Red House Remodeling Blog

February 4, 2015
Features of a house to be remodeled

Common Sense Tips for Maximizing Your Basement Finish/Remodel

Basements were once a dark, cobwebby, cold place to store unused items and do laundry. They’ve starred in horror movies as the place where scary things lurk. But basements have come a long way. Sure, some are still nothing more than a carpet remnant and cast off furniture, but most are a highly useful part of the home and necessary for family life. Whether you’re finishing your basement for the first time, or remodeling to make it more attractive and functional, here are some things to consider before you dive in.

Your Basement Should be on Par With the Rest of Your Home  – The phrase “bargain basement” shouldn’t apply to your lower level. You want people to walk down the stairs and say, “Great lower level, let’s hang out!” not “Hmmmm basement. Let’s go upstairs.” Your basement finish should be commensurate with the rest of your home, not a shrine to low quality.

Always Drywall the Ceiling – A drywall ceiling will be slightly higher than a drop ceiling, which makes a big difference in a basement. The look is also much nicer. Will you possibly have to remove drywall at some point to access utilities? Maybe, but drywall is easily repairable. You can also install access panels in strategic areas to avoid having to remove drywall.

Be Strategic With Utilities – The ceiling height in basements is often already relatively low, so why make it even lower with ducts, plumbing, etc? Strategically relocate mechanicals to logical places so that the ceiling height is as high as possible throughout the space.

Basements Don’t Have to be Dark – You want plenty of lighting so that your basement feels less like a dungeon and more like living space. In addition to plenty of recessed lighting, install as many egress windows as possible to maximize natural light.

Fire It Up – Basements can be chillier than the rest of your home and nothing says cozy like a fireplace. Not only can a fireplace make your space warmer, they can be a great design element that complements any style.

Have a Real Budget – The Cost vs. Value Report for 2015 says that the average basement finish in the Des Moines area is around $63,000 for 600 square feet of finished space. This space includes a full bath and wet bar. If someone says they can do yours for far less, remember the phrase “too good to be true.” Always ask for references, and ask those references how much their projects actually ended up costing vs budget.

Finish In Stages – Your basement wish list might include a wet bar or kitchenette, a fireplace, built-in storage, etc, which is great! If you’re struggling to find the budget for all those bells and whistles, keep in mind that many of these can be added later. Have your remodeler design a comprehensive plan for your basement and complete it in stages if necessary.

Open Space Is Important – A lot of basement stairs lead right toward a wall with very little landing space. Make sure you design plenty of open space at the bottom of the stairs for moving in oversized furniture like beds and couches.

Bathrooms Matter – You might be tempted to emit a bath because it will add cost, but don’t. You’ll really appreciate the convenience of a bathroom, as will guests who stay in your basement. Plus, the basement bath will benefit you if you ever sell your home. If it’s not part of your initial budget, at least plan it and finish later.

Don’t Skimp on Storage – Be honest about how large your storage room needs to be. Will you really get rid of all the stuff you say you’ll get rid of? No one has ever said, “I wish I had less storage.”

Solve Problems Sooner Rather Than Later – If you’ve had water in your basement, or you have issues with radon – most homes in Iowa do – take care of those very important issues first. Water problems can be a costly problem if not properly addressed, and why expose your family to radon?

Keep these common sense tips in mind as you begin planning for your basement finish or remodel and you’ll enjoy your investment in your home.


  1. Nathan Johnson May 2, 2016

    My wife and I have lived in our current house for about 6 years and I think we are finally ready to finish our basement. I am excited to add more livable space and to increase the value of the house. I like your tip that the basement should be as nice as the rest of the house. I want to actually use the space for parties and other gatherings so I feel like it is important to make it look good. Thanks for these ideas!

  2. Zequek Estrada July 21, 2016

    I don’t want my basement to resemble something from a horror movie like it does now. I like that tip about making sure to drywall the basement ceiling. I didn’t know that would make a difference for how things turn out.

  3. Kent Howton September 8, 2016

    Great tips! I’ve recently transformed my basement into a mini-office and gym. My kids sometimes play in there too (kid-proof EVERY ROOM in your house!),

  4. Jesse Jamison January 25, 2017

    Great tips! I really want to finish my basement. It will add a lot of space to my home. I don’t know of any water problems, but can’t help but think that it might be a good idea to just have a polished concrete floor there. I can always use area rugs and I won’t have to worry as much about flooding.

  5. Danni Black February 28, 2017

    I really like your tip about adding a fireplace since the basement is usually a colder than the rest of the house. My husband and I have been wanting to renovate our basement for a while now so we will have to keep these tips in mind while we are putting together the design plans. Hopefully, we can find a great contractor to help us with the process, thank you for sharing!

  6. Luke Smith March 9, 2017

    I never knew that a drywall ceiling would be slightly higher than a drop ceiling, but I can see how that would be a really good idea in a basement. I bet that most contractors who have experience in remodeling basements would know tips and tricks like that. That would mean that hiring a competent contractor would be one of your best bets.

  7. John Ferrell March 16, 2017

    I like that you said that we should have the contractor make a plan. If I was going to remodel my basement I would want to know that it would be done professionally. Maybe I should do some research to find a company that I like but is also within my price range.

  8. Troy Blackburn May 2, 2017

    I really like what you said about how a fireplace can make your basement warmer while also adding a sweet design element to your remodel. I’ve heard, too, that having a fireplace in your home can make your home more valuable and have a higher resale value when the time comes to sell your home. My wife has been wanting to finish up our basement and make it a nice living area of our home, and I’ll be sure to remember these great tips so that we can make it a reality.

  9. Ivy Baker May 13, 2017

    I liked that you pointed out that you should finish a basement remodel in stages. That does seem like a good thing to do if you want to actually get things finished. I know that I wouldn’t want to go into my basement because it still is under construction.

  10. Elisa Fritz May 16, 2017

    Nice to read. So useful and informative tips. Many thanks for sharing them all.

  11. Rachel Frampton September 16, 2017

    There is so much you can do with a basement. I have always wanted to turn my basement into a cozy library and wine cellar combo. Just having a nice place with cozy seating and soft lighting for me to relax with a good book and a better cup of wine is my idea of heaven. My only issue with my current basement is that it doesn’t have any electrical outlets. Is that a difficult problem to have remedied?

    • Stephanie Trannel September 18, 2017

      You should consult with an electrician about installing electrical outlets. Keep in mind that if the space is already finished, you may have drywall repair following any electrical work. Make sure to ask the electrician if they will repair or if you will be responsible for the repairs yourself. Good luck!

  12. Jon Thomas December 13, 2019

    Nice write up. When you make a substantial investment to remodel your basement, it’s nice to have peace of mind that it will stay dry and avoid flooding. Proper water drainage is key and finding a gutter cleaning near me will go a long way to ensure your basement stays dry. Also, a backup sump pump is great to have in the event you lose power during a rainstorm.

  13. Tristen Robinson September 8, 2021

    Those remodels are killer. There are so many things you can do, thanks for sharing them!

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