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Alameda Basement Remodel

Where to Start When Finishing a Basement?

Turning your basement into a comfortable new living or rec space is a great way to extend the square footage and value of your home. But you’ll also want to keep some important considerations in mind. Here are some ideas on where to start when finishing a basement.

where to start when refinishing a basement

Estimates show that finishing a basement can yield up to a 75% return on your investment. That’s nearly on par with kitchen and bathroom remodels. But basement renovations have some unique requirements that don’t necessarily apply to other spaces in your home. Here are a few things to consider when planning your next basement remodel.

Finishing a Basement: Minimum Ceiling Height

basement ceiling height
Photo: Michael Longmire on Unsplash

A key thing to consider when finishing a basement is ceiling height. Many cities have a ceiling height requirement for finished basements. In the Portland area, where we’re based, the minimum height is 6′ 8″. Things like ductwork and beams are allowed to be within 6’ 4” from the floor. That means if you’re basement doesn’t meet that threshold, you have three options:

  1. Underpinning
  2. Benching
  3. Lifting your house


This process basically involves “digging down” into your basement floor in order to get the height your space requires. If your basement has a concrete floor, which it probably does, it is removed, then the ground is excavated deep enough to hit the requirement. Next, your foundation is reinforced by putting in a new one underneath the original, to ensure stability. It’s a complex process, but the foundation of your home is literally at stake, so it’s important that this be done properly. The end result is a lower floor, or a higher ceiling, whichever way you prefer to look at it.


Another option that involves digging down is called “benching.” With this process, rather that lowering the whole basement floor, the interior of it is excavated and a thick ledge is built around the sides of the walls. That reinforces the foundation and maintains its integrity. Only the flooring inside the benched framework is removed and lowered. This can be a cheaper option than underpinning, but it can eliminate some of the square footage in your space. You can use that to your advantage by incorporating that into the design of your finished basement, as extra seating for example.

Lifting your house

The most complex, and usually costly, option when it comes to adding headroom in your basement is lifting your house. This usually involves removing the house from the foundation by inserting steel beams directly beneath the floor joists for support, and employing hydraulic jacks to then lift the house. Once everything stabilized and supported, crews can then form and pour the new foundation.

As you can imagine, there’s much more that goes into lifting a house, but this may be a good option for you if underpinning or benching won’t work for any reason.

Finishing a Basement: Plumbing

finishing a basement: plumbing
Photo: Aron Visuals on Unsplash

Including a bathroom in your finished basement can add significant value. But that may require some additional plumbing, or the relocation of existing plumbing lines.

Drainage is a key consideration to keep in mind. Your contractor should check your existing basement for a plumbing drain that’s deep enough to work with standard gravity-fed toilets.

If they are, a plumber will still need to ensure the flow rate is sufficient to remove waste. If they aren’t deep enough, you may need to remove a section of your basement floor, excavate beneath it in order to create the depth necessary for waste removal. As part of this process, your contractor may recommend an alternative toilet option, such as pressure-assisted. Rather than relying purely on gravity to drain the waste, it uses air pressure to force waste through the pipes.

A plumber will also inspect the pipe size. If it’s not large enough, he or she will need to install bigger ones — typically 3″-4″ for the main sewage stack. Replacing these pipes also typically require some excavation and floor removal, but a professional can usually do it in about a week.

Finishing a Basement: Moisture

basement water damage

When finishing a basement, water issues are often a top concern. Since basements are underground, they can be targets for water seepage and worse — flooding. To check for water infiltration, look for staining along the basement walls. This is called “effluence”.

A common reason for water infiltration is through cracks that can appear in the basement concrete. Over time, this concrete can shrink to create cracks in the foundation, letting water seep through. If these cracks are vertical, they’re less likely to be related to any structural deficiencies. If they’re horizontal, that may be a sign of something more serious.

You can also smell around in your basement. If you notice any musty or moldy odors, that could mean there’s an issue with water coming in — even if there are no visible signs.

Since water seepage can damage your basement’s framing, drywall, baseboards, and any existing flooring like carpet, even minimal amounts of infiltration can be costly — and unhealthy if mold begins to form.

Your contractor can inspect your basement and determine the extent of any water issues that need to be addressed before construction begins.

Finishing a Basement: Access points


For each bedroom or sleeping area you plan to have in your finished basement, you’ll need an egress, or exit route. Typically an egress window is sufficient, but it does have to meet certain measurements.

In the Portland area, the bottom of an egress window’s clear opening cannot be higher than 44 inches above the finished floor. The width of the egress opening must measure at least 20 inches and the height, 24 inches. When open, it must be at least 5.7 square feet in area.

Having multiple egress windows is also something to consider. It will not only make the space safer, it will also allow for more natural light. If there’s a patio or other door attached that can serve as an exit point, that too will usually suffice as an egress. Your contractor can ensure that your basement areas have the required egress points.

Finishing a Basement: Stairs

finishing a basement: stairs

Often, stairs leading down to unfinished basements were often constructed without much thought in mind. Their purpose was utilitarian, not aesthetic, and in many cases, not that functional. Some may be narrow, steep, lacking sufficient headroom or lighting, or a combination of all of those things.

Refinishing your basement gives you the opportunity to update your main stairway access to it. If it’s rickety or lacks a proper railing, rebuilding it can help make sure it’s stable and safe. And that it has sufficient headroom for you to use without having to duck each time you go downstairs.

This is also a good time to adjust the width and slope of the staircase if it’s too narrow and steep. In Portland, new stairways must be at least 36 inches wide from wall to wall. And each step or rise can’t be higher than 8 inches. The treads, the flat surface of each stair you step onto, must be at least 9 inches from front to back. New stairs must have headroom of at least 6 feet
8 inches.

Benefits of finishing a basement

Apart from the return on your investment if you decide to sell your home, finishing a basement can provide a range of other benefits. This space is often overlooked as merely a storage area or place for the laundry machine, but a properly finished basement can mean a new living room for your family, an extra suite for guest or relatives, a rec or game room area, and it can even be a great place for a new home office.

And once the basement is properly finished, it counts towards the total square footage of your home, upping its value and your living space overall.

For more information on how we can help you plan for your next basement remodel, check out this in-depth look into our design/build process.

At Lamont Bros., we have extensive experience finishing and remodeling basements. If you’re thinking about updating your basement space, schedule a conversation with us!