My husband and I live in a very competitive housing area. We tried for 2 years to buy a home. What we quickly realized is that if we wanted a house then we’d have to buy one that needed work. When we finally closed on our 1930s, house there was an endless project “to-do” list in order to get our home the way we wanted it. Our top priorities of course were the bathrooms and the kitchen. Our low priority was the basement. Once I had my son, I realized that the upper part of our house was overrun with baby things, toys, etc. The low priority of the basement project quickly became number one on our “to-do” list list.
The basement was terrifying. It was dark and damp. It had green wood paneling, red linoleum flooring and a weird leather bar smack in the middle of it. The bathroom consisted of a lone toilet in a 3 x 4 foot box.
When I approached my husband about renovating this area – I honestly had NO IDEA was I getting into. In my head we would tear down the wood paneling, put up drywall and get some carpet. We had no experience or business taking on this project.
But as my mom says, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
My husband was a sport at first. Together we popped off the paneling, dismantled the bar and the three walls that surrounded the lone toilet, and ripped down the ceiling. We did have someone come out to check and see if the ceiling and floor materials contained asbestos – and we were in the clear.
After everything was ripped to shreds we realized we made a huge mistake! WE DID NOT KNOW WHAT WE WERE DOING! My husband quickly bailed out on the project and insisted we hire someone to do the rest. I really, really wanted to see this through and that’s when I begged my mom to help me finish…I mean begin, this mega undertaking.
And, I know I keep saying we didn’t know what we were doing. And we didn’t. A lot of our efforts were trial and error. We googled everything, watched You Tube videos and talked out problems and sometimes argued different solutions. But I will say we had experience swinging a hammer, using a miter saw and a nail gun. My mom had experience putting up small areas of drywall (plus taping, mudding and sanding). This is where the “elephant” metaphor comes in. If you can tape, mud and sand one drywall seam – you can do many drywall seams. We were determined to do it and do it well. Even if it took multiple attempts to finally get it right. There were a lot laughs, a lot of screaming, a lot of silence and in the end a lot gratification.
** side note – this basement renovation happened before this blog was a reality. Looking back I have no idea why I took so little pictures of this transformation. So I will do my best to quickly explain this journey, and yes it was a journey. **
First, we decided to replace the windows. Was it a good idea to remove five windows in February with no experience on how to install new ones? Nope. But it needed to be done. Professionally replacing a window was crazy! These windows from Home Depot were inexpensive so we decided to give it a go. Once we removed the old windows we had to build new wood frames in the brick openings. We had to screw 2 x 4s into the brick which was not an easy task. We then had to use shims to make sure the frames were level on all 4 sides. Once that was set we could then install the windows. Basically we just screwed the parameter of the window frames to the wood frames. Then we caulked in between all the cracks and applied a window insulating foam sealant. And there we had it – new windows!
Next, we made a list of the things we wanted in the basement so we could have a loose design plan. Here were the priorities:
- Family Area for a sofa and TV
- Storage (closet for toys and entertainment center)
- An office
- Play area
- A designated laundry area / room
- A half bathroom
Family Room Area
No one really likes spending time in a basement. So our goal was to make this area as comfortable and functional as possible. I wanted to make a “family room” in the basement as my upstairs only had a living room which was a tad more formal.
Home Depot will deliver your wood, drywall, etc for you. This was a load towards the end of the project because I obviously misjudged half of the amount of materials needed (my mom’s biggest pet peeve).
First, we had to frame the basement with 2x4s. We watched a few You Tube videos and decided to put up the studs 16 inches on center (OC) because we also installed installation. We used 4 x 8 foot drywall. When you put up two pieces of drywall next to each other both edges need to be drilled into a stud. Framing 16 inches off center allows for each piece to share part of the 2 inch stud. We also had to install a “top plate” and a “bottom plate” (2x4s that ran parallel to the floor) for the vertical studs to attach to. The “bottom plates” had to then attach to the concrete floor. We used a Ramset HammerShot Low Velocity Powder Actuated Tool and Ramset Powder Fastening Systems 2-1/2-Inch Pins to secure the “bottom plate”.
You will need to either buy or rent a Framing Nailer with Compressor to secure your wood studs. Again, we’re quickly going over this process because we did not document it well enough to thoroughly explain. But we hope this at least give you some sense that you could do this on your own (just google actually step by step instructions).
