A finished basement is a quick way to get some extra space in your house without investing in an addition. However, you can't just paint the walls, put down carpet and call it a day. There are several things you need to check on before you can even start planning for your new finished basement.
By turning your basement into a living area (especially if you are adding a bedroom), you will be making additional building codes applicable to the space. Most of these have to do with providing sufficient emergency exits, but there are some places that will also regulate items like ceiling height. Do yourself a favor and check the codes before you start to avoid a nasty surprise later.
A second area you need to be concerned with is your HVAC appliances and water heater. While they are perfectly safe when they are working properly, there is no guarantee that they will continue to work properly. Have them thoroughly inspected before you start work, and include a carbon monoxide detector or two in your budget. It is fine to hide them in a closet, but you need to ensure that there is plenty of space inside to perform maintenance as needed.
Ensure That Your Basement is Completely Waterproofed
Why would you want to invest in furnishings for your basement if it floods all the time? Nothing good comes from basement flooding, and you need to mitigate the risk before investing in your finished basement. There are some DIY systems on the market to help, but the best way to protect your investment is to hire a specialist to come and evaluate your basement.
The initial inspection will look for cracks in your foundation and what waterproofing methods you already have installed. Depending on what measures are already in place, the company might recommend using a sealing coating on the concrete, putting in a sump pump or adding drain tile outside your basement.
Since your sump pump is your strongest defense against heavy rains, this is where you should focus most of your efforts. Consider putting in a battery backup system for your sump, so it can continue to run even if the power goes out. During the heaviest rains, the only way to keep water out of your basement is for the sump to pump the water out of the basement drain tile faster than it is coming in. Flood damage repair can be expensive, and you'll want to avoid flooding at all costs.
Choose Your Building Materials Carefully
Even after waterproofing the space, finished basements have a tendency to be dark and humid. To keep your hard work and money from going to waste, you need to take these factors into account. If you want to use traditional materials like carpet and drywall, let the waterproofing company know and expect to invest extra money in their services. Drywall, in particular, will bread down because of moisture coming through the walls. This means the waterproofing company will need to install extra barriers on the walls to ensure that there is no leaking or condensation gathering on the cement.
You will need at least a couple windows that can double as emergency exits,, but there are no rules that say you have to stop there. Since each window will be smaller, you will need to more windows to get the same effect. Plan on installing a larger number of lights in basement rooms as well, to counteract the lack of natural light.
While finishing a basement is less expensive than building an addition on your house, it is not without its own issues. Planning for these potential problems, as well as working with a contractor with experience in finishing basements, before you start will ensure that your final design is one that you can truly enjoy.