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Time and Money

The basement has been a huge renovation and keeping track of the budget and timing has been a task in itself.  For the sake of anyone out there planning their own basement renovation, we figured we'd sit you down and have a talk about how much this might cost you and how long it might take.


I've decided there are three big factors to how much a basement renovation will cost: The current condition of your basement, how nicely you're going to finish it, and how much work you're going to do yourself.

The current condition

Is your basement even able to be finished?  Some basements have so many problems with water, have low ceilings overall, or have utilities right in the middle of the space that it's economically unfeasible to make all the changes that would be required just to make the space usable.

Basements that are able to be finished may still have big obstructions hanging down from the ceilings - pipes, HVAC, electrical, supports.  Any of them can be moved... for a price.  Starting with a basement that's relatively obstruction free is going to save you a lot of money.  If your basement has a lot of obstructions you'll need to decide if you're going work around them (and have lower ceilings/bulkheads) or move them to fit nicely in to the ceiling joists.  We chose a combination of using bulkheads in the laundry room and a few in the bathroom and bedroom, but moved a long radiator pipe in the family room area to avoid a bulkhead there.

Another factor is how large your basement is.  I've come across several inexpensive renovations for basements that essentially have one medium sized living room.  That's a great way to add more space to the house and frankly I'm jealous it can be done in a shorter time for less money.  The larger the basement the larger the scope of the renovation.

How nicely you're going to finish it

There's a wide range of finishing options that have vastly different price tags.  I've seen friends and blog acquaintances paint the floor with epoxy paint, spray the ceiling joists white, and put up some drywall to cover the concrete walls to turn a gross basement into something that feels MUCH nicer for only a little bit of work and money.  On the other hand, I've seen basements you would swear were the 1st or second level of a house - I think they call these "conditioned lower levels" instead of "basements" - and they cost a pretty penny.  Between those two options there are several shades of gray - will you add a bathroom or bar where there isn't plumbing?  Will you add new electric?  New lights?  Insulate the walls, excavate down, re-pour concrete or even add in-floor heating?  They all have a price tag.  We tried to land in the shade of gray that considered the safety, longevity and aesthetic aspects of each decision while finding ways to save money in that price range.  We chose to add a bathroom (and the plumbing for it) in our basement, which was a hefty part of the overall cost of the basement.  We didn't excavate anything, but we did need to re-pour some of the concrete and we're planning on adding in-floor heat in just the bathroom.  We added new electric and lights in our basement renovation and ended up extending it to the main level for safety reasons.

How much you're going to do yourself

I figure in the end our basement will have taken around 1200 hours of DIY labor.  If it was done by professionals it would take fewer hours... maybe 600?  Heck, I'll give myself less credit and say they could do it in 400.  If the average price of labor is $50/hour (which I think is conservative) which adds up to $20,000 in labor we'll have saved by doing it ourselves.  That's nothing to write off!  I'll also admit, though, that DIY work vs. professional work goes hand-in-hand with the previous topic "how nicely you're going to finish it".  We did choose to hire out some of the work, but made our choices based on safety (we hired a plumber for the underground plumbing, had everything inspected along the way) and aesthetics (we hired the drywall and mudding/taping out since we knew our DIY work might look like it was our first time and change the entire look of the finished walls.

Our budget

We've always listed out how much our renovations cost on the blog but for some reason we're feeling sheepish about posting the exact numbers for this one - maybe because it's a lot bigger of a number than things like our $700 kitchen reno.  If someone asked either of us in person we would tell them so if you're trying to figure out costs send us an email and you'll tell you more specifics.  For the purpose of things published forever into the blogosphere we'll just say it's in the $10,000-20,000 range.  Here's where the money has gone by category.  Note, this is through drywall and doesn't include trim, built-ins, paint, and flooring yet.


We didn't think drywall would end up being our biggest expense but it's one of the jobs we're hiring out so that category includes labor.  Plus there's just a lot of space to drywall!  I'm happy to see the lowest percents went to demo (we sold salvaged items so the net cost was almost nothing), paying a general contractor an hourly rate to come help with jobs that were out of our comfort zone, permits (which makes me think they're even more worthwhile because they're so cheap relative to the rest of the costs), and tools.  Sometimes we feel like the cost of tools has been really high - I bought a miter saw, framing tools (hammer, squares and levels), a table saw, circular saw, reciprocating saw, a finishing nail gun with compressor, and all the hand tools I needed for plumbing and electrical.  At the time it felt like a big expense but nowI look at is as 5% of the total cost and an even smaller percent of the cost it would have been to hire someone who already owned the tools.  On top of that, now I own the tools so future projects will be cheaper and easier!

We haven't had an official appointment to determine the new value of our house with the remodel, but when we had dinner with our realtor recently she estimated the house value to increase up to $30,000 by the time we've finished the renovation, which made us pretty pleased with our decision to finish the basement, and just enough inspiration to finish it up already!  Ultimately, the real reason we embarked on this project was for a more comfortable bedroom/bathroom for guests, a less formal play room/movie room, and some organized storage, so the increase in house value will only be a bonus for us!

Comments (5) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Good luck with this ambitious project! Can’t wait to see.

  2. Cool, I’m surprised to see electrical so high. Does that number include all the light fixtures?

  3. Good job on your research. Not many homeowners go to these lengths with thier projects.

  4. Hey, where are the updates? What’s up with the basement?

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