Many clients who come to us for help with renovations are craving more space. The good news is that most Utah homes already have potentially livable space lurking in the basement.
Finishing your basement is a less-expensive and less-invasive alternative to a home addition, and it does not eat up yard space.
With a good architectural design, even shelf basements with low ceilings and small windows, or basements that have already been poorly "finished," can be transformed into wonderful, usable space.
If your basement has never been finished or was not finished properly, the first thing you'll need is a good floor plan. Consider the architectural principle of "flow" or "circulation." How will people get from one space to another? Open floor plans are good, but be sure to delineate space to allow people to easily move from one area to another.
In older homes, furnaces and water heaters are often in the center of the basement, which hinders circulation. Rather than trying to work around these utilities, it may be advisable to move them to a more remote location in the basement.
Moving the stairs may also be necessary to achieve an ideal floor plan. If you alter the stairs in any way, you will be required to bring them up to current building code standards. Remember that you'll need approximately 3 feet by 16 feet of floor space for a safe, usable staircase.
The next principle to consider is natural light. If your basement will become your new home theater or TV room, then you may not care if there is not much natural light. But if you want brighter bedrooms or more comfortable living space, you'll want to bring more light into your basement— and make your basement safer — by adding or enlarging windows.
Safety codes require that each basement bedroom have a window with a lower ledge no more than 44 inches from the floor and at least 5.7 square feet of clear opening space.
In some cases, large window wells can be terraced away from the window with natural stone retaining walls to give the room more light and a feeling of connection with the outside.
There are also options for manufactured window wells with decorative linings and built-in safety ladders or steps to help people escape in case of an emergency. An architect can help you understand further possibilities and safety requirements for basement windows and window wells.
If you want a bathroom in your basement, the easiest place to install one is under an existing bathroom on the main floor. If this location does not work for your basement floor plan, however, drains and sewer connections can be relocated by trenching into the basement's concrete floor.
Finally, if your basement was built with a low ceiling, the technology exists today to lower the basement floor to give you 8 feet (or more) of headroom. This involves removing the existing slab, adding to the foundation of the house and pouring a new floor. As you can imagine, this is not cheap, but it can result in doubling your existing square footage and having modern, airy rooms in the process.
With all of today's renovation options, basements that were once dark and scary can be transformed into highly desirable living spaces giving you the room you crave.
Ann Robinson and Annie Vernon are founding principals of Renovation Design Group, www.renovationdesigngroup.com, a local architectural firm specializing in residential remodeling design.