualities, but they need to be able to show finished examples to really gain your trust.
6) One Stop Basement Finishing Shop
Your designer and finishing contractors could all come from the same company. In fact, in most cases this will make the process easier. It will streamline the workflow and ensure that everyone is on the same page.
Shopping for Materials
So, you’ve found a designer that you’re comfortable with. They have the right credentials and a great reputation in the community. You’ve seen their work and are excited to get started. Next comes the material selection!
Materials can make or break a project. Different materials can bring out different qualities in a design. They can also completely change the look and feel of your basement finishing project.
If you work with a turnkey basement finishing service, then you’ll get assistance with material selection all the way through the design process and into construction. You can also do your own research to find options that you might otherwise have missed.
There are three ways to shop for materials on your project. Each has unique advantages…
1) Shop in Store
This one is a favorite for many homeowners. There’s something special about being able to see and touch the materials. Showrooms may also have mock-up builds that allow you to really see how materials could look in your home.
In store shopping is likely to be the most expensive, but this does come down to the materials that you select. You’ll also need to spend time traveling to different stores and comparing prices.
2) Shop Online
This is another very popular option. Shopping online is convenient because you can do it from anywhere that you have an internet connection. You’ll be able to quickly compare various products at different stores, which is definitely a bonus.
You’ll also get exposure to a broad range of products in a short amount of time. The downside? Doing this can sometimes be overwhelming. You also won’t get to see the products in person, and images don’t always do justice. Online shopping might be cheaper, but this isn’t always the case.
3) Shop Through Your Designer
When working with a turnkey basement finishing service, you could explore material options with your designer and have them ordered and delivered when the contractors come to start the job. There are benefits to working this way. Home remodelers usually have wholesale access to suppliers, so prices could be cheaper.
Designers will know which materials work together, so this overcomes some of the issues with online shopping. Having everything sorted in one bill by one company can eliminate a lot of the stress in the selection process.
Examples of Material Selection for your Basement Finishing
Want to know more about what you’ll need to consider in the material selection process? Here are the most common products and features you’ll choose for basement finishing.
- Electrical components like light fixtures, outlets, and heated floors.
- Plumbing fixtures like faucets, vanities, showers, toilets, and sinks.
- Flooring including carpets, tile floors, hardwood or engineered wood floors, bathroom flooring etc.
- Wall tiles for kitchens and bathrooms.
- Wall and ceiling paint colors.
- Finishing trim including molding, mirrors and small fixtures.
- Cabinets and countertops.
- Doors and windows.
- Insulation types, including bats and foam insulation.
- HVAC systems and other large appliances.
- Minor electrics like bathroom fans.
- Specialist materials like soundproofing for a theater or games room.
There’s no right or wrong way to go through the material selection process. It comes down to your needs and the time that you have available. You could even use a combination of methods, and your designer will be able to provide guidance on this step.
Before we move on to finalizing your contract, let’s not forget about 3D designs!
3D modeled basement designs will allow you to visualize exactly what your basement will look like upon project completion. Colors, materials, fixtures, and more can be accurately represented in a 3D model.
If you aren’t offered a 3D design service, then you’re not working with the right designer. This technology is essential to finalizing a contract after the design stage.
You’re ready to go, but there’s one more thing to take care of – the contract.
Everything up to this point will be in vain if you can’t agree on the contract. Your contract will outline the work that is being performed, who will perform it, the final cost, and the payment terms.
To protect homeowners, remodeling companies don’t ask for the complete payment up front. Instead, you’ll usually work with a deposit and then make payments based on agreed intervals. Sometimes unexpected costs can come up, and the contract also needs to cover these.
Here’s all you need to know about final cost and payment terms.
Basics of a Basement Finishing Contract
In construction, a contract is about more than just legal protection for both parties. It states an agreement in principal, and goes into detail regarding contractors, subcontractors, project management, cost, and billing.
Having everything in writing can give you peace of mind. You can have an attorney assist with the contract process, and this is recommended if you don’t have experience in reading or preparing contracts for large home projects.
