Underground and Underused

by Aaron Wilson

Let’s face it, basements can be creepy. Campy horror movies don’t send the unsuspecting co-ed down the stairs wielding a flashlight with last decade’s batteries because there’s something warm-n-fuzzy awaiting. Some basements are dusty, dark and disappointedly damp, the perfect backdrop for Hollywood diabolism or the perfect headache for a homeowner. When you’re in the market to change dwellings, maybe you hope it has a basement, maybe you hope it doesn’t.
However, your sub-level doesn’t have to be the household nemesis. There are many ways to transform it from scary to useable. This is good news, especially since basements are often quite spacious, maybe even the entire footprint of the home.
First, prepare a budget. U.S. News and World Report reports that the average cost to renovate a basement is between $30 and $75 per square foot. The broad range is due to the type of materials and how much you plan to do yourself versus hiring a contractor.
Before tackling the fun stuff like décor, check off a few tactical chores. Decide how much you want to renovate. Spend time listing what you want in order of expense, a cost column for do-it-yourself and a column for hiring a contractor, then puzzle together a combination of the two or tweak things to have it all done for you.


1531_PlankDr_After_Web-20 copy
A dry basement is a happy basement. Cassidy Jones, business development manager and lead designer for Slate Creek Builders, says: “Water is the number one enemy to your home. Before you even think about making the basement space enjoyable, find out if there are safety or moisture issues.”
Thankfully the trend nowadays is exposed-everything. When it comes to costly remodels, there is nowhere to execute this better than a basement. Demolition without concerns for reconstruction is something the whole family can enjoy.
Walls ~ Cinderblock or bumpy concrete walls can be painted with waterproof primer before the top coat paint color. Factor in the need for several coats. If your end goal is drywall, this will increase materials and cost but, leaving the original walls with fresh coats of paint goes a long way to improve the overall feel of a space. It’s difficult to hang anything from concrete walls, so if you envision framed art, go the more developed route.
If you need to create “walls” to separate areas, consider heavy curtains, tall bookcases or wood pallets. “I chose pallet wood because it was readily available for free with little work involved to process the pieces,” Ken Williams of Blacksburg offers. He built pallet walls for the backdrop of his home basement bar. “I like the rustic look, and with a basic knowledge of hand and power tools, it was easy to disassemble the pallets and prepare the boards for use.”
Ceiling ~ If there is a dated drop ceiling in place, consider removing it and painting the beams, duct work and pipes a neutral color, lighter if you want to convey openness, darker to feel cozy or have a home theater in mind.
Floor ~ Wall-to-wall carpet, hardwood or tile can trap pre-existing moisture, so begin with treating the concrete floor with an epoxy seal. Professional concrete finishers offer amazing swirls and styles for concrete which are durable and more slip-resistant than many flooring materials. Or you can paint the floor, lay carpet tiles, indoor/outdoor area rugs, foam mat squares or, for the most cover, any floating floor choices like laminate planks.
Fun Stuff ~ Now it’s time to fill your new livable square footage. Some popular ideas include:

• home theater with an indulgently-sized TV and overstuffed recliners
• place to relocate the kids’ video gaming obsession
• “speakeasy” or bar
• simple lounge-y oasis decorated with memorabilia from family travels
• craft space with work tables, shelves, bins
For adventurers, the newly dry, brighter basement can be the “Go Room,” housing everything needed to pick-up and go like camping equipment, bikes, kayaks, life jackets, climbing gear, hiking boots, backpacks and every single piece of your luggage collection.
Out of the immediate sight of visitors, the basement is the perfect place to err on the side of unconventional. Have beloved art pieces or heirlooms that don’t go with anything else? Looking for an excuse to buy a new couch, but the old one is still fine? Really coveting that extra [beer] fridge? The basement can be a fun “catch-all” for items in limbo, guilty pleasures or second-hand knickknacks that you’re kind of embarrassed to love, but do anyway.
Jones candidly concludes: “Honestly, I think the easiest thing is really good lighting, especially since older basements probably have tiny windows and aren’t getting a ton of natural light.” Smart bulbs, wireless switches and a seemingly never-ending trend for string lights puts a lot of creativity in your control.
And for that thrifty DIY-er buried inside each one of us (deeper for some than others), the more we can control with the click of a switch, the better. If only Alexa could install drywall.

A professional contractor may be your first contact to address moisture, structure safety and building code issues. “A lot of new construction homes are built on unfinished basements because it’s great expandable future space,” states Cassidy Jones. “Older homes have sometimes quirky basements, and homeowners don’t really know how to begin. Some staircases do not meet code. In many places [like Blacksburg], homeowners must have two ways of egress for safety. Stairs is one. Finding a second can be hard in older homes.”


Text by Nancy S. Moseley
Photos courtesy of Slate Creek Builders

Nancy S. Moseley is a freelance writer in Blacksburg undergoing her own DIY basement transformation that is taking a painstakingly long time. Eventually being able to tell Alexa to turn on the sparkly new basement string lights to illuminate her sons’ playing Mario Kart that she can’t hear anywhere else in the house … well … it keeps her going.

You may also like

Leave a Comment