basement redo on the cheap?

nicole93089September 13, 2008

We're doing a basic update of our 1969 basement. New HVAC, drywall, ceiling, and flooring. Replacing the HVAC and adding vents and return in the cold basement is eating up our budget. We have a reasonable bid for the drywall but we're wondering about the ceiling (w/ lights) and flooring. We currently have hideous 2 x 4 ceiling tiles. I'm assuming using tiles again will be cheaper than drywall. And friends have a new tile ceiling and it actually looks great, so I'm not opposed to it. Am I right about it usually costing less?

And as far as flooring goes, are carpet tiles usually about the same cost as wall to wall? We'd like something soft (i.e. not regular tile). I like the idea of carpet tiles since we have 3 kids and a dog and they are easy to replace (the carpet tiles, not the kids or dog!) or is there another inexpensive option out there? and sadly, but most importantly, could 1 semi-handy woman and her very not-handy husband handle the installation of carpet tiles?


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Your cold-air returns and heat ducts are very wise. You may still want to consider a supplemental heat source. Don't know your location, but in N. Illinois in the spring/fall when the furnace is not called for in the house, the basement gets cool. We put in an electric fireplace with a heater and it handles the need.

As to materials cost, drywall will be less costly than ceiling tiles. Because I'm a DIY'er, can't advise on installation cost. Our ceiling is drywall because we like the look though, as you mention, some of the new drop ceilings look good too.

You will need an electrician for your lighting. Make certain you have it thought out (ie how you plan to use the space(s) for proper lights and switches) in advance because changes after-the-fact can be costly.

Yes, you can easily install carpet tiles yourself. Apparently you have lived in the home for awhile and know the basement to be dry. Personally, I shy away from carpet in a basement and have area rugs over tile. That way in the event of water I can remove the carpets.

The link below shows our basement and possibly some ideas. Good luck.

Here is a link that might be useful: Our Basement

    Bookmark   September 13, 2008 at 11:47AM
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Thanks for the info.! I think the basement will be nice and warm this winter now that we have a vent and a return. Also, when getting ready to pull off the circa 1969 wood paneling, we discovered there is NO insulation between the paneling and the cinder block outside walls! That explains a lot. It's always been cold and damp. So I think with the new HVAC and insulation in new drywall, we should be good this winter.

My ceiling choice will be depend entirely on price. I've people coming tomorrow to estimate the drywall and ceiling costs and I honestly don't care whether it's drywall or new 24 x 24 tiles. I've seen both look nice. But we do need good lighting. thanks for the tip about making sure we know how we're going to use the space in relation to lighting. I do think I want an area to play cards or do puzzles, so we need good lighting there. I figure at least 8 canned lights will suffice (it's a small basement. Just 410 square feet) I'll see what the electrician recommends.

Thanks for the link to your basement pics. They're awesome! and I love the bar especially. Looks like a fun place to be.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2008 at 6:18PM
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It doesn't sound as though you're doing your space on the cheap - just practical for your use, as all of us do.

Insulation will make a difference as will tight walls - hedge your bet though and ask the electrician about an outlet with sufficient amperage to accommodate a portable space heater just in case.

I'm big about lighting to create moods and we have our cans switched in small groups of 2 or 3, on dimmers, so the lighting intensity can be modified. Think about some sconces and maybe a pendant above the game table in addition to the cans. I can't begin to convey how much we utilize ours independently of the cans. Our finished space is around 730 sq. ft. but a portion of that is closets. In the main area we have about 15 cans plus 2 sconces and 5 pendants just to provide some comparative.

I'd be interested in the price outcome of your ceiling - drywall vs. ceiling tiles. I've not noticed a prior post with that comparison as most people have a preference for one or the other in advance.