Your remodeling company will typically write a contract based on their own experience. Again, it’s usually recommended to have an attorney look over the contract if you have any concerns.
- A basement finishing contract should include a procedure for any changes that might be made. This covers any time that the work doesn’t go ahead as originally planned. This could also include scheduling change orders, cost changes, or physical work that might need to be performed.
- Approximate project dates should be outlined in the contract. Although it would be great if every remodeling project went exactly to schedule, this is not always the case. Discuss the approximate start and end dates that can be included in the contract.
- The contract should thoroughly outline all work that will be performed. Materials and products should also be listed. Any demolition work should be itemized.
- Check that your contract includes details for the home remodeler’s liability and workman’s compensation insurance.
- Any warranty provided by the contractor should be outlined in detail. Wording should specifically state what is or is not covered by the warranty.
The total project price is a major component of the contract. This is the price agreed between you and the contractor ahead of signing. Note that this price could change, depending on any unexpected work or setbacks. A procedure for changes should be outlined in the contract as previously mentioned.
On the matter of cost, make sure you look at the itemized components and negotiate where possible. There are also ways to reduce costs before the contract signing, such as in material selection, fittings, and fixtures that will be installed.
One of the most important aspects of a contract is the payment terms that will be set out. There are two key aspects that you need to focus on.
- How the contractor will be paid.
- How often they will be paid.
The first aspect will outline acceptable payment methods. Bank transfers, cheques, credit cards etc. are all commonly accepted. The best contractors will also offer financing payment plans at competitive rates.
How often they will be paid is where things can start to look different to your average contract. Each contract is unique and depends on the terms that you have agreed in advance. Remember, a contract is the legal document that outlines your discussions so far.
Many contracts ask for 10% of the final cost as an initial payment. The final payment is also usually 10%. The remaining 80% is then split throughout the contract period, and the distribution is often negotiable.
In some cases, a contractor may request that you pay more than 10% in the initial payment. This could be used to cover material costs and other items that need to be purchased for your basement finishing.
The exact terms will depend on your unique project. Make sure that you are comfortable with the payment breakdown before you sign. If there is anything that doesn’t look right or that you want to do different, be sure to discuss this with the service provider.
Can You Cancel a Contract Once You Have Signed?
In some states you will have up until midnight on the third day of signing a contract to cancel it. Not every state offers this kind of protection, so check the regulations for your jurisdiction.
Cancelling a remodeling contract within three days is exceedingly rare, and, if you’ve done your homework and followed the process carefully up to this point, there should be no reason for you to go down this path.
Even if you don’t have this legal protection in your state, a notice of right to cancel can still be written into the contract. This could cover you in cases where either party breaks the terms of the contract.
Feeling a little bit of remodeling fever is expected and natural. The best remodeling companies will take steps to mitigate the problem, and there are things that you can do as well. Preparation is key!
Dealing with Remodeling Fever
Before you even start the project, accept that you will deal with some inconvenience. Basement finishing is not nearly as disruptive as a kitchen or whole home remodel, but it can still take its toll if you aren’t mentally prepared.
The first thing to consider is whether you are currently using your basement for anything on a regular basis. If your unfinished basement is mostly used for storage, then the impact on your day to day life won’t be too bad.
Use the following tips to stay sane throughout the project.
1) Designate a room in your home where you can escape the noise and the commotion. This could be a bedroom, a living room, or even your outdoor entertainment area. Sometimes the sounds of construction can become overwhelming and taking yourself out of the situation helps a lot.
2) Try to schedule work for hours that will be least disruptive. For most families, this will be on weekdays during normal business hours.
3) Understand that there will be dust. No matter how careful your contractors are, dust will get into the air and may circulate around your home.
- Regularly check your air conditioner or central air filters and clean dust as necessary. Keep your system turned off whenever possible.
- Keep interior doors closed and seal them if necessary. Foam sealing strips can be used to fill any small gaps between doors and tile or hardwood floors.
