Building Beautiful Basements
“We spend most of our time down here,” says Mark Caudill. “This is where we watch TV and wind up gathering. It’s also where we entertain when we have people over. Most everything we need is down here.”
The Caudills—Mark, his wife Penny, and their two children, Tyler, 12, and Bailey, 9—practically live in their basement.
“We knew we wanted a basement when we built the house,” Mark says. “I chose a lot that sloped so we could have a walkout basement.” Today, it leads out to a swimming pool surrounded by stamped concrete.
He also used that slope to allow for 12-foot ceilings painted matte black. A floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace centers the main room, which includes a complete kitchen, a booth for eating, a pool table, and home theater.
There are four separate rooms in the basement as well—an exercise room with gym equipment; a recreation room for the kids with a pinball machine, as well as ping pong and air hockey tables; a full bath, which is particularly useful in the summer when everyone is enjoying the pool; and a two-car garage.
The floors are all tile, chosen for its easy care and flow to the outside pool area. The Caudills also chose to use engineered lumber to construct the basement so they could have the big open area they wanted to entertain.
“Engineered lumber allows you to span larger distances, so you get more open space,” says Mark.
The 2,500-square-foot basement is one reason why the home received the Best in Show award from the 2006 Bowling Green Parade of Homes.
The latest addition in the Crum family was cause for celebration this spring. The Nicholasville couple and their two children invited friends and family “down under” to see how a lonely refuge for laundry and storage had become the perfect place for a party and much more—a home theater, playroom for the children, craft and computer center, full bath, and laundry.
The Crums had finished their basement.
“Our first home had a basement,” recalls John Crum. “It was only a little larger than our family room, but it was very usable space. Other than mealtime and sleeping, we lived in that room. It also gave us a lot of flexibility. If the men were watching sports downstairs, the women could be upstairs doing something different if they wanted. We fell in love with its coziness, and knew that when we built a new house, we wanted another basement.”
The approximately 1,100-square-foot basement in their second home has something for every family member: John, wife Tonya, and their children Alyssa, age 5, and Victoria, 1-1/2.
“I can’t listen to music in the great room when the girls go to bed because the sound carries up to their bedrooms,” John says, “and I really missed that. With the basement, I can go down there and not disturb anyone. It also gives the girls a place to spread out their toys and play.”
Thanks to smart planning, Tonya also gets a 12-foot-wide, 4-foot-deep, built-in desk and storage area for her scrapbooking and craft projects, as well as space for a family computer—all tucked neatly into a small recessed area that previously had no function.
Smart planning is one of the keys to turning an unfinished basement into an area that meets the particular needs of your family.
David and Kendra Howell of Bowling Green knew that their daughter Hannah, 16, had reached an age where hanging out with her friends was important. Hannah is also a fiddler and needed a place to practice with other members of the Red River Fiddlers, a student performing group dedicated to old-time fiddling. The Howells decided to transform what was going to be a 1,500-square-foot basement for storage into a 1,000-square-foot area that would be a “fun, funky place for kids to come.”
The remaining 500-square-foot area would be dedicated to storage.
The chartreuse-, lemon-, and pumpkin-colored walls lend a tropical feel to the room, reminding Hannah of a mission trip she made to Jamaica. Colorful rugs dot the floor, and oversized blue-twill couches invite you to settle in front of a massive stone fireplace flanked by a big-screen television.
Virtually every accessory in the room has a special meaning for Hannah, from a mirror shaped like a yellow Volkswagen (her first car) to a mounted rainbow trout she caught, to a fun chair shaped like a fancy high-heel shoe.
The room naturally attracts teenagers, which is one reason many people finish a basement in the first place. Having a fun place where teens can hang out gives parents peace of mind.
Like most basements, however, the Howells’ required some modifications to transform it into a usable room. Typical challenges include small windows, low ceilings, structural columns, heating and cooling equipment, and issues with water seepage. Radon has also been a concern in recent years, particularly in the cave-prone areas of south-central Kentucky.
