Saturday, November 27, 2010

Avoid finishing your basement for a year after it is built

Today's Ottawa Citizen ran several interesting stories in its Homes section on renovating basements.

As I have remarked before, basements in older homes were often not designed for daily living. That was certainly the case in the home that previously occupied our lot. Even though the basement had been finished, there was no waterproofing around the basement walls, beams and ductwork were hung at only six feet above the floor, and the stairway to the basement was hidden away in the back of the kitchen - hardly making it feel like part of the main living space.

The stories in today's Citizen note the trend toward taller basement walls, fully waterproofed and insulated walls and integrating the basement space into the main living space. Here are some tips the stories offer:
  • If you are buying a newly-built production home, says Bruce Nicol, VP of Tartan Homes, wait at least a year before investing money in the basement. Some settling of a house is inevitable in the first year, and the standard warranty won't cover upgrades if your basement develops problems like water seepage.
  • Don't give too much credence to reality television shows that trumpet low-cost upgrades. If you are adding 1,000 square feet to a house, why would you think you could do it for $15,000. For a good basement upgrade integrated with a home's ovearll flow, be prepared to pony up $50 to $60 per square foot.
  • To ensure a basement reno is successful, it's not smart to scrimp. Make sure you continue all of the finishings downstairs, using the same carpeting and similar moldings.
  • It helps if the ceilings are higher, because the feeling of space is immediate, but paint and lighting can work wonders too. Donna Corey, the owner of Ottawa's KISS Design Group says she has often gone with a dark wall or two because darker colours seem to recede, creating the illusion of more space. Adding wall sconces at a little over six feet so that they will cast light downward can also create the illusion of greater ceiling height.
  • Upgrading your basement likely will not yield a financial payback. According to Jennifer Skuce, president and broker at RE/MAX metro-city realty, the return depends on the style and design of the house. Owners of a smaller home, such as a two bedroom, one bathroom bungalow, can expect a far greater return on their investment if they add a third bedroom, den or family room and a second bathroom in the basement because they will have effectively doubled the size of the home. With decent finishes, a 70% return would not be unreasonable. However, the payback is not nearly so lucrative in a larger two or three storey home. In that case, the return is more likely around 25 to 30%.
Finally, what's hot in the home's coolest area? According to the Citizen, here's what the pros consider to be the top 10 must haves:
  1. Home theatres - with big screens and bigger sound;
  2. Watering holes - not the 1960's rec-room style bar, but full on pub style bars with pull-taps, granite counters and subtle lighting;
  3. Wine cellars - temperature controlled with glass doors;
  4. Full kitchens - reserve the main floor kitchen for show or entertaining (this seems ridiculous to me);
  5. Playrooms - with play structures and toy storage;
  6. Games - foozeball, air hockey, pool etc. To this list I would add space to set up an electric train set and a race track;
  7. Fitness rooms - complete with all your necessary excercise equipment (or you could just go outside);
  8. Home spas - spa-like bathrooms with steam and body jets (for after all that excercise, or after all that buttery popcorn);
  9. Concrete floors - if heated. Also in vogue is ceramic tiles and engineered wood;
  10. Bright colours - accent walls can splash your basement with colour and character.

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