"Go Clean out the Basement!"
Whether it is a clean dry unfinished basement or a dark, damp, moldy space that store old books and holiday ornaments, basements are a hidden treasure for most homeowners. It is, by far, the most cost effective way to add living space to your home. Many basement are relegated to storage or mechanical space and only provide some level of utility or a hassle every few years when it comes time to "clean out the basement". So why does the lowly basement get relegated to this status of dank nuisance instead of glorious living space?
Well, if you have an old home in Vermont (pre-1920), basements were never thought of as living spaces. They were root cellars, storage places, or a necessary place to run the new innovations of indoor plumbing and heating. Then they graduated into dedicated mechanical and utility space for the coal bin, boiler, plumbing and electrical. It wasn't until the 1950's that homes started considering the use of basements as living space. For those of you who grew up in the 1970s and 80' you might remember your or a friends basement playroom/living room with the wood paneling carpeting and a distinct musty odor all the time. Another foray into subterranean living space was the advent of the much maligned split-level ranch. This was a house where half the living space was intentionally below ground. Unfortunately at the time, building science and the materials and techniques to protect these spaces from moisture were in their infancy and not well understood.
Concrete, contrary to popular belief is not waterproof. In fact, it is extremely good at wicking moisture. While it may hold back bulk water, (think a concrete dam) it is very capable of transmitting large volumes of water in the form of evaporating vapor into the building. So concrete in contact with the soil on the outside will transmit that water into the house quite easily - hence the damp, dank basement.
With the advent of better drainage techniques on the exterior of the foundation, waterproofing membranes and coatings, and mitigation techniques, it is now possible to have warm (or cool in the summer) dry living space in your basement. By understanding the building science necessary to produce that environment, your basement can be transformed into, extra recreation space, guest suites, theater rooms, bathrooms, office space, or bedrooms. Because the space already exists it is far more efficient to outfit these spaces than it is to build up or outward to your existing footprint.
Another benefit of basements is their energy efficiency. Because the bulk of the envelope of that space is underground, it is more like trying to heat a space in Atlanta rather than Vermont and requires far less heat input than above ground space. In the summer these spaces often stay cool without air conditioning but even a small amount of air conditioning can make them wonderful cool and dry spaces to escape our increasingly hot and humid summers.
What Can We Do Down There?
Most 2-3 bedroom homes have enough space in their basement to add another bedroom, bathroom and some extra space like a home office or kids play room. Having another bedroom and bathroom in the basement works exceptionally well if you host guests frequently or might have some long term guests who visit for weeks or months at a time. It provides your guests their own space as well as provides you with that very same thing while they are visiting.
Maybe the family is growing and you just need another bedroom and bath. Just to put in a new foundation for an addition usually covers the bulk of the cost of a simple basement remodel. Perhaps you need a man cave to watch the game, a family theater to enjoy movies and TV at home, a party room to host all your friends for gatherings, or a crafting/shop space for the family. They all work in a basement.
Lastly, basements can be sources of income. Depending on your municipality and set up, a basement can become an income apartment that could be long term rental space or short term rental accommodations for Airbnb or VRBO. A well appointed and accessible short term rental could pay for itself in 2-3 years, as well as increase the value of your property.
Bottom line - basements are a great investment in your home. They are usually the fastest return on your investment in Vermont, and they can dramatically change the functionality and enjoyment of your home. But you have to make sure you have a contractor execute the job who knows the building science and techniques to avoid having your investment turn into an uncomfortable health hazard in a year. Using the right products and techniques help ensure that. Allied has specialized in outfitting basements now for almost 10 years with a variety of proven techniques. They are great winter projects and often times between December and May we are involved in one or more basement and kitchen remodels.