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Remodelling a Basement - Do it Yourself vs. Hiring a Professional Contractor

By Edited May 14, 2015 2 4

With tax time just around the corner, many people are considering funding home improvement projects with their tax returns.  One common project that people use to increase property value is remodelling a basement or create a basement suite.  When remodelling a basement, one of the first things you will need to decide is:
a) Remodel the basement yourself
b) Hire a professional general contractor

Before I get too far into this subject let me start with a bit of background about myself and my decision to write this article.  With fourteen years’ experience in the construction industry, mainly focusing on framing, new home building and renovations; I have seen remodelling jobs across the gamut from exceptionally smooth and well done to utterly disastrous.  I hope that after reading this article, you will have a better understanding of renovations and that you will gain the knowledge necessary to make intelligent basement remodelling decisions.  So without further delay let’s examine what goes into remodelling a basement.

Renovation Plans for Success

Before you start remodelling a basement you obviously need a plan. Take a look at your space and, come up with a general idea of what you would like the area to look like when you are finished--while taking into consideration practical requirements such as the location of existing drains, windows, etc.  For example, if you are adding a family room or bedroom you want to have a window for natural light and safety.  Also, you will want to make sure you place your new bathroom by the existing plumbing rough-ins or, at least close to existing drains.  Otherwise, your budgeted project may quickly exceed your expectations. 

Once you have an idea for your floor plan, start fleshing out your vision of your remodelled basement. Would you like carpeting or hardwood floors?  What kind of lighting would you like?  Where would you like the doorways?  Is your bathroom going to have a shower or a bath tub? By hashing out as many details as possible, this will make it easier to convey your ideas and accurately price the entire project--including labour costs (if using a contractor). 

Before getting a building permit, you need to have a decent idea of what the building code entails to see if your project is even feasible. You need to make sure you have enough height clearance to develop your basement. Windows may need to meet fire code standards for egress. Can your electrical panel handle any extra lights and/or receptacles? These are just a few of things that need to be figured out. Your local permit office will be able to offer guidelines. If you choose to hire a  general contractor they will usually submit a plan for your building permit.

Let’s Hire a General Contractor to Remodel Our Basement.  This sounds complicated! 

If you aren’t competent with tools and materials you really should hire a contractor to do the job for you. A professional renovator will also be able to guide you in regard to building code. Before hiring ANY contractor you need to make sure they can do the entire job.  Most renovation specialists will have various sub trades they hire for all the specific jobs (electrical, plumbing, boarding, etc.)

It is imperative to make sure your contractor is reputable and priced properly. Get several estimates, this will give you an idea of the going price for your job. Always ask for references and check them out. If possible, visit renovation job sites to view their work. Make sure to research any contractor candidates.  If they have been around for a while, check them out online or with the BBB.  In addition, legitimate contractors will have is a tax number and liability insurance. Be sure to inquire if they have these items. 

Always inquire about the renovation company’s terms for payment and review any contract thoroughly before committing. Many renovation companies will ask for a deposit before starting work.  Always make sure you have a paper trail (i.e. pay by check, or certified funds never cash).  Consider negotiating a staggered payment (such as builders use to pay construction contractors). For example, provide the renovation specialist with an initial deposit the day they show up to begin work. Offer partial payments for milestones like completing the framing, electrical or plumbing.

I can renovate our basement!  I’ll do it myself!


Remodelling a Basement(79220)

Ah the old gung-ho spirit! Before going down this road, evaluate whether you have the necessary skills to complete your project. In all honesty, many homeowners remodel their own basement fairly well. Then again, I have seen numerous novice handymen’s attempted renos that frankly were terrible. So, if you go this route, expect a steep learning curve and be prepared for the job to take some time to complete. If you are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with a certain aspect of construction you can always employ a trade to complete that one task and move on.

Make sure to complete any work you do yourself to industry standards. Besides satisfying the building code, this is very important if you are hiring out to other tradespeople. For instance, expecting someone to mud and tape your basement for the standard price when you used 2x2 pieces of dry wall is unrealistic. Building your walls with studs thrown in at random intervals (instead of 16” or 24” centers) will drive a drywaller crazy! 

While renovating, I was frequently called in after someone tried to save a few bucks.  This of course cost them a fair bit of money when I had to go in and redo the job. One example was a property manager that had someone replace all the windows and doors in a small apartment complex. They paid several thousand dollars to have this done (still a low price for that many windows and doors). The problem was almost all of the windows and, doors were put in out of square. The property manager employed me to pull most of the windows and doors and reinstall them so they would close properly.

My point with tell you about this experience is make sure you are competent enough to do that specific part of your renovation. If not it WILL cost you time and money. One last cautionary note on saving money - Do not buy the cheapest building materials. If your “stick on tiles” are 70% off, there may be a very good reason for it.  They may not stick, comes to mind. Selecting a three piece shower set to save yourself a small amount of cash could end up costing you countless hours in extra labour to install it.

Smart Planning + Hard Work = Satisfying Payoff

Whether you decide to hire a contractor or do it yourself, remodelling a basement will add a lot of extra usable space to your home--not to mention increase the value of your property.  The key is remodelling a basement the right way!  Besides, there’s nothing like transforming an area stuffed with random storage boxes into a gorgeous living space for your family. Good luck!



Jan 24, 2012 6:14pm
Great article!! Full of lots of information!
Feb 26, 2012 5:31pm
Good job. It's an intimidating undertaking for most but usually can be done. Great article thumbs up from me.
Feb 26, 2012 6:55pm
Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Hopefully this article point people in the right direction before they start thier renovation project.
Mar 1, 2012 10:25pm
Hehe thanks for stopping by GoldEagles. I have seen a number of very curious things in my years of construction. Cant afford a full 2 X 4? Take 5 pieces of smaller 2x4 and nail them all together! If memory serves this was also a load bearing wall.
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