Cost to Finish a Basement

Use this calculator to figure the cost to finish your basement. Get a cost breakdown of materials and labor for each construction task. You can save money by doing the labor for some of the remodeling yourself.

About this calculator

This tool will give you a ballpark estimate of the cost to finish your basement. There are a LOT of variables associated with determining an exact value. This calculator does as good a job as can be expected given a single input variable: square footage. Obviously your cost will be determined on your exact choice of design, number of rooms, type of rooms, number of bathrooms, quality level of materials, who does the work, who manages the work, etc, etc.

Assumptions: The flooring in this calculator is carpet. For hardbood flooring or tile your cost will be higher. The costs estimated here are from finishing your basement using typical materials. If you want high end bathroom fixtures, flooring, etc add another 20% to the bottom line. This estimate includes adding one new full bathroom with rough-in plumbing in place.

Ways to save money finishing your basement:

  1. Be your own general contractor and save 20% right away. It does take a lot of time, but it was worth the savings for me. I recommend that you…1. Read this book to learn the basics of each task 2. Find reputable contractors by using homeadvisor.
  2. Get ‘labor only’ bids and buy the materials yourself. This allows you to use a 10% off coupon at Home Depot or Lowe’s (available on eBay).
  3. Use a cash back credit card when buying materials and save 5%. Here’s two great examples: Discover card (also get a $50 credit when you sign up here) and Capital One (also get a $500 cash bonus when you spend $4500 in the first 3 months – business owners only.)
  4. Be sure to join Rakuten (formerly ebates) before buying anything online to save an additional 1%. These are all small percentages but when taken off potentially very expensive items they really add up.
  5. Rent the tools you need at Home Depot or buy used on craigslist.
  6. Do at least some of the work yourself – everyone can paint.
  7. Read this post to see how to finance the balance of the project cost.
basement living room

Basement Refinishing: Expert tips for a successful project

Most homeowners tend to neglect or overlook the potential of their basement, using it only as an extra storage room. But many homes have basements that are fully capable of being converted into more livable and adaptable space. That adds additional square footage and can significantly enhance your quality of life and the marketability of your home.

Dry Out the Space

To begin, you need a dry basement. Otherwise the space can be an incubator for mold and mildew. Not only can that make your basement smell bad, it can also ruin whatever refinishing work you did and even cause wood rot or potentially serious illness from exposure to toxic molds. There are two types of moisture that can be present in a basement – water accumulating from the inside due to condensation, and water seeping in from outdoors.

How to Test for Moisture

An easy way to test for the moisture’s source is to use some plastic sheeting, like the kind that thick drop clothes are made of, cut into sections about two feet square. You will tape that plastic around the borders so that it won’t leak air and secure a section to the wall and another to the floor of the basement.

Leave the plastic there for a couple of weeks. Then check it for droplets of moisture, the kind of condensation you might find beading up on the outside of a glass of cold lemonade on a summer day. If the droplets collected on the outside of the plastic that means that the moisture is generated from inside your basement. But if they have collected like dew on the inside of the plastic, that means the dampness is coming through the walls or floor from the outside.

Remedy the Dampness Problem First

If the water is coming from an external source such as poor landscape drainage or basement walls that are not properly constructed, that can require extensive preliminary work. In that case you’ll likely need a contractor and a professional evaluation of the problem, plus someone qualified and trained to eliminate the problem. You should address this problem as soon as possible to prevent further damage like rotting wood or flooding, and then return to your basement refinishing project once that issue is cured.

DIY Solutions

But if the moisture is due to a lack of ventilation and inadequate drying on the inside of your basement, that should be an issue that you can address as a DIY project. A dehumidifier can remove lots of water from the atmosphere of your basement to dry it out, and running a dehumidifier in your basement is probably a good investment. You can buy a heavy-duty one for around $200-$250 that can literally remove 3-4 gallons of moisture from the air each day, if necessary.

