Home Basement Build

Project Timespan

2013-2016, mostly during breaks from school and after work


When my parents decided to buy a plot of land and build a house, I was all on board. I’ve always been someone who has been drawn to construction sites and projects, and though I do not remember having grown up watching Bob the Builder, I nevertheless recall paging through again and again the contents of an oversized construction vehicle picture book. So, as the house was in the process of construction, I hitched a ride to the job site every time my dad drove to visit. I highly recommend this if you get the chance – it’s jolly fun. By the time 2009 rolled around and we finally moved in, the home was, obviously, completed… well, that is, except for the basement, which the builders had left unfinished with concrete flooring and cinderblock walls. That’s the way my parents drew it up, and I didn’t mind one bit.


I didn’t mind because while the space above ground was based on one of those model houses (albeit with considerate input and modification from my parents), they decided to simply hand me the reins to design and plan for everything below ground. Here, in this post, I will walk you through the process of this build.


I decided to make separate posts on the process of the home theater and bar builds, given the bloated length of this post! I will add links to these posts when I finish them.

Designing the Floorplan

There was only two things that our family wanted for sure in the basement – an extra guest bedroom and a place to watch movies. The rest was up to me to fill-in-the-blank. I have no background in architecture or building design, but my task was made simple by the blueprints of each level of the house provided by the builder. Therefore, I used a piece of construction paper and placed the basement blueprint (which provided the silhouette of the external walls and support beams) underneath. Using a few pieces of scotch tape to secure the two papers in place, I was then able to trace out a copy using the basement blueprint.

I wanted to maximize the floorspace and minimize the storage area. I don’t have the specific figures from memory, nor am I inclined to dig up the city regulations right now, but let’s just say that I cut it close… real close. The only two areas of storage came in the form of a small area at the back of the guest closet for the home’s vacuuming system and a space behind the staircase for the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning units.

In total, I was able to squeeze in a library, home theater, guest bedroom, full bathroom, activity, bar, and exercise room – not bad! One aspect of the design that my dad and I went back and forth on was the inclusion of a hallway leading up to the home theater. He wanted to use the space for purposes of the guest bedroom, but I managed to convince him that an arched-ceiling hallway would be very neat. During the course of this post, I will focus on two areas in particular, the home theater and bar, the two of which I found to be the most intriguing areas to design and from which I learned the most while constructing.

City regulations also stipulated a separate diagram for light layouts for each particular room, so I provided that for them using grid paper as a guide for drawing.

Project Overview

There was a logical progression of steps from start to finish – I will indicate those steps in which we hired people to complete.

1. Installing insulation (polystyrene foam, fiberglass batt panels)

2. Framing out the rooms

3. Electricity work [hired an electrician – state law], HVAC, Plumbing

4. Drywall and mudding [hired drywallers]

5. Painting walls and staining

6. Flooring [hired people to do the tiles and carpeting, while we did the laminate planking], Trim work, and painting/installing doors


I honestly don’t know where to start with this one – we made many, many trips to the local big-box stores (mostly Menards and Home Depot). I suppose I will break it down by listing the materials associated with each step I listed above in the project overview. I also attached a link to an Excel sheet, below, with a detailed line-by-line costs. I listed only the materials used for the basement construction, not later decorations that we added such as movie theater chairs. We had on hand some tools before the basement build, namely a (cheap) table saw and a miter saw, along with sundry items such as hammers and drills which I did not include in the spreadsheet.

1. Insulation

We picked up a lot of fiberglass batting and polystyrene foam. We used thick polystyrene (~1.5″) for improved insulation, though this might have been overkill. Looking at the spreadsheet, I didn’t realize how dang expensive this stuff is!



2. Framing

The framing lumber was generally 2″ x 4″ x 10′ or so, but I don’t recall the specific amount of linear feet that we used. I know it must be easily in the thousands. For the home theater, we also used 2″ x 6″ and perhaps even 2″ x 8″ framing lumber.



3. Electricity, Plumbing, and HVAC

Electrical wiring was all completed by a certified electrician as mandated by code. My dad did all of the plumbing and HVAC work, which comprised the bar and bathroom areas. The materials mostly consisted of metal fittings and PVC pipes.


My dad also wired up the movie theater with its various speakers. I’m not sure exactly why the electrician didn’t handle this, but credit goes to my dad for the great sound system we have.



4. Drywall and mudding

Most of the drywall came in 4′ x 8′ sheets that were 1/2″ thick



5. Painting

Brands like Benjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams were a bit on the pricy side, so for the majority of our paints we used Glidden from Home Depot along with a can or two of Behr. 



6. Flooring, trim, and doors

We incorporated carpeting for the home theater with professional installation help. The bar area and the bathroom were tiled by a professional, although in hindsight this was a step that probably should have been DIY.



Not counting the door at the top of the stairway, the basement has a total of six doors. We purchased the baseboard and quarter round trim from Menards, and we also picked up a paint sprayer to obtain a more even coverage.



