10 DIY Projects for Your Basement

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Unfinished basements tend to be the area of the house that is the most difficult to renovate. After all, no one wants to spend time in a room with cements floors, dim lighting or musty odors, and renovating a basement to mirror your living room is undoubtedly a major expense. So we asked the design pros to weigh in and offer some inexpensive DIY projects to spruce up the basement.

From flooring to painting to lighting, these projects — along with a few weekends' worth of work — will transform your basement completely.

1. Paint

How unfinished your basement is will determine how large a paint job the area will need.

"Finished basements with drywall and carpeting can be painted as any other room within the home," says Joe Kowalski, training manager at Glidden.

For unfinished basements with cement floors and walls made of concrete or cinderblock, though, Kowalski offers these tips:

• Use paint with an eggshell or semi-gloss finish. Primer is not needed on cinder block or concrete walls

• Apply two coats of paint to walls that have already been painted. If the walls are bare, thinning the first coat of paint will allow for better penetration into the wall. Apply second coat at full strength

• As for brushes and rollers, use a half-inch to three-quarters-inch nap roller; 2” – 3” brush for cut in

2. Painting Basement Wall Panels

If the walls in your basement consist of panels, this will make the job a bit more complicated. Robert Palmarozza, president at Mr. Handyman, Tri-County in the New York City area, offered these tips:

• Use a high quality alcohol or oil-based primer and allow plenty of drying time

• Caulk all the seams after priming, but before painting

• Use a high quality paint and apply two coats. Use a matte or flat finish in order to touch up the inevitable scratches later on. Matte is a middle ground of being shiny enough to clean while maintaining the ability to touch up seamlessly. If you use eggshell or semi-gloss, you’ll have to paint an entire wall or live with noticeable touch-ups

3