Unfinished Basement DIY Project – Steps and Cost

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I knew I had an unfinished basement DIY project on the horizon once I decided to build my house from scratch. There are a number of reasons why someone would want to embark on this sort of DIY project. One of those reasons being to save money which I talked about in detail in this article. You can turn around and invest that money in your future by way of 401(k) savings as discussed in this article.

My basement is an unfinished 1400 s/f space with boilers and equipment. If there’s anyone contemplating an unfinished basement DIY project, I’ll walk you through the steps and cost. I decided not to make new videos because there are hundreds of videos out there on each step below. However, I didn’t find an instruction or video that lays out the chronological order of the steps involved therefore I’ve decided to focus my attention on that. I’ll also provide a video link to each step.

1. Obtain the Proper Permits for Unfinished Basement DIY Project

I had to obtain 2 different permits. The first one was through my county’s department of health. I obtained the permit to certify the construction in the basement as meeting the local health code. Precisely, they needed to make sure that my current sewage system has the capacity to support the number of bedrooms. For instance, based on the current sewage capacity, by code, I couldn’t add any additional bedrooms. Doing so would bring my house out of compliance. The work around was creating a “sturdy” instead of an additional bedroom. A sturdy is basically a bedroom without a closet. The second permit was an approval by the county for the work being done. It requires a drawing of the proposed alterations.

Total Cost: $320

2. Frame the basement

This is the first construction phase of the project after obtaining the proper permits. You have to make certain decisions when framing the basement. One of those decisions is, what type of studs? 2 x 4 or 2 x 6 studs? I prefer 2 x 4 for 2 reasons. The first reason is because 2 x 4 cost less than 2 x 6. (The cost adds up). The second reason is because 2 x 4 help maximize the space better. They eat less into the basement space (Those inches add up).

The type of spacing between studs is another decision that has to be made when framing. 16 inches between frames commonly known as “16 on center” is the most common method. However, certain municipalities allow 24 inches between frames when framing basements. I recommend finding out what your local code dictates. There’s an argument for using 24″ on center approach. First argument is affordability. It takes roughly 50% less studs so if cost savings is at the top of your list, this could be an enticing approach. Second argument is, there is a domino effect in a good way. 24 on center means, you end up using less screws, you spend less time cutting studs. Overall, less time and money spent. Here’s a link to how to frame your basement.

Tools : Miter Saw, Tape Measure, Nail Framing Gun, Concrete Drill, Eye Protection, Face Mask, Construction gloves.

Materials: 3″ nails, 150 2 x 4 studs (16 on center). Keep in mind that if you are spacing 24″ on center, you’ll need approximately 2/3 of the studs you would use in comparison to a 16″ on center spacing.

3. Firestop the Frames

Firestopping or Fireblocking is how you slow fire spread pace during a fire outbreak. According to wikipedia, it is a form of passive fire protection that is used to seal around openings and between joints in a fire-resistance-rated wall or floor assembly. This step is the quickest of all the steps. If applicable, keep in mind that it has to be in place before the inspector can pass your framing inspection. Here’s a YouTube Video on how to firestop or fireblock a basement.

Tools : Great Stuff Dispensing Gun

Materials: Great Stuff Pro 24oz Gaps and Cracks insulation Sealant.

4. Install Electrical Rough-Ins and HVAC duct works

I’m a firm believer that, a little bit of self-awareness goes a long way. This is the only step that I hired a professional to handle and for right reasons. Working on a unfinished basement DIY project, I wasn’t comfortable with working with electrical units nor have any experience with running duct work for HVAC. I properly could have explored the idea of doing some of this work myself but it simply wasn’t worth the risk (of getting it wrong) to me. I like to stay on my lane so my advice is if you don’t have prior experience working with either HVAC or electrical components, please hire a professional.

5. Insulate the Wall for your Unfinished Basement DIY Project

The next phase is wall insulation. This process is required to make sure the basement is warm when it’s needed to be warm during cold months and vice versa during hot months. Be sure to obtain the proper insulation to make sure the space is properly insulated. Some of the questions you have to ask is are you insulating a 2 x 6 frame or 2 x 4 frame? What is the distance between your frames? 16 inches or 24 inches? Denim insulation or Fiberglass insulation? Or something else? Here’s a video on how to insulate a basement.

6. Install Drywalls

Installing drywall was by far the most challenging aspect of the project. This isn’t because installing it was difficult per se and it was, it is because I was doing this all by myself!! I highly suggest that you obtain some assistance for this phase of the project especially when installing the ceiling drywall. However, if you are like me and decide to take the risque approach, make sure you stock up on drywall screws. This is in case a bunch of them start to drop (and they will) while you are stuck with one hand holding the ceiling drywall in place. Here’s a video instruction on how to install drywall. It gets even trickier with with installing ceiling drywall with no assistance. This video should hopefully help with that.

