Finished vs. Unfinished Basements (2024Guide)
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Finishing a basement adds comfortable living space to any house, increases official square footage, and likely boosts property value. Read more about how a finished basement could benefit your household below.
What Constitutes a Finished Basement?
Any “finished basement” has been upgraded from storage space to a livable area on par with the rest of the house. Unlike an unfinished basement, a finished basement should be fully insulated, waterproof, and just as comfortable and functional as the home’s main floors.
Heating and Cooling Systems
Finished basements have access to HVAC systems, while unfinished basements have inferior or nonexistent climate control. Proper heating and air conditioning make a finished basement comfortable and prevent problems that are common in unfinished basements, such as dampness or excessive cold.
Walls and Flooring
Finished basements mirror the aesthetics of the rest of the house and have fully finished walls complete with drywall, insulation, and paint or wallpaper. That means no exposed studs, pipes, or electrical systems, which are visible in most unfinished basements.
Flooring in a finished basement is a step up from an unfinished basement’s concrete flooring. A finished basement’s flooring could be carpet, tile, vinyl planks, or hardwood.
A finished basement should have a well-constructed and well-lit staircase, often with handrails, that connects the main floor to the basement. Egress windows or walk-out entrances are common in finished basements and may be required by local building codes, particularly if the basement includes an extra bedroom. A finished basement cannot be included in a home’s total square footage without these features.
You must ensure that a finished basement meets all federal, state, and local requirements if you want to advertise a fully finished basement when you sell your house. A licensed real estate agent, home inspector, or contractor can walk you through the upgrades required to transform an unfinished or partially finished basement into a livable space. Contact your local building department for more information.
Building codes spell out requirements for room dimensions, lighting, ventilation, and insulation. Virginia, for example, requires ceilings that are at least seven feet above the finished floor, rooms that are at least 70 square feet, and rooms that have at least one exit. Consider that it could be a significant investment to dig out a basement large enough to have seven-foot ceilings or to excavate to install an exterior door or window in an older home.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Finishing Your Basement
Upgrading your basement space offers several immediate and long-term benefits.
- Comfort: Upgrades make for a more comfortable, versatile, and usable living area than an unfinished or partially finished basement.
- Extra space: Finishing your basement adds square footage for a home office, second living room, spare bedroom, home theater, or game room.
- Resale value: A finished basement increases your home’s value and may make it more attractive to potential buyers.
Planning a finished basement is no small task, and it doesn’t make sense for everyone. Consider the potential drawbacks before splurging on this home improvement project. For instance:
- Housing market: If buyers in your area do not care about having a finished basement, you may not see a good return on investment.
- Maintenance: Increasing the finished square footage and your home’s living area also means more cleaning and maintenance.
- Up-front cost: Basement renovations can be expensive and time-consuming, especially in rainy climates or older homes.
Potential Costs and Added Value
- Asbestos removal: $1,170–$3,050
- Building permits: $1,200–$2,000
- Ceiling: $1,610
- Exterior door: $2,500–$10,000
- Drywall: $1,750
- Flooring: $1,500–$4,500
- Framing: $1,800
- Electrical wiring: $4,000
- Insulation: $700–$2,000
- Interior doors: $360–$1,160 each
- Lighting fixtures: $360 each
- Mold removal: $2,225
- Paint: $1,800
- Repairs: $2,160–$7,735
- Sump pump: $575
- Waterproofing: $4,400
- Windows: $200–$950 each
Cost data in this article was sourced from Angi.
It costs $30–$50 per square foot to finish a basement, according to Rocket Homes, which will amount to a return on investment as high as 75%. This works out to $18,000–$30,000 for a 600-square-foot space with up to $13,500–$22,500 of value added.
Consult a local real estate agent or property appraiser to determine whether finishing your basement is worth the investment. They can provide insight into how much value a finished basement might add to your area. Weigh the cost of hiring a contractor for the entire remodel against tackling a few DIY basement projects.
The additional space a finished basement offers may be worth the investment for your family, even if the space doesn’t always pay for itself in terms of resale value. Having a finished basement may give your home an edge when you’re ready to sell, but it’s important to research the housing market and building codes in your area before making a decision.
FAQ About Finished vs. Unfinished Basements
What are the best features in a finished basement?
The best features in a finished basement depend on your needs and what buyers look for in your area. Here are a few suggestions:
- Built-in shelves
- Egress windows
- Heated floors
- Home gym
- In-law suite
- Open layout
- Rec room
- Recessed lighting
- Storage space
- Wet bar or kitchenette
Do I need permits to finish a basement?
You may need building, plumbing, electrical, and mechanical permits, plus an inspection, to ensure everything is up to code. The specifics of your project will dictate which permits you need.
Do finished basements flood easily?
Basements flood more easily than other areas because they’re the lowest level of the house. Finished basements do not flood more easily than unfinished basements.
Is an unfinished basement livable?
An unfinished basement is not considered a livable space but can be used for storage, laundry, and other activities. If you plan to use your basement as a regular living space, you will likely need to invest in aesthetic and safety upgrades.
Why do people leave basements unfinished?
People may leave their basements unfinished for a variety of reasons:
- Building codes
- Cost savings
- DIY limitations
- Lower maintenance
- Moisture concerns
- Resale considerations
- Storage space
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