Thank you for your compliments and I hope you enjoy your finished space as much as we have ours.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2008 at 9:51PM
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One additional consideration about your electricity. That outlet I mentioned for a heater might also be necessary for a dehumidifier during the summer. You speak about the basement having been damp and intention to install carpet for flooring. You'll want to keep the humidity under control as carpet tends to retain moisture.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2008 at 10:03PM
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I would 2nd the additional lighting. Overhead lighting alone tends to be very utilitarian. Sconces, pendants, switched outlets (w/floor lamps or table lamps) make a big diffence.

For climate control, I would upgrade your thermostat to one that permits programming the fan independent of the temperature. You can insulate the basement, but hot air still rises and cold air sinks, within the house. The only way to prevent this is by circulating the air. I use the programmable thermostat to run the fan on the HVAC continously during time periods we're likely to use the basement. Actually, my thermostat has a "circulate" setting that runs the fan 33% of the time when there is no heat or AC load. It levels the temperature throughout the entire house. The basement is probably 2 degrees cooler than the main floor while running the fan on circulate.

good luck

    Bookmark   September 17, 2008 at 1:42PM
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Good tips about the lighting, thanks. I love a well lit space. I'd love sconces and now that you've reminded me, I'll have the electrician do them when he gets to the recessed lights.

And I'll look into the thermostat suggestion. THe new HVAC system was installed on Monday and I don't know all of it's features yet.

I'm waiting on that last estimate with the tile vs. drywall ceiling. This contractor predicts drywall will be much cheaper so we'll see. He also recommended just drywalling over the existing wall panelling since it's in perfect condition and will save money. He said to fully insulate he'd need to reframe the basement walls ($). Seems when the house was built they didn't use full size studs (?), just "strips" or "stripping" which I guess is thinner studs. And with that (and not reframing), they'd have to use very thin foam insulation which according to him is not worth the cost of installing it. What do you think? The basement is cold and musty smelling. It feels damp, but we haven't really had water issues or mold or anything, just that basementy feeling and smell. So I'd like to avoid the reframing, not pay for thin worthless insullation, but have a warm non-damp space. Do you think we'll still have cold mustiness if we don't insulate? Remember we've added a new HVAC vent and return down there and there will be new carpet and drywall. We just got a dehumidifier and will use it in summer. But will we regret just going over the paneling?

What do you think?

    Bookmark   September 19, 2008 at 9:54AM
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I'm going to give you some cautionary advice. Proceed slowly - I'll explain:

The damp and musty odor could simply be from the basement air not having been exchanged. Now that you have the new HVAC, run it, adding heat or AC as necessary - put the fan on constant circulate 24/7. See if the odor disappears. If it does, proceed with your renovation.

Knowing that your home is >30 years old and has had paneling over the walls for a long time, you simply don't know what is behind. And, when your home was built the exterior of the foundation would not have been sprayed with a rubberized membrane like new construction today. There could be some minor seepage about which you are unaware. Take a look at the grade outside away from the foundation. Add some soil to make certain rainwater runs away if there are low spots.

So, if the odor does not dissipate after a few weeks (give it a month), you might want to have a professional check the space for mold. If it is determined that mold is present, you will have cause to remove the existing paneling, correct the problem, frame and insulate. Don't call a mold service right away because they may sell via fear, and won't know anything certain yet either. Let time be your ally.

Now to your existing construction and insulation. I'm with you on drywalling over the paneling UNLESS there is reason to suspect mold behind the paneling. And I agree that a thin piece of insulation isn't worth the effort. It was fairly common at one time to attach furring onto basement walls, then panel - fast and economical but added little comfort. In the event it becomes necessary to remove the paneling, I would recommend studding and insulating the walls to finish the space - you will have more comfort, better access for electricity, etc.

Hope I am not discouraging you - be patient, not over-reactive. I'm sure you want to get the project underway so you can enjoy your expanded space but rather than run up the budget, take it slowly. Hopefully others who may have experiences similar to yours will chime in too

Let me know how it goes.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2008 at 2:01PM
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