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  • Writer's pictureBill Gagne

Finishing Your Basement: The Who, What, When, Where and Why

The two main reasons people finish their basement are:

  1. To increase the living space of their house

  2. To add income by adding a basement

Over the last 10 years we have finished a lot of basements. With renovation season upon us, we wanted to dig deeper into the who, what, when, where and why of finishing your basement.

We use the term finishing your basement as opposed to renovating your basement because nearly all of our projects are in homes from the late 1990s onward that have completely unfinished basements.

In our area, a conservative estimate would be that 90% of houses built since 1995 had unfinished basements. That’s a lot of living space going unused.

Reason #1: More living space

The main reason these houses have unfinished basements is because finishing the basement is not the home builders forte. Their goal is to get the main parts of the house completed as soon as possible and to deliver the house.

And given that finishing the basement is an additional cost to the home buyer, it’s something that takes a back seat when buying a new home.

But with housing prices sky-rocketing since 2016, reinvesting in a house you already own is something more and more people will focus on.

The overwhelming majority of our clients who finish their basements are young families want to expand their existing living space looking to banish their kids downstairs or hide from their kids. It’s one or the other.

Jokes aside, the unused basement is most often for a rec room, a bathroom and a bedroom or office if the space permits.

The majority of homes built in the late 1990s in our area will have an existing basement bathroom plumbing rough in (drains for sink, toilet and possibily a tub/shower).

Having a bathroom downstairs is great so whoever is downstairs doesn’t have to go upstairs to take care of business. If you have young kids, it can avoid a lot of ‘accidents’.

If there is space for a bedroom downstairs, it makes for a great little guest area for your parents or in-laws when they visit. And having a bathroom downstairs for guests is a nice piece of convenience for them, especially if it has a shower.

Reason #2: Basement apartment

The second most popular reason people finish their basement is to add income with a basement apartment. Given the cost to put in a legal, registered basement apartment, this is a project that we do less of.

Having to install a kitchen, separate or shared laundry and adhere to firecode greatly impact the cost of putting in an apartment versus just finishing your basement with a rec room, bathroom and bedroom.

The difference in price between finishing your basement and installing a basement apartment can be in upwards of $15,000.

(To learn more about basement apartments check out How to plan a basement apartment on our blog)

Secondary Reason: Improving your homes resale value

Certainly, any well planned out renovation will increase the value of your home. Our philosophy is simple; Do something that you find value in and you know, the offshoot is that it increases the value of your home that's a great. The increased value of your home is a side benefit but not the primary goal.

Who knows, you may be in your current home longer than you think. If you renovate for your needs you can be sure you won’t be disappointed in the long run.

Please keep in mind that we are renovation contractors and not real estate professionals. We are not experts in resale value or the real estate business. This is only our humble opinion.

When to finish your basement?

There isn't really a bad time if it's an unfinished space that you're not using. People tend to want to renovate it when they're not in the house as much. So late spring, summer and early fall are good times to finish because you're able to do more things outside of your house.

When you're trapped in your house in the winter, living through a renovation, even if it is finishing your basement, can be stressful because you have people in and out of your house and you're in it all the time.

How long does it take to finish your basement?

How long finishing your basement will take will vary depending on what you're doing and how intense you want to get.

If there's no bathroom in your basement and you're just finishing one big room to make a rec room for the kids with no laundry room, you're probably looking at six to eight weeks.

Adding a bedroom or bathroom won’t add much time to your schedule because it’s just a bit more of the subtasks you are already doing (framing, electrical, drywall, HVAC, flooring, paint, etc)

Once you add a bathroom the project timeline increases. Depending on how much tile work is involved (Flooring, tub or shower) expect to add a couple of weeks to the project because you have added plumbing, a bathroom fan and a heat run as well as the electrical for the bathroom.

For a basement apartment, add another two weeks for adding a kitchen (Plumbing, electrical, venting, cabinets, countertops, appliances, etc) as well as adhering to firecode (fire-rated doors, smoke proofing the utility room, egress window, etc) and potentially adding a laundry.

What are the phases for finishing your basement?

Here are the phases involved in finishing your basement to give you some context as to the work involved.

(If you’re looking for more information on features to include in your basement check out 4 Features for a Better Basement Reno on our blog.)

Permit: As a contractor, we have to get permit drawings done by a certified professional with BCIN number. In our area (Guelph, ON) permit application process takes 10 business days. The fee is based on the square footage so costs vary. You are not supposed to start your project prior to permit being emitted.

Subfloor: Putting in a subfloor is easiest before framing up your perimeter walls and divisions. We use the Dricore subfloor system (2’ x 2’ plywood panels). If you’re handy, this is something to consider doing yourself.

Framing: Layout and put up your perimeter walls, room divisions, closets, etc.

Soundproofing: This involves putting soundproofing insulation in your ceiling joist. This is another opportunity for you to get your hands dirty and save some money. In the past we have used Quietzone insulation but are now putting in Roxul.

Electrical rough in: In this phase, all the wiring is run for your plugs, lights, switches, etc. Be sure to have a conversation with the contractor or the electrician to give them any specific locations for lights or plugs like for a wall mounted TV or a future fireplace.

