Choosing a Basement Contractor

So, you consider remodeling your current house. To build a room addition, you are looking at about $110 to $135 per square foot. Hmm, not much different than buying a new house. Maybe its time to finish your basement. At $32 to $38 per square foot, finishing your basement is an attractive alternative that is quite a bit less expensive than the other options.

Cost effectiveness is not the only benefit to finishing your basement. A finished basement gives your family an additional level of living space, giving you some separation to help enhance privacy (especially advantageous when teenagers want to hang out with their friends and play Nintendo). Having a guest bedroom and bathroom on another level also helps visitors feel more comfortable and lets you retain your privacy. The basement is also the perfect place for specialty rooms, such as home offices, media rooms, wine cellars, darkrooms and all-purpose recreation and entertainment areas for pool tables and Ping-Pong tables.

So now that you are convinced that finishing your basement is the right way to go for your family, you need to define and outline the purpose and goals for your project. Ask yourself, ” what is it you hope to achieve by undertaking this project?”. Determine what you want to do with the space that you have to work with. Prioritize your “needs” and “wants”. Think about what is absolutely essential to help your family function without discomfort. For the family of ten kids above, a third or fourth bathroom would be considered a very critical (“needed”) item. “Wants” would include items like a media center, a wet bar, steam shower, or any items you feel add to your comfort.

You should also give some consideration to things like bookshelves, game and linen closets and storage shelving in the unfinished area. A computer or study center, for instance, may be a necessity for some families and just a nice added bonus for others.

The next step is finding a good contractor who can help make your project a reality. The best way to do that is by referral. Ask your neighbors who finished their basement. Friends and colleagues are also good sources for referrals. A referral, however, should not be considered a “green light” for hiring. For example, a contractor that is very experienced and competent in commercial interiors, may not be the best firm to finish your basement. You should really look for a contractor who specializes in basement finishing.

You may ask, “What about hiring an architect or designer?” If you were building a room addition, the service of an architect would be critical. But for a basement you are much better off finding a basement finishing specialist who can offer sound guidance on how to lay out the basement, has been through the process many times, seen it all, and solved common problems.

For instance, the rough plumbing for the bathroom sometimes does not exist, or has been poorly placed by the original builder and often needs to be relocated to improve the layout. Contractors who have not done many basements can be intimidated by this and sometimes may charge more to achieve a less than optimum layout than you would get with a seasoned basement finisher.

Hiring a Designer

A specialist will also know how to maximize ceiling height and achieve straight lines for soffits and walls by strategically moving plumbing pipes and heat ducts. You want to avoid lots of strange angles and protrusions from things like sprinkler valves, gas lines or water meters. Moving them can go a long way toward making your basement feel less like a basement and more like just another level of the house. Hiring just any plumbers Vancouver will not do. You really want to find a specialist for this job.

Sufficient light is paramount in a basement. You do not want to feel that you are descending into a dark dungeon. Plenty of incandescent recessed lights overcomes the typical lack of natural light found in most basements. Getting expert advice on the amount, type and location of lighting will ensure that your basement is bright, properly illuminated and not Bastille-like.

The key is to do it right the first time. Just ask yourself, “If I don’t take the time to do it right the first time, when and where am I going to find the time and the money to do it over or fix it?” You will not have a successful project by trying to cut corners. Often — especially in the construction business — you get what you pay for.

You should plan on getting estimates from three different contractors. Three is a good number because it gives you some comparison without getting too confusing. The lowest bid does not necessarily indicate the most honest, efficient or competent contractor, however. Low bids may be an indication of a contractor omitting (through error or inexperience) necessary steps, time or resources to complete a task properly. Find out if the price is for a finished product. Ask questions like, “Does this price include carpet?”, “How many lights are you using?”, and “What is the quality of the shower door?”

By contrast, the highest bid is not necessarily an indication of superior quality. Some contractors will size up a homeowner to see if they can afford more. Ask to see their work. Find a contractor with whom you develop a good rapport and some measure of trust. Any reputable contractor won’t hesitate to provide a written agreement and should be willing break down the costs of each piece of the project. If they refuse to itemize costs when you ask, move on to the next contractor.

Once you have selected a contractor and signed a contract, you are ready to get started. If you are like most people, you probably have a ton of stuff already in your basement. You will need to have the entire area cleared so workers can move about unimpeded and to prevent damage to your things (Some contractors, as an incentive to begin the job may offer to do this for you, including hauling off site unwanted items. It is worth inquiring if this service is included in the price) This might seem monumental, but typically you can move most of it to an unfinished area and cover it with plastic.

You will also probably need to provide your contractor with a key to put in a real estate type lock box. This allows the workers to come and go as necessary without having to inconvenience you by being there all the time they are working.

If you selected a good contractor, your project should progress smoothly. However, sometimes things can happen that can slow things down. For instance, those cabinets for your laundry room that you had your heart set on may be back-stocked and unavailable for five weeks. Be sure to pick things out early on and be sure to communicate with your contractor along the way to avoid delays, especially if you have any changes.

Once the project nears its end, it is a good idea to walk around and make a punch list of final items that may have been overlooked or need to be touched up. You may notice an outlet cover missing or some paint needing to be touched up. Be sure to let your contractor know about these so they can be quickly attended to. No matter how good your contractor, every job always has little items that need to be addressed before the project is over. Remember, it is your basement and you will always see more than he does. As long as you do not nit-pick, your contractor will appreciate your pointing out these items so the job can be wrapped up efficiently.

Before you know it, the day will arrive when you will begin to move into your new finished basement. You and your family will enjoy the benefit of additional comfortable living space. By matching the look of the upstairs you will have a seamless transition to another level of your house until the next ten kids come along.