Basement Finishing Tips

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  • Transcript

    LESLIE: Well, we all need as much storage as we can in our homes or they begin to look cluttered. There’s nothing like the feeling of a place for everything and everything in its place.

    Basement Finishing TipsTOM: Well, for the answers to these issues and more, we turn to Tom Silva, the general contractor TV’s This Old House.

    Welcome, Tom.

    TOM SILVA: Hi, guys. Nice to be here.

    TOM: So, basement renovations can definitely pay off but because they’re below-grade rooms, they have their own sort of special set of challenges, right?

    TOM SILVA: They sure do. And I guess the first thing I want to say is, “Is it safe?” And what I mean by that is is it’s going to meet building codes? Is the ceiling height good? Is the stairway to get you in and out of there safely? What about egress openings, like in a bedroom? If you’re going to make a bedroom there, you’re going to have to have a way out of that bedroom. Not out of the whole basement but out of that bedroom. That house has separate egress entry.

    TOM: So you really have to design with those core structural safety issues first.

    TOM SILVA: Right. And you may want to check with an engineer to make sure everything’s fine down there.

    TOM: Yeah, good point. So, if you are safe and you’re going to start to think about your plan for design, basement spaces are fairly dark. So lighting has to be a key consideration.

    TOM SILVA: Lighting is very key. Getting in natural light is hard in a basement because lots of times, the house is below grade. What I’ve found over the years – we’ve done it a few times in a basement – we’ve actually tricked that by using – putting a window – a full-size window – in a wall but light behind the window.

    TOM: Oh, interesting.

    TOM SILVA: So you think you’re getting natural light but you’re really not.

    TOM: You have to remember to turn the switch off at night, though.

    TOM SILVA: Yeah. Put it on a timer.

    TOM: Now what about insulation? That’s a fairly damp space. You want to be careful about the way you insulate in a space like that. How do you manage the moisture and get insulation in there at the same time?

    TOM SILVA: Well, you have to worry about moisture coming out of that foundation, for example, because concrete is porous. And if it’s not sealed right – so what I would do is if I’m going to use fiberglass insulation, I would nail some polyethylene against the sill and drop it down onto the floor or covering the wall and bring it out onto the floor, set up the wall and then put fiberglass insulation in there. The other option is to put rigid foam up or spray foam.

    TOM: Now, if you put rigid foam, would that go right against the foundation wall?

    TOM SILVA: I put it right against the foundation wall. There’s actually a system that’s called InSoFast where you don’t even need any 2x4s in the wall.

    TOM: OK.

    TOM SILVA: It glues the foam right to the wall and there’s plastic studs in that. And you’re – studded your wall and insulated, all in one application.

    TOM: Wow, that’s great. Now, what about the floor of the basement? You know, we often get calls from folks on the radio show that want to put carpet in the floor. And I always cringe because I feel like that’s a really bad idea because of the moisture issues again.

    TOM SILVA: Yeah, you’ve got to worry about it. If you’re going to put carpet in the basement, it should be a carpet that could be used outdoors: something that can really breathe and withstand any moisture that should occur.

    TOM: Right.

    TOM SILVA: But if you’re going to – if you’d like to put a wood floor down, you want to make sure that you have no moisture coming out of the floor. Again, check it with plastic to make sure nothing collected underneath that poly. Use a vapor retarder or a vapor barrier over the floor before you put whatever you want.

    TOM: And of course, when we’re talking about wood floor, we’re talking about engineered hardwood floor because you can’t use solid hardwood, right?

    TOM SILVA: Yes. No, you don’t want to use a solid hardwood. You could use a vinyl floor. They have the – basically, it’s a photographed floor that’s about an 1/8-inch thick and they stick together.

    TOM: Right.

    TOM SILVA: And that’s its own vapor barrier.

    TOM: Yeah. And those vinyl floors are getting better than ever now.

    TOM SILVA: Oh, they’re beautiful.

    TOM: Really have done a great job with the design.

    So let’s talk, finally, about the wall construction. Now, once you’re studded out, you’ve got to choose what type of wallboard to put up. Standard drywall – well, we always joke that contains mold food because it’s covered with paper.

    TOM SILVA: Oh, yeah.

    TOM: What’s another option?

    TOM SILVA: Well, you can use moisture-resistant drywall. And they actually have an exterior-grade drywall. You’ve seen on commercial buildings the yellow drywall. It goes on the outside of the house and it’s great stuff but it is expensive.

    TOM: Alright. A recurring theme through this entire discussion is moisture. You’ve really got to manage that moisture. How do you know if your moisture is going to be a problem and what do you do about it?

    TOM SILVA: What I like to do is take a piece of polyethylene – a couple of them, 2×2 – tape them to the floor and a couple of them and tape it to different sections of your wall. And then wait a week or so and go down and see if any moisture has collected behind the poly on the wall or on the floor.

    TOM: OK.

    TOM SILVA: If it has, then you need to deal with it on the exterior, maybe, of the house if it’s your foundation. On the floor, you’re definitely going to need some type of a vapor retarder on the floor (inaudible at 0:26:31).

    TOM: Great advice. Tom Silva from TV’s This Old House, thank you so much for stopping by The Money Pit.

    TOM SILVA: Always nice to be here, guys. Good to see you.

    TOM: And This Old House is brought to you on PBS by State Farm. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

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