- Set a designated entrance for your contractors, and use this entrance for all deliveries of equipment, materials etc.
- Set areas of your home that are off limit for contractors. This may seem obvious, and real professionals will respect your home, but it’s still worth setting the guidelines.
- Cover anything that could be damaged by dust or heavy foot traffic. Ask for a painter’s sheet to be laid down on any hallway or entranceway that contractors may use.
- Electronics like televisions and media equipment can be damaged by microscopic dust in the air. Keep sensitive electronics covered and powered down while contractors are working.
4) Try not to take every minor setback to heart. Material deliveries can be delayed, and vendors may sometimes send the wrong items. Even the best project managers can’t avoid these problems in every case. Understand that it will pass, and you’ll be left with a beautiful basement and more living space. If you have major concerns at any point in the process, raise them directly with the project manager.
Remodeling is a real adventure. You can take peace of mind from knowing that a basement finishing project is typically less disruptive than work in other areas of the home. Keep in communication with the project manager, take steps to minimize issues that could trigger remodeling fever, and try to keep a cool head throughout the process.
Change Orders Throughout the Project
Even with the very best planning and design, some things could change while the project is underway. You may want to ask for an aspect of your remodel to be altered during the project. In some cases, the contractor may request a change order due to unforeseen circumstances.
Whatever the scenario is, understand that not everything will go exactly to plan. This is why a change order process is so important in your contract!
Because you won’t always be able to avoid change orders, learn how to deal with them instead.
Get the Planning Right
We’ve discussed planning and design, but it’s important to really get on board with this part of the process. Make sure you get all detailed plans and specifications before work begins. Ensure that your contract is clear and that it doesn’t leave anything open to interpretation.
Homeowners who end up with nightmare remodeling projects are usually those who rush through the planning phase. Every decision you make before the work begins could help to prevent change orders from being raised.
Don’t Initiate Changes
No matter how tempted you are, don’t request changes after work has begun. Change orders should only be used for unforeseen setbacks, problems with suppliers, or anything else that could not reasonably be planned for.
If you decide to add just one more thing to the project, you’ll end up blowing your budget out and going over the expected timeframe.
Don’t Let Contractors Recommend Unnecessary Changes
Some contractors will try to upsell while work is already underway. Upselling is any proposed change order that is not necessary. E.g., repairing undetected water damage before installing a floor would be a valid change order. Ordering more expensive materials that the contractor recommends on the job would not be valid.
The best home remodeling contractors won’t try to upsell you while work is underway, so you could avoid this simply by taking the time to vet and choose a reliable contractor.
What if a Change Order Can’t Be Avoided?
As mentioned, things don’t always go to plan. If there is a valid reason for a change order to be raised, then make sure that it is fully documented. It should be itemized in line with the details set out in your contract.
Change orders should include:
- The date of the order.
- A detailed description of the work that will be performed.
- Who will perform the work.
- Why the work is needed.
- How long it will take.
- Whether the work will be covered in the contract price or billed separately.
An order must be signed by the contractor or project manager submitting it, and it must be signed by you, the homeowner.
File a copy of every change order, along with your original contract. This will protect you in case payment disputes arise when the project is completed.
Project close is a great moment, but don’t let your excitement get the better of you in this critical phase of the project. The final walkthrough is a time to look at all the work in detail. If you don’t pay careful attention now, you could miss some of the finer points and lose the chance to have them addressed under the original contract.
A comprehensive checklist is your best bet to make it through this phase with complete customer satisfaction.
Final Walkthrough Checklist for Your Basement Finishing
This list is by no means exhaustive, as there could be special additions that are unique to your contract. Compare this list with your original remodel plans and add any necessary checkpoints to help you in the walkthrough.
- Check all the electrics in your newly remodeled basement. Your contractor will likely have an outlet tester to help you through this. You could also purchase your own ground fault tester from a hardware store, home store, or online. These typically retail for less than $10.
- Ensure that all light fixtures are working. Turn on and off every light that was installed or modified during the remodel.