After the framing was complete. Then came the dreaded drywall process. Again, we did not document this well enough to give step by step instructions (you can start by reading more about how to do it here). All we can say is, we did it. We drywalled and drywalled and drywalled. Then we mudded, and sanded, and mudded and sanded. The cliff-notes to drywall are as follows:
- Attach drywall to wood studs with drywall screws and Cordless Drill
- Tape drywall seams. We used self-adhesive mesh tape and Perfect 90 Joint Tape for outside and inside corners
- Apply thin layers of joint compound to fill screw holes and taped seams.
- Sand joint compound (very lightly and carefully) with hand sander until seams are unnoticed and all drywall pieces look like one flush piece. You may have to do the joint compound application and sanding 3 times to get these desired results.
- There will be a lot of drywall dust during these stages so having a shop vac is recommended.
We painted the basement an off white color (Behr’s Swiss Coffee) to keep the space as light and cheery as possible. We had Home Depot come and install carpet once we finished painting and laying baseboards.
Storage: Toy Closet
There were a lot of heating / AC vents in the basement. Our goal was to hide as many vents as we could so the basement wouldn’t feel like a basement. To accomplish this we were able to hide them in creative places. We needed storage for the endless amount of cars, trucks and legos we were accumulating so building a closet was a necessity. So we killed two birds with one stone by building a closet and hide a vent inside.
Then we framed the side walls of the closet and around the vent. We left an opening so we could install a set of 28 inch double doors.
We installed the double doors, door trim and door handles. Plus added wire shelving inside.
Storage: Built-In Entertainment Center
We wrote a separate blog entry on exactly how to construct these built-ins. So here we’ll just breeze through it. Our goal was to add an entertainment center to a very large 13 foot wall to house the TV, games, puzzles…just more stuff.
We hid the vents in the ceiling by framing them and added drywall to make them look like they were part of the unit.
We used unfinished base kitchen cabinets for the bottom part of the entertainment center. And added a wood “counter top” and built shelving on the right and left side of the unit. Then we caulked around all the seams that connected the entertainment center and the wall so they would look like “built-in”.
We then painted the built-ins with Behr’s Ultra Pure White in high gloss to stand out next to the color on the walls. Then we added the black knobs and cup pulls.
I work from home so having a designated office area was really appealing. There was a portion of the basement that was used as storage and also housed the heating unit. The space was cut off from the rest of the basement so using this space as another room made the most sense.
We opened the existing door opening up so we could install french doors. We liked this idea because we didn’t want to close off another area of the basement. The glass doors would make the space feel bigger plus when working in the office you could still keep an eye on kids.
We also designed the space so we would separate the left side, which would be office, and the right side, which contained the heating unit, with bi-fold doors.
To complete the room (after drywall) we tiled the floor of the office instead of extending the carpet. We liked the look of hardwood but wanted something water resistant and more durable for a basement. We really loved this tile that looked like hardwood.
The other side of the “L” shaped basement was a great area for the kids to play. One because it was a walk-way to the “family room” so keeping that area relatively open was a plus. Second, we installed a closet in that area that would house the toys. Third, there was room under the staircase which we would turn into a play house.
After, (you guessed it) framing, drywall and painting – we installed a new banister, newel post and spindles for the staircase.
We built this adorable cedar playhouse under the stairs. There are more details on how we constructed this play house in a separate blog which you can find, here.
We capped off the lone toilet (to the left in the original basement picture) and moved the bathroom to the right of the laundry room and slightly under the staircase. We had a plumber come and rough in the plumbing for the bathroom sink and new toilet (we do know our limitation and we aren’t well versed in plumbing…yet). Once roughed in we then constructed the wall between the laundry room and bathroom.
We also built a wall that would allow us to add double doors for the laundry room and a single door for the bathroom.
After the sink and toilet installation we finished the drywall and tiledthe floor with the same tile we used in the office.
In the original basement – there was an area for the washer and dryer. We wanted to keep the units in the same spot so we didn’t have to reroute plumbing. But we also wanted to close off the space and make it into a room. We removed the units so we could frame the space, add drywall and tile.
We then installed shiplap (using plywood) which we outline in a separate entry that you can find here.
The Basement Before(s) and After(s)
The final result of the basement by far exceeded my expectations. I am still amazed and shocked with the before(s) and after(s) of each area. I am still in disbelief that we actually renovated it ourselves. When friends and family walk through and comment on how cute the playhouse is, or how they really like the built-ins or admire the laundry room. They are really blown away when I tell them that we did the entire renovation. This basement took months and is held together with a lot of caulk, shims, trim and way more nails than necessary. Although it looks professionally done, we know where the bodies are buried…I mean the shims.
So how do you eat an elephant? One 2×4 at a time, one sheet of drywall at a time, one screw at time, one seam at a time, one curse word at a time.