7. Plaster and Sand Drywalls

Once you install your drywall, the next phase is to cover up the screws and your joints using “mud”. Once you apply the mud, you have to give it some time usually 24 hours to dry up before sanding the excess. Do not go in thinking there’s nothing to it because there is a lot to this process. Do not make the same mistake I made by underestimating what this step entails. From how you apply the mud, to getting rid of excess mud while still wet, to how you tape the joint, using the proper corner beads. I lost 2 to 3 weeks during this phase due to a lot of rework. Here’s a video instruction on how to properly apply mud once you install your drywall.

8. Primer and Painting of Walls and Ceiling

If you’ve ever painted the wall of a finished house, chances are you didn’t need a primer. This is because when the house was built originally, the drywall was already primered. Primer is basically the foundation layer of paint, applied before the actual paint is applied. Primer enables the actual paint from being absorbed by the drywall. If you are taking on the magnitude of the work I took on which was over 1,000 sf, I highly suggest renting or purchasing an industrial paint sprayer.

Anything short of that is a waste of time and will cause you a lot of frustration. Take it from a guy that went through 6 different spraying guns and still didn’t find the right one. The last one was tolerable (not great) so it doesn’t have my seal of approval therefore I wouldn’t recommend it. I would just recommend that you obtain some reviews, do some research and if it’s cheap, chances are you are getting cheap quality. The “paint spray ninja” in this video seems to be on to something.

9. Install Flooring

This is a major decision point. I went with one thing for certain and was not going to compromise. I wanted my recreation area floor to be Vinyl planks. The simple reason for this is maintenance. I could just imagine hosting a party where folks are coming in and out of the basement and stepping onto my carpet and how quickly the carpet could get ruined. For that sole reason, I opted to have something other than carpet – below grade flooring aka basement flooring.

Interestingly, that went so well that I ended up using Vinyl planks flooring for the remaining completed sections of the basement. My initial thought was to use carpeting in the guess room and the media/theater room. The tack strips is a piece of wood with a bunch of nails attached to it. It gets nailed to the floor to enable it to grip your carpet. It gave me such a hard time that I altered my original course because it kept busting up my floor. I ended up going with Vinyl planks for the entire space. Here’s a video on how to install vinyl planks flooring for basement. If you are fortunate enough to not run into tack strips issues, here’s a video for installing carpet on concrete flooring.

10. Install Doors for your Unfinished Basement DIY Project

Installing doors could be tricky. A few lessons learned along the way that I would like to pass on is, 1). Leveler is your best friend. Don’t eyeball anything during this phase. 2). All doors are not made equally. I had to special order doors for certain areas where “standard” door sizes wouldn’t cut it. This include doors underneath the soffit. Soffit or ladder is the enclosure that covers things like steel beams, duct work etc. which naturally brings down the ceiling height thus the special door. 3). Doors don’t come with knobs. Door knobs have to be purchased so keep that in mind. 4.) Doors often come with primer. This means you have to account for painting them. Here’s a great video on installing pre-hung doors.

11. Install Baseboard Trims, Quarter Rounds and Caulk like a pro.

Installing the baseboard trims is one of the final steps. Some pointers I picked up along the way as is the case with anything that involves cutting is measure twice, cut once. This is especially important here where the baseboard cost a lot more than say a 2 x 4 stud where an error wouldn’t be as costly.

There always seem to be some extra gap after installing the baseboard ultimately prompting the installation of quarter rounds. However, keep in mind that quarter rounds are not required.

Finally, I needed caulking to seal all the edges. This includes the edges where the baseboard trims blends with the drywall. It also include all the edges where the door frames merges with the drywall. Here’s a video on how to install baseboard trims and another one on how to caulk like a pro.

12. Install Light Fixtures and Wall Outlets

This step happened a couple of steps sooner because I needed light as soon as possible. This was because until the electricians came back to complete this step, I had to keep going to my garage circuit break, each time I had to turn on and off the light to my basement via the circuit breaker. The electricians left my basement in this state per code, after completing the rough-in (see step 4) . The dilemma was turning on and off the light to my basement from the garage became unbearable that I was forced to bring the electricians back prematurely to complete the electrical work. I said that to say, this should be the last step (in a perfect world) but that may not always be practical.

Overall Cost and Final Thoughts on Unfinished Basement DIY Project

Overall, I spent $1,200 on tools and $12,400 on equipments for a total of $13,600. The estimates I received from contractors for the same work ranged between $35,000 and $50,000. This suggests a savings of anywhere between $22K and $36to K. The biggest take-away is, a huge portion of the quote given by contractors would have been labor charges.

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