The Howells had to be inventive to come up with a door that would fit the opening at the bottom of the steps from their great room upstairs. They wound up creating a Dutch door (the top half opens independently of the bottom half) by putting parts of two doors together to create the custom size they needed. They also had to be willing to change the aesthetics of their home.
The basement is the only room in the home that is completely dry-walled. All the others have at least one wall made from logs.
“We are all about using what we have anyway,” says David, who has renovated numerous properties in the Warren County area.
“We used two windows that we found in an old barn and made cushions to go on the sides of the fireplace that make that area into additional seating.”
The Crums faced one of the most common basement issues—water seeping in from outside.
“We had people come and look at the problems,” Tonya says.
“Because we have siding and brick, they looked at where the water was coming in and determined it was coming in under the siding. They decided that the siding was put on incorrectly when the house was built, so they removed some of it and replaced it in both areas of the house (on the side and above the windows). Around the door, they caulked excessively. We’re still praying that we have no more problems there.”
Grading dirt around the house is another important step, according to Mark Caudill, owner of Caudill Design and Construction in Bowling Green.
“It is important for water to be running away from the basement,” he says. “That may mean extra grading work to be sure the dirt slopes away from the house. You should also check downspouts and gutters to be sure they are moving water away from the house.”
Other steps he recommends include ensuring that all the concrete is sealed properly. If you have the option, he says, poured concrete walls are preferable to concrete block.
DOES IT MAKE SENSE FINANCIALLY?
Finishing a basement can add lots of usable space to your home, but does it help the value of your home?
Experts agree that it does. Remodeling Online (www.remodeling.hw.net) reports on the value added when completing a host of home improvement projects. They say that, nationwide, homeowners re-coup 78.8 percent of the money they put into the project when selling their home. In the east, south-central region (where Kentucky is located), that percentage jumps to 84.4 percent.
Refinishing a basement is often not as expensive as an addition since the walls, floor, and ceiling are already there. Work can progress without too much hassle, as well, particularly if the basement has its own entrance.
Gopal Ahluwalia, staff vice president for research with the Remodeler’s Council of National Home Builders Association in Washington, D.C., says that basements are increasingly a “must have” for new homes. Nationally in 2005, 31 percent of new homes completed had a basement. In the Northeast and Midwest that percent was 79 percent, while the percentage dropped in the West to 16 percent and to 12 percent in the South, due to restrictions because of water levels.
“In the past, people used basements largely for storage,” Ahluwalia says. “Now, particularly in harsher climates, kids use basements as additional play space. In those parts of the country, you don’t find many homes without basements, and homes there don’t sell without a basement.”
Regardless of location, Ahluwalia says the trend is toward upscale touches in basements, including large-screen televisions, bars, pool tables, and bedrooms.
We wanted to see what effect their basement remodel would have on the value of the Crums’ home in Nicholasville. Appraiser Jason Combs appraised the Crum home when only a few studs had been nailed up in the basement and then returned when they had completed. The Crums spent approximately $7,000 and added $13,000 of value to their home, for an increase of 10 percent.
How much value is added depends in large part on how it is finished, according to Combs, who has been appraising property in the central Kentucky area for nine years.
He says that bathrooms and kitchenettes add more value per square foot.
“People are much more likely to pay more for a finished basement if it is real living space rather than just one big room,” Combs says. “A bathroom is always a good idea. A home theater is a good idea.”
It’s also a good idea to spend a little money and have someone draw plans for how the basement will be laid out, Combs says.
And finally, don’t expect to necessarily get the return on investment that you see on television home improvement shows.
“A lot of people watch those home improvement shows and then get discouraged when they don’t get the increase in value they see on the show,” he says. “Different things apply in different areas. Most of those shows are done in California, where property is very limited. It’s a different ball game. Have an appraisal done, get a bid from a contractor (and add 10 percent for overrun costs), then determine how you are going to come out by doing this.”
But don’t forget the value the finished basement adds to your comfort while living in the house.
KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: DIARY OF A BASEMENT
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