basement kitchenette
Photo: Ryan Hulvat
Most basements are little more than a place to cultivate cobwebs and store cans of paint. But fixing up a full-height basement can dramatically increase the usable living space in your house at a far lower cost than adding on.

Although costs vary with the size and complexity of the project, remodeling an existing basement starts at about $20 per square foot, a fraction of what it costs to build an addition or enlarge second-floor space with

dormers. And as we show here, basements can be turned into any one of several living areas. That explains why builders like Rick Heim, a Boston-area contractor, won't even use the "B" word. To Heim and like-minded contractors getting on the bandwagon, a basement is a "finished lower level."

Changing a concrete dungeon into a inviting living area is a challenge, and not every basement is a good candidate for finishing. Key considerations for conversion include controlling moisture, adding ventilation and light, and finding a way around hanging drain lines, ductwork and wiring. Although you can do some of the work yourself, most of it is best left to an experienced pro.

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