Plumbing rough in: All drains and water lines are put in place to be ready for when the bathroom is to be finished. If you don’t have an existing rough in and want to add one, this will increase your timeline and your budget.

HVAC rough in: In most basements, all the heat runs and the return air are in the ceiling. For the best results, we recommend dropping them into the wall. Should you be adding a bathroom, laundry and/or kitchen venting of the fan, dryer and range hood is required.

Inspection: Before you throw the drywall up, everything behind it will need to be inspected.

Drywall: I can’t stress this enough, drywall looks simple but it’s HARD to do. If you want your project to look good, pay someone to do this. It’s worth it. This phase is by far the longest because it requires 3 coats of drywall compound, sanding and some touch ups afterwards.

Given it’s a basement project, any dampness will impact drying time. Expect this to be 2 weeks of your project unless your contractor is working around the clock and running a dehumidifier, heater and fans.

Paint: A lot of clients want to undertake their own painting to save on cost. For 3 tips on how to get a better paint job check out our blog.

Flooring: If you’re doing one flooring throughout, such as carpet or vinyl laminate flooring, this could be a one day job. If you’re doing more than one flooring or doing the flooring yourself, it will stretch your schedule a bit.

Plumbing finish: This is where you’re toilet goes in, shower fixtures goes in, vanity gets hooked up and. If you have a kitchen, your kitchen sink and dishwasher get connected. If you have a laundry, you’re oatey box and drain gets connected in this phase as well.

Electrical finish: Be sure to have any lights you are supplying on site for the electrical finish because the electrician will likely only be on site for a day to do lights, plugs and switches. A basement apartment may take a bit more than a day.

HVAC finish: This consists of putting on heat run and return air grills mostly. In some cases, it’s the general contractor and not the HVAC contractor installing these.

Cabinetry: If you’re doing a bathroom, this phase only involves putting in your vanity. If you’re doing an apartment, cabinetry is a lot more extensive and doesn’t include your countertop measures and install or putting in your appliances.

For more details about kitchen timelines, check out our blog post on the Kitchen cabinet and countertop swap.

Doors: This phase is self explanatory, put in your doors.

Trimwork: This subtask involves installing door casing, window-casing and baseboards throughout the basement. This phase also includes filling the nail holes and caulking the seams.

Inspection: If you’ve hired a contractor and followed all the permit requirements, this will be a 10 minute visit. Reminder: Be sure to remember and put the handrail to the basement back on. Inspectors can be a stickler for that one.

Ways to save money finishing your basement if you’re handy

If you are somewhat handy and want to save a bit of money on your renovation here are some things you can do to make your project more cost effective. A couple of evenings on YouTube researching how-to videos and you may be on your way to big savings.

Getting permit: As of April, 2019 City of Guelph has a process whereby they will work with the homeowner to get a proper permit completed. However, this may not be the case in the near future.

Soundproofing: YouTube it. It’s a quick and easy way to improve your project and save some dough along the way or at least get more value from your project.

Subfloor: This one is a little harder and involves more tools than putting in soundproofing. If you or someone you know is willing to help for beer and pizza, installing a subfloor is a nice little project and it will leave you with a sense of accomplishment.

Painting: Do I need to describe this one?

Flooring: This one is up a notch in terms of skill level and may not be for most. You can still save money if you wait for sales by flooring stores. At certain times of year they will have deals on carpet supply and install. You will basically get contractor pricing but saving money is saving money.

Doors: This is advanced DIY type activities. You’ll need more tools and more expertise.

Trimwork: This is a notch below doing doors and just a bit above doing subfloor work. If you’re willing to put in the time, this phase of the project can be very rewarding. Keep in mind, you’ll be looking at your own mistakes so proceed with care.

Not finishing the bathroom right away: In some cases, clients have not fully finished their bathroom in order to stay on budget. We recommend having the plumbing, HVAC and electrical rough ins done along with the drywall at the same time as the bathroom in order to save time and money in the long run.

If you don’t do at least the rough ins along with the rest of the bathroom it may cost you more to go backwards to have them installed after the basement is finished.

DIY Basement finishing package

We offer a DIY basement finishing package that provides a combination of contractor services for those who are DIY inclined to tackle finishing their basement but need to big things done first.

In this package we would complete the framing, do the electrical/plumbing/HVAC rough ins, complete the drywall to make ready for paint and complete the electrical and HVAC finish.

This leaves the rest of the space for the homeowner to complete the painting, flooring, doors and trim work as their time and budget allow.

Securing the permit is a requirement but that responsibility is to be clarified at signature of contract.

Parting Shots

Finishing your basement, either on your own, through a contractor or some combination of the two, is a great way to add living space to the home you already have.

Hopefully, you know more about the process and this can help you with your future projects.

For more information on basement renovations or any other renovation project you may be interested in you can check out our blog at, listen to the SRC Toolbox Podcasts on Apple Podcast and Google Podcast or watch the Speed River Contracting YouTube Channel.

If you’re interested in getting a quote for finishing your basement or any other project, you can reach us by email at or give us a call at 888-212-7015.

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