- Did you include a bathroom or laundry in your remodel? Check all faucets and leave them running for two minutes. Check both hot and cold water and ensure there is consistent pressure.
- Check underneath sinks and vanities for any leaks while water is running.
- Ensure that toilets are flushing and refilling.
- Open and close all windows and doors in the basement. Check that they operate smoothly and listen for any knocking or grinding.
- Check locks on any locking doors or windows.
- Installed smoke detectors should be tested.
- Check that your HVAC is working If you’ve routed your central air or installed an air conditioning system.
- Appliances installed during the renovation should be tested. Washers, dryers, etc. should all be functioning. If you’ve installed a kitchenette with a stove or any other large appliances, check that these devices are functioning as expected.
- Any cabinets, cupboards etc. should be carefully checked to see they are properly hung. They should open and close smoothly and cabinets should be level.
- Mirrors and wall mounted cabinets in a basement bathroom should be checked to confirm they are level and mounted properly.
- Any vents should be opened and closed to check they are working.
- Flooring is a major part of any remodel or renovation. Check that floors are installed correctly and that there are no gaps in engineered wood or hardwood floors.
- Carpets should be secured at all edges.
- Tiles should all be locked in place with uniform spacing and grout lines. Check for cracks in tiles or other sides of damage.
- Check for general fit and finish of all features in your new basement. This includes molding around floors and ceilings, windows, and doors.
- Check paint, wallpaper, and other surfaces for any scratches or dings that might have occurred during the remodel.
- Light fixtures should be secured with no exposed wiring.
- Make sure that every room in the basement has been cleaned with no dust or debris remaining.
Don’t be afraid to ask for damage to be touched up, or for obvious faults to be remedied. The walkthrough is one of the most important aspects of the entire process. You should never sign off on the project unless you are completely satisfied that the contractor has met all of their obligations.
Remember that warranty that was included in the contract? Project close is a great time to remind yourself of what’s included and what isn’t. Your contractor should be able to talk you through the warranty on the work performed.
Individual warranties for appliances and hardware are typically handled by the vendors or manufacturers. Keep all your receipts filed along with your contract and change orders.
A comprehensive warranty is typically a sign of a good contractor. It shows confidence when a home renovation company can stand behind their work.
At HomeWorx Iowa, you can take advantage of an unmatched warranty that includes:
- 3 Years for Electrical, Plumbing, and HVAC.
- 2 Years for workmanship on details like cabinets, counters, doors, floors, drywall, interior trim, and paint.
- 100% original investment refund if warranty claims cannot be fixed to industry standards.
Your Completed Remodel
From pre-planning to walkthrough and sign off, finishing your basement is an intensive but extremely rewarding project. You’ll benefit from increased living space, higher value, and a more comfortable and appealing home.
With this definitive guide you can understand every step of the remodel, and you’ll now be better prepared to start planning.
You should always try to maximize the space and inherent value of your home. Basement finishing is a long-term investment that will continue to benefit you and your family.
Frequently Asked Questions
You’ve learned all there is to know about finishing your basement. From getting started, to signing a contract, choosing a designer, remodeling, and performing the final walkthrough – you now know every step of the process.
If you need a quick reference or if you still have further questions, then this FAQ will be invaluable. Refer to it before and during your project at any time.
Discover more resources and helpful checklists from the team at HomeWorx Iowa, the leading home remodeling and handyman company in the greater Des Moines area.
https://www.homeworxiowa.com/2019/03/08/home-maintenance-yearly-checklist/ - A complete checklist for maintaining your home in any season.
https://www.homeworxiowa.com/2018/12/20/pre-construction-checklist/ - A pre-construction checklist for remodeling and renovation.
https://www.homeworxiowa.com/2019/03/04/prepare-whole-house-remodel/ - Thinking about a whole home remodel? This guide will help you to prepare.
https://www.homeworxiowa.com/remodeling/ - Complete home remodeling services.
https://www.homeworxiowa.com/remodeling/basement-finishing/ - Gallery of completed basement finishing and a time breakdown of the process.