All told, material costs were probably a bit higher than listed within the spreadsheet, as I didn’t include all the items. A major portion of the cost of finishing the basement was hiring professionals to do the electricity, drywall, mudding, and tiling. As a ballpark estimate, electrical work cost ~$5,000 and the combined drywall and mudding set us back ~6,000. The tiling was $1,500. Therefore, in total, we roughly spent $35,000 on the basement including materials and cost of labor. However, as the rule of thumb is one part material cost and two part labor cost, I do think we saved a significant amount by completing most of the basement finishing process ourselves.

Insulation and Framing

I didn’t actually take any photos of the basement before we started, so the first images already have the polystyrene adhered to the concrete walls. We attached the foam with adhesive and then used duct tape to seal the gaps between the boards. We also used this very sticky spray adhesive that expanded when released from the can. Each sheet of polystyrene had dimensions of 4′ x 8′ x 1.5″, though the sheets were not too difficult to move around given the low density of the material. 

We also installed insulation batting between the joists, which was not very difficult but required careful wearing of masks to limit any inhalation of the fiberglass.

There are different approaches to framing walls – some people like to put together sections of bottom plate, studs, and top plate before hoisting up sections in one piece and putting it in place. When we approached framing the basement, we decided to first place the bottom plate and top plate before nailing in each stud connecting the two. A powder-actuated nailer was needed to drive the nail through the wood and into the concrete floor. Obviously, given the enclosed space and gunpowder charge, the noise was quite loud, and we wore earmuffs for protection. We used a plumb-bob to establish a straight vertical line from the top plate to the bottom plate, and then we nailed the top plate in place. When I say nailed, I should note that for the entirety of the framing, we used hammers and nails – there was no pneumatic tool involved; my dad felt that an air gun would be too dangerous, but the large bruise over my left fingernail from when I hit it with a hammer begs to differ! 


The only table saw we had at the time was an old, cheap, poorly made one we had purchased from Menards a number of years ago. I did a most of the cutting for the framing myself. I had no crosscut sled made at that time, so I relied solely on the table saw’s included miter gauge. It was pretty sketchy process, as I didn’t have a sawhorse to balance the other end of the stud. Each stud was separated from the next by 16″ per normal spacing.


The most challenging aspect of the framing was building around the duct space. I decided to frame out two columns around the support beams while insetting the ceiling to accommodate the H-beam that ran the along the long length of the basement. As seen from the last image, above, sometimes this involved non-professional framing techniques.

Panorama of the Basement

Electricity, HVAC, Plumbing, Drywall, and Mudding

There really is not much of anything to add here. We hired an electrician to stay up on code while my dad completed the plumbing for the bar and bathroom. In the movie theater, my dad actually had to wire the connections for the speakers through the studs, although I’m not sure why the electrician couldn’t have just done that.

We hired professionals to do the drywall mudding, which in hindsight was one of the best ideas we made. They put up the drywall in what seemed like no time at all, and then showed up with these awesome stilts that allowed them to mud over the higher areas with ease. Afterwards, as we asked for a “knockdown” texture, they sprayed the walls with drywall texture before taking a trowel to add the knockdown effect.

Note that we did try to do the mudding ourselves, but it was not that straightforward, as evident in the images below.


Painting actually turned out to be one of the most enjoyable parts of the entire project! I was able to test of the non-Newtonian shear-thinning properties of paint with zeal, though perhaps my shirt took the brunt of my enthusiasm. 


Also, don’t forget to lay down a base layer of primer first. We generally applied two coats of paint, which worked well in terms of coverage, although we also found out that red paint doesn’t good on well at all!

Flooring, Trim, and Doors

We used professional services for the tiling as well as the carpeting. While tiling is something I wish in hindsight we had done ourselves, I think carpeting was best left to the professionals, given the changes in elevation and weird angles in the movie theater. With regards to the flooring, it was a simple application of Pergo interlocking laminate planking system, making for a relatively quick and smooth installation process. 

For the trim, the miter saw came in handy for the 45 degree angle cuts. `We borrowed a friend’s pneumatic finish nailer to tack the baseboard and quarter round trim in place. This process went better than I anticipated. The doors were purchased from the big-box stores – to paint the flooring and doors, we used a spray device.

Final Result

After about three years of hard work, we finally reached the point where I would say the basement was “finished.” Below are a selection of images showcasing the end result! Note that I refrained from adding images of the completed bar area or the home theater, as I will make separate posts about these areas. 


This room has become a cozy little nook. We picked up the bookshelves from when the local Border’s closed down, and the shelves fit perfectly with the dimensions of the room. On one end is situated a small painting station.

Exercise Room

I painted these colors Red and Blue after my alma mater, and I also included a paraphrased quote from the Penn Boathouse. The actual quote is “The will to win is nothing without the will to prepare,” but I forgot the specific line when I stencil-painted in the text.


