Basement Remodels in Hawaii
Most people think a basement remodel is one of the easiest home remodeling projects to complete. More often than not, it is actually one of the more complex renovations possible.
Basements are typically designed to accommodate work and play, media rooms, storage and craft areas and many other uses. So unless you are looking for a simple, one-room remodel, be prepared to address a number of challenges. What’s more basements often have water and drainage problems, inadequate ceiling heights, old sloping concrete floor slabs, no insulation, and no easy way to connect the plumbing.
Below are some important considerations to keep in mind:
Basement Head Height
Many basements don’t have the adequate floor to ceiling height to create a livable area. Older homes especially have inadequate head height since the space was only ever meant to be used as storage. Also, beware of pipes and ductwork that hang down below the floor structure of the level above the basement. It is often impossible or too expensive to move these.
When measuring head height, measure from the lowest objects on the ceiling. Keep in mind that if ducts and pipes are confined to one area, it may be possible to step the ceiling height so some areas are higher than others.
If the head height is not adequate, the house can be lifted up, or the basement can be dug down. Each of these options has it challenges. Lifting the house means removing items like masonry chimneys and replacing them (usually with a manufactured metal fireplace), or other significant design changes.
Digging the basement down is often chosen to maintain the exterior appearance of the house, but constructing a partial new foundation under an existing foundation is difficult, time consuming, and depending on how it is done, may envelop interior floor space.
Assess Basement Slab Levels
Many older homes had a very poorly constructed concrete slab as the floor. This slab is often so out of level that one side of the basement is several inches higher than the other. Without removing the slab or pouring a topping slab to level it, it will be challenging to construct anything level and square. Think about uneven furniture and spend the money to make the floor level. It’s worth it in the long run, both for aesthetics and structural soundness.
Don’t put money and labor into a basement that is not dry, without first solving the problem.
If the basement has water problems, a drainage system is the best solution. Some of the floor slab is removed around the inside of the basement perimeter and rock and drainage pipe are installed to drain to a sump pump location where the water collects. The sump pump will periodically drain the water to the exterior when necessary.
If water is coming through the center of the slab, it may be necessary to install drainage within that area of the slab as well. It may be tempting to try some of those roll-on waterproofing systems but these won’t provide a lasting solution. It’s important to make a way for the water to drain away easily. Water will take the path of least resistance, so making an easy way for the water to drain is the best way to maintain a dry basement.
Insulate the Basement Walls and Possibly the Ceiling
Most jurisdictions require insulated basement walls for living spaces. Usually this is accomplished by installing 2×4 stud walls and fiberglass batts adjacent to the basement walls.
Keep in mind that wood that is not pressure treated should not be in contact with concrete, so often times the 2×4 walls are held away from the concrete, meaning only the bottom wall plate has to be pressure treated.
Consider using a higher R-value foam insulation instead of fiberglass. Since foam insulation has a higher R-value per inch, you can reduce the thickness of the perimeter insulating walls by around 2″. This means more floor space.
A closed cell foam will act as vapor retarder as well, which will help keep the wall cavity dry. Unfaced fiberglass batts in the ceiling cavity provide extra sound insulation between floor levels.
Assess Plumbing of Basement Bathrooms
Installing a basement bathroom can be a challenge because most basements have a concrete slab as the floor.
Usually this means cutting portions of the slab to install drains for toilets, showers or tubs, and other fixtures. Do this before installing a floor on top of the slab and having a step up to the bathroom. In the end, it will be worth the additional cost. It is also necessary to assess how the house is connected to the sewer, and the elevation of the sewer.
It is easier to install a bathroom when the sewer outlet is below the level where the new basement bathroom drains. If the sewer outlet is above the basement floor (as it often is in older homes) then the sewage will need to be pumped up to the sewer outlet.
Alarms and other safety systems should be installed to alert the occupants when the pump fails or there is a power outage.
A bedroom is a popular item to include in a basement remodel, but they do come with some particular challenges.
Remember to make safety a priority, adding an egress window to allow individuals to escape in case of fire should be a top consideration. Since the size of the window is quite large (it is actually sized to allow a firefighter to gain access to the house with equipment on), the window will often be partially below the exterior surface level, or grade.
To solve this problem, a window-well should be constructed on the exterior of the house to allow access to the window. This also has the added benefit of increasing the level of light in the basement, making it seem more open and connected to the outdoors. There are minimum sizes for egress windows and window wells; following the code is necessary to pass building inspections.
A basement will serve many functions, so it’s important to plan for and consider all the uses. Basements are often used as play areas for children, work areas, sleeping areas, storage areas, exercise areas, and media rooms.
Consider how chosen materials for floors and walls will aid in allowing the space be used for multiple uses. Sound proofing may be a priority, or indeed you may want better acoustics. Some surface areas may be more family friendly and others may be better suited for industrial purposes. Basements are seldom functional for only one activity so be sure you’ve taken all your desires for the space into account.
Also keep in mind that if children will be playing on the floor, a basement floor can be quite cold, so carpet may be a good choice since it usually has a thick insulating pad. If you want a hard surface floor, consider a floating floor of wood or cork (but keep in mind that you often have to test how much moisture is coming through the slab to see if the product will be suitable for your application).
A well designed basement often becomes the preferred ‘hang out space’, so it’s well worth the investment of time and funds. Spending the resources to do it right will improve the functionality of your whole home and can provide long term reinforcement against subtle damages. Making the foundation of your home a priority will pay off big!
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