Cold water running through the basement in plumbing pipes can also create condensation, and as the drops of water collect on the outside of those pipes they make the basement wet. To fix that simply wrap the pipes with inexpensive foam insulation found at your home improvement store. You can apply it without any tools except a knife or pair of scissors to cut it into the lengths desired, and then tape the seams with insulation tape. Insulate the hot water pipes, too, to prevent loss of heat as the water travels through your basement to the upper floors of your house. That will also help to reduce your energy bills.

Choosing a Basement Floor

Most basements have a cement or concrete floor. If it’s level, the cheapest solution is to just use that as your floor, maybe covering it with rugs or a roll of vinyl flooring. If the concrete is not level or smooth enough you can add a thin layer of new concrete on top of it and smooth it with a trowel as you apply it. You can also add pigments to concrete to color it if you want a shade other than basic gray – such as terracotta, beige, or charcoal. Another option is to buy paint made for porches and patios and apply it over a primed water-sealing undercoat. You can find that kind of paint at a home improvement store, starting around $35 a gallon.

With a level, smooth surface you also have tons of other flooring options, based on your decorative scheme and your budget. A relatively inexpensive and easy option is carpet, with a carpet pad beneath it for added comfort and to keep your feet warmer in winter. Peel and stick vinyl tiles are another option, and they come in various styles, colors, and price ranges for any budget.

But one of the best ways to cover a basement floor is with moisture and scratch-resistant floating vinyl planks that are made to look like real wood. Without a closer examination, in fact, most of these products are so realistic that they appear to be real hardwood flooring. You can expect to pay around $5 per square foot, and installation is a DIY project for most people. The flooring will last a long time and is easy to maintain while also being comfortable underfoot and exceptionally handsome. You can usually save a lot on engineered flooring by buying online.

Finishing Basement Walls

If you want to finish the walls on a budget, just use the existing walls, which are probably made of concrete or brick. You can paint them with a product similar to the concrete floor paints mentioned earlier.

Another choice is to apply a stucco surface. Stucco is inexpensive, comes in a few different earth tone colors, and makes a durable an attractive surface. Applying it requires some skill, however, so you may need to pay a masonry contractor to stucco your walls. Otherwise if you mix or apply it incorrectly the surface could crack and deteriorate over time.

One of the most popular and versatile options, however, is to cover the walls with paneling (which is great if you are on a budget), or sheetrock – which is a little more labor intensive but still inexpensive. Both can be done as a DIY project if you are rather handy and know some basic carpentry and sheetrocking skills.

Prepping the Walls for Sheetrock or Paneling
But beforehand you’ll want to prep the brick or masonry walls by building a simple wooden framework against them that you will use to attach the paneling or gypsum board (another name for sheetrock).Do that by attaching 2-inch by 2-inch furring strips to the walls. These are inexpensive and lightweight lengths of wood that look kind of like skinny versions of traditional two-by-fours.

You can attach them to the masonry walls using an appropriate adhesive like Liquid nails, applied with a caulking gun. For added insulation, you may want to spend a few extra dollars and to buy panels of rigid foam insulation that can be glued against the walls between those furring strips. Then attach your sheetrock and paint it or put up your paneling and you’re good to go.

Upgrading the Ceilings

Installing a dropped ceiling is relatively simple, because you first install a lightweight grid of aluminum and then lay the ceiling tiles or panels on top of it. That can hide an ugly ceiling as well as unsightly pipes or ducts. Many building codes require at least seven feet of clearance, and lots of basement do not have that much headroom.

You can still finish your basement, of course, but if the ceilings are already low you may not want to add a dropped ceiling. Instead you can just paint or stain the ceiling to your liking.

Tying it All Together

Be sure to leave enough space around any mechanical units like water heaters so that you can comfortably walk around them to inspect them or repair them, and never install combustible building materials near those units.

For added convenience you may want to put a mini fridge in your basement along with a microwave, and you can illuminate the basement with floor lamps or use track lighting or similar fixtures installed along the ceiling. Decorate to your taste and according to your budget, and you’ll have a new living space that didn’t cost much but can add a lot of value in terms of useful square footage.

Be sure to use the basement cost calculator shown above to give you an idea of the cost involved to finish your basement yourself. The tool breaks down the cost for each of the major tasks involved into labor and materials. You can always save on cost by doing the work yourself.