I am proud of the way the bathroom turned out. The bathroom vanity can be a mini-project post in and of itself, though I documented its construction poorly (i.e. not at all). I didn’t use any plans or references, but sometimes the winging-it method works out! What proved indispensable when constructing the vanity was the Kreg pocket hole jig; not high-end joinery, to be sure, but it has gone a half-decade with no issue! I really like the sink that we bought. I feel that it meshes well with the vanity aesthetic. We even managed to fit a sauna kit in there, which sure feels great after coming home from a cold winter day.

Activity Room

The largest room in the basement is the activity room. Recently, the major activity has been throwing the ball and playing with Sisi, though in the past we used it for table tennis. The framed ocean painting has an odd provenance – it was given away to us from a family friend who moved to another city; this friend got it as a gift from someone who won it at a television gameshow. 

Lessons Learned & Improvements

We made lots and lots of mistakes, so if I make an exhaustive list, I will be exhausted halfway through. So, I will present and expand upon ten different points in which the basement build could have gone more smoothly.


1. Design: keeping it consistent – While I am mostly happy with the way my design of the basement turned out, the one change I would like to make, if I could wind time back, would have been to carry the arched hallway design into other areas of the basement. Specifically, I would replace the two normal doorways with arched doorways: that of the library/activity room and the exercise room/activity room. I should note that we also have arches on the ground floor, so this design modification would match in this regard as well.


2. Framing: using a pneumatic nail gun – As I mentioned above, I used a simple framing hammer and nails for all of the framing, as my dad thought a pneumatic nail gun would be dangerous to use. However, it would have been a huge timesaver to use a nail gun, and for difficult to reach areas wherein one doesn’t have the angle to hammer, a nail gun can prove to be a game-changer.


3. Framing: using a sawhorse – If OSHA saw the way I used the table saw, they would have flipped a table. After work, I would go down to the basement to cut down 2″ x 4″ studs and hammer them in place. As I only needed to cut perhaps one or two feet from the end, there was a significant overhang torqueing that end down. To compensate, I used a couple of Irwin quick-grip clamps to secure the workpiece to the miter gauge. Yikes! It felt dangerous at the time, and it sounds stupid now. I should have used a sawhorse to prop up one end and a cross-cut sled to provide a more secure place for the workpiece to rest against.


4. Framing: blocking out for standard-sized doors – This one is a bit of a no-brainer in hindsight. When framing, make sure the widths of the doorway matches the width of a standard door! Behind the closet of the guest bedroom, there is a door leading to a small storage area. When we framed this doorway, we made it exceedingly narrow for some inexplicable reason. When it came to installation of the door, we had to actually take a saw to trim down the door width so it would fit!


5. Mudding: hiring a professional – Mudding has a sharp learning curve, and there is nothing worse than putting in the hard work only to have uneven walls with inconsistent transitions. Drywall framing, however, might be worth a shot to DIY, if one rents a drywall lift.


6. Painting: staying away from red – Red has notoriously poor paint coverage, and even with primer and three or four coats of paint, it was still difficult to obtain a uniform color. Next time, perhaps, I would stay away from the color if possible. I also feel that I chose too dark of a shade of brown for the bar area, though that is personal preference, I suppose. 


7. Painting: slowing down to maintain control – Painting is one of those tasks where it pays to take it slow with multiple layers of paint and primer underneath. With textured walls in particular, a sharp line between different colors can be tricky to achieve, though a steady hand and high-quality brush can go a long way.


8. Flooring: using a single contiguous floating system – Writing from five years after the basement was finished, I find myself most irked about this design choice. When we laid down the Pergo laminate flooring, we actually laid it down in three pieces. The library and the exercise rooms are not actually interconnected with the main portion of flooring, which happens to cover the activity room. Therefore, expansion and contraction tends to lead to noticeable gaps forming.


9. Flooring: using room dividers – This point is closely related to point 5. With seasonal changes in temperature and humidity, even laminate flooring has the tendency to expand and contract. There are two sections of the basement in which (junction of bar/activity room and junction of activity room/bathroom) where addition of dividers would cover any gaps that might otherwise form. Additional dividers between the library/activity room and exercise room/activity room can also be considered. We haven’t yet gotten around to doing this yet!


10. Overall: keeping an open mind – They say that battle plans don’t survive contact with the enemy, and this saying holds true for most DIY projects. No matter how well-planned you are, inevitably snags and complications arise. Stay adaptable, learn from your mistakes, and don’t be afraid of hiring the professionals! 


While, generally speaking, basement real estate is worth much less than living space above ground, and that basement renovations don’t typically recoup their value for the home, I think our home basement project was a strong success. By doing most of the work ourselves, we certainly saved considerable amount of cost.


One day down the road, I hope to be able to have the opportunity to tackle another home basement renovation with the confidence (and skill) I have gained from this project!