How To Finish A Basement: A Step-By-Step Guide

All white painted, finished basement.

A finished basement can be one of the most versatile rooms of a home. You can convert your dull, unfinished basement into a lively game room, guest room, or a relaxing library where you can escape after a hard day’s work.

However, many homeowners struggle with finishing a basement because it takes a certain level of knowledge to do it correctly. Other folks have trouble coming up with finished basement ideas.

This is why we put together a guide covering how to finish a basement, from getting permits to installing the basement flooring. Read on to find out how.

How To Finish A Basement: Preparation Stage

Basements require a bit of prep work before starting the actual finishing. Homeowners must apply for a permit, check moisture levels, and purchase tools before beginning construction.

This ensures everything is built safely and won’t be damaged after finishing your project.

Step One: Apply For A Permit

This is one of the most critical steps to finishing a basement. Permits ensure home improvement projects meet the city’s building requirements, standards, and local building codes. This is done to ensure they meet a certain safety standard and that future projects can be done more efficiently.

Contact your local building department and ask about the requirements for a permit. They will likely have a list of forms and documents that you’ll need to submit along with your application.

Get all the required materials and complete the application as completely and accurately as possible. Once you’ve submitted your application, the building department will review it and either approve or deny your request. This can be the tensest part of how to finish a basement.

If your application is approved, congratulations, you can start your project! But you’ll need to pay the associated fees and schedule an inspection. The inspection will ensure that your basement is up to code and meets all local safety requirements. Once the building inspector has signed off on your project, you’ll officially have permission to finish your basement.

If it is unapproved, you’ll need to fix whatever the issue is and reapply.

Step 2: Check Moisture Levels

There’s one more preparation step in how to finish a basement.

Once you receive your building permit, check the basement’s moisture levels. High humidity can affect your basement walls and ceiling, causing extensive water damage and mold growth.

The first step in checking moisture levels is to invest in a quality moisture meter. Once you have your moisture meter, it’s time to start testing! Begin by testing the area around the perimeter of your basement. This is typically where the highest levels of moisture are found.

Once you’ve identified the source of the moisture, it’s time to fix it. Taking care of the problem at its source is crucial. If you don’t, you’ll just be putting a band-aid on the issue, and it will eventually come back to bite you.

If your basement has puddles of water or flooding, you can use a sump pump to remove the water.

How To Finish A Basement: Installing Basement Walls

Thermal insulation with house construction site basement walls.

Step One: Install Insulation

There are three main types of wall insulation: fiberglass, cellulose, and spray foam. Fiberglass is the most common type of insulation, and it’s made from glass fibers spun into a mat. Cellulose insulation is made from recycled paper products and is treated with fire retardants. Spray foam insulation is made from a mixture of chemicals that expand when sprayed onto a surface. The most popular material is polystyrene foam insulation.

Once you finish the preparation stage, you can install your basement wall insulation by following these steps:

  1. Start by measuring the space from the basement ceiling to the floor and reduce that measurement by a quarter of an inch
  2. Cut the insulation to that measurement
  3. Use the adhesive to apply the insulation to the wall. Continue the process until the insulation completely covers each wall. Make sure you insulate the seams between the ceiling, corners, insulation boards, and floor with caulk

Step Two: Framing

After the first step in this part of how to finish a basement, you must frame the foundation walls. Framing the foundation walls prevents the walls from coming apart too quickly.

To do so, follow the instructions below:

  1. Draw a floor line four inches away from the walls. Make sure the lines intersect with the walls at a 90-degree angle
  2. Measure the walls and cut a two-by-four piece of wood to the correct length. Mark it every 16 inches for easy stud placement. Repeat the process twice for each of your basement walls. These act as the bottom plates
  3. Lay a two-by-four piece of wood on the floor line and secure it with support nails
  4. Use the same process to install the top plates and ensure they are level
  5. Install the studs
  6. Repeat the process for each of your basement walls

Step Three: Install Utilities

This part of how to finish a basement isn’t easily DIY. Hire a professional to install ductwork, plumbing, and electrical devices. Don’t install utilities yourself unless you have extensive industry experience. Working with electricity especially can be dangerous.

Step Four: Install Drywall And Paint The Basement Walls

  1. Hang the bottom row of the drywall first. It’s essential to start at the bottom so that any cuts made in your basement walls for electrical outlets and more will be hidden by the top row of drywall
  2. Secure the drywall to the wood studs with screws. It’s best to use 1-5/8-inch screws for this job, so they are long enough to go through the drywall and into the wood studs beneath
  3. Space the screws about 8-inches apart so that the drywall is securely fastened
  4. Once the bottom row is up, move on to the rows above. Stagger the seams so they don’t line up with one another. This will make for stronger basement walls overall
  5. When you reach the top row, cut the drywall to fit flush against the ceiling using a utility knife or power saw
  6. Secure this final row of drywall with screws. Then finish up by covering all of the screw heads with joint compound and sanding them smooth once they dry
  7. Use drywall screws to secure it to the studs and cover the seams and the screw heads with drywall mud.
  8. Use drywall tape to cover the seams and paint the walls to your liking

How To Finish A Basement: Ceiling Installation Stage

Man installing basement ceiling.

There are three primary ceiling types:

  1. Drop ceilings
  2. Drywalled ceilings
  3. Open ceilings

Drywalled ceilings have the most strenuous installation process, while open ceilings are relatively easy to install.

However, we will focus on drop ceiling installation for this guide. They are easy to install, help with insulation, and can even minimize noise.

Step One: Purchase An Installation Kit

Drop ceilings require an installation kit. Visit your local home improvement store and purchase a high-quality kit from a reliable manufacturer.

Step Two: Install The Basement Ceiling

  1. Measure the width and length of the room to calculate the square footage of the area you need to cover. Then, add 10 percent to that number to account for waste. (For example, if your room is 10 feet wide by 20 feet long, you’ll need 220 square feet of drop ceiling panels) 
  2. Hang metal grid tracks from the floor joists using hanger wires and U-clips. Center the tracks in the room, running them parallel to one another at intervals of 2 feet. If your room has obstacles like ductwork or pipes, make sure to allow for openings in the grid accordingly
  3. Assemble border strips and insert them into the slots on all four perimeter tracks. These will provide stability for your ceiling panels and ensure that they lay flush against the walls
  4. Insert T-bars into the slots on all remaining tracks, spacing them 24 inches apart along the length of each track
  5. Hang main tees by inserting their tapered ends into the T-bars until they click into place. Then rotate them so that they are perpendicular to the tracks. The main tees should also be spaced 24 inches apart along the length of each track
  6. Hang cross tees by inserting their tapered ends into the main tees. Then rotate them, so they are perpendicular to both the main tees and tracks. Cross tees should also be spaced 24 inches apart along their length
  7. You’re ready to start installing your drop ceiling panels at this point! Begin by cutting each panel to size using a utility knife. Then snap it into place on the cross tees, starting at a corner and working your way out toward the middle of the room. Repeat this process until all of your panels are installed

How To Finish A Basement: Floor Installation Stage

Man installing floor.

Most basements have a concrete floor. However, many homeowners install laminate or carpet flooring to boost their basement’s visual appeal.

Follow the steps below to install flooring for your basement:

Step One: Subfloor Installation

  1. Measure the length and width of your basement to determine how much subflooring material you will need. Add an extra 10 percent to your total to account for waste and cuts
  2. Cut the subflooring panels to size using a power saw. If you don’t have access to a power saw, you can have the panels cut for you at your local hardware store or home center
  3. Install furring strips along your basement walls using 3-inch screws and a power drill. The furring strips will provide support for the edges of the subfloor panels
  4. Place the first subflooring panel into position and screw it into the furring strips using 2-inch screws and a power drill. Repeat this process until all of the panels are in place
  5. Seal the seams between the panels with caulk or tape designed for use with OSB (oriented strand board) panels. This will help to prevent moisture from seeping through cracks and damaging your finished basement flooring

Step Two: Basement Flooring Installation

Finally, you can move on to the floor installation part of how to finish a basement. Install your floor by following the installation directions provided in the instruction manual. You’ll need concrete screws and other special tools if you choose concrete floors.

You can also hire a flooring specialist to install your basement floor if you don’t have prior installation experience.

Once you install your desired flooring, you can decorate your basement and enjoy it for decades.

Contact Wise Choice Construction To Get A Finished Basement And More

Wise Choice Construction is Seattle’s number-one choice for finished basement projects and related services. Our team can breathe new life into your basement and make it the highlight of your home. 

Whether you need to install new walls and ceilings in your home or want to learn how to finish a basement, Wise Choice Construction is here for you. We also remodel bathrooms, kitchens, and more.

Fill out our contact form today, and let’s start discussing your finished basement project!

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All white painted, finished basement.