How to Make a Basement Livable on a Budget

Peter Chambers

Oct 19, 2022

a partially finished basement where you need to know how to make a basement livable

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While finishing off a basement completely would be a sound long-term investment, offering great returns on your money, it’s certainly not within everyone’s budget. However, leaving large spaces in your home unused isn’t ideal either. You need to know how to make a basement livable right now. 

These tips will help you transform the look and feel of your basement, and most won’t even require permits or a contractor. 

1. Do a Deep Clean

Many people dislike being in the basement because it’s dank and dirty. Spruce up the place with a little TLC. Use a push broom to eliminate debris on the walls, stairs and floor. Use old rags and your favorite cleaner to improve shelves or other basement storage and appliances. 

2. Clear Away Clutter 

Cleaning out some of the clutter is a great way to make a basement more livable. Unfinished basements are excellent for storage but tend to attract plenty of junk and give an excuse to keep things you don’t need. Letting go of the excess will make room for you to enjoy the space. 

3. Deal With Moisture

Moisture in an unfinished basement is bad news but even worse when you’re trying to convert it into a livable space. You’ll want to coat the basement walls with a sealant to prevent further water from getting in. Installing a sump pump is an additional option but at a higher price tag. Finally, run a dehumidifier and empty it regularly to remove excess moisture from the air. 

4. Be Kind to Your Feet

Concrete can be rough on your feet and joints after a while. Do yourself a favor and add some cushion to your basement floor. You can add permanent flooring and install carpeting or vinyl planks if you have room in your budget. 

A cheaper alternative would be to add area rugs in key locations. Another great option is foam floor mats. They fit together like a puzzle and are easy to change out if damaged. They come in many colors and finishes, so your finished product won’t look like a daycare. 

5. Try a Coat of Paint

Paint is an easy and cost-effective way to brighten a space and make it feel complete. Want a finished look on the ceiling without the added expense of a drop in tiles or drywall? Paint all the exposed wood and ductwork the same color. Black is very uniform and can help disguise unsightly distractions. 

Exposed concrete floors and walls would also look much brighter and airier with a coat of light or white paint. You can even paint or stain your basic basement stairs to look more appealing. Ask at your paint or hardware store for the best formulations for your project. The recommendation will change based on the type of surface — wood, concrete, drywall or metal. 

6. Install an Egress Window or Door

Installing an egress window or door may be the most challenging item on our list, but the safety it provides would be well worth the added cost and time. If you’re planning on spending a significant amount of time in your partially finished basement, you’ll want a way to escape quickly in case of fire. A door or large window fulfills that essential function. 

As an added bonus, an egress will also let in more natural light to brighten up an otherwise gloomy basement. 

7. Create Partitions

A partially finished basement is generally large enough to accommodate several different uses. Separate each area with a homemade partition rather than full walls that are expensive and require building permits. You can distinguish a space with tension rods and curtains, movable screens or even palettes.

8. Install Outlets and Lighting

Outlets and lighting are complicated projects you should leave to a professional. While the cost may be higher, they know what they’re doing and will deliver a highly functional end product. Outlets and good lighting will allow you to transform your basement into any type of room you like without the eyesore of multiple extension cords and single lightbulbs with dangle cords. 

9. Remember Storage 

Congratulations! You’ve made much more space in your basement, and it feels much more livable now. However, you likely still need some space for storage. Rather than dumping all your bins and bags in a corner and calling it a day, introduce a more effective solution. 

Basic wood shelving is easy enough to construct and will hold all of your bins in a safer, more accessible and more appealing way. You can also purchase prefabricated shelving, but these are typically more expensive. 

 One Weekend of Work

If you can spare one weekend, you can knock out most of these projects and drastically improve the look and feel of the space. Knowing how to make a basement livable can completely alter the functionality of your entire home. You could add a home office, teen hangout space, children’s play area, craft room or home theater — the possibilities are endless. All it takes are a handful of supplies and some elbow grease. 

One last word of caution. If you don’t already have the skill sets to do the more complicated projects like installing outlets, lighting and egress windows or doors, please call in a professional. We’re all for a good DIY, but certain tasks require more safety and knowledge. 

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