Remodeling Your Ugly Basement

Every room presents its own special remodeling challenges, and the basement has more than its share. This is why it’s so important not to cheat your budget here. If you don’t refinish this room with the same like-quality materials as the rest of your home, then it will always remain a “basement” and never become the “lower level” of your dreams. When remodeling your basement, you might need to address one or more of the following problems:

Darkness: Basements generally have fewer and smaller windows than the rest of your home, so don’t skimp on the lighting. Incandescent recessed lights give off a brilliant white light and brighten the room. Additionally, maximize any available natural light either by enlarging basement windows where possible, or by tunneling sunlight from the roof to the basement stairway via a “skylight tube,” a small (10- to 22-inch diameter) tube with a super reflective interior.

Dampness: Your lower level will never be more than a “cellar” until you take care of any moisture problems, whether they are caused by internal forces (condensation from humid air), external forces (poor grading or tiny leaks in the foundation), or a combination of the two. Wrapping pipes in insulation and running a dehumidifier should solve your condensation problems, as does occasionally cracking open a few basement windows when the dehumidifier is turned off.

Low ceilings: To counteract the claustrophobic feeling of low basement ceilings, use horizontal lines that emphasize the room’s length rather than vertical lines that highlight height. For example, setting floor tiles in a diagonal pattern will make the room feel wider. Don’t install a suspended ceiling. They not only visually shorten a room that is already lacking height, they are completely passe. Lastly, hang any artwork slightly lower than you would on other floors of your home.

Ugly support columns, beams, and duct work: Messing with your home’s support system is generally never a good idea. Instead, conceal the worst visual offenders in soffits, walls, or built-in cabinets.

Ugly concrete walls: There are two fixes for this problem and both camps have their fans and detractors: Those who advocate drywall and those who champion prefinished panels.While drywalling a basement is more time-consuming, paneling naysayers say drywall is more attractive and lasts longer. But paneling advocates say that the latest advances in building technology provide almost limitless options for dressing up your basement walls, including real wood mounted on plywood panels, simulated wood grain printed on paper and then fused to plywood panels, solid tongue-and-groove wood panels, and wallpaper panels that have a special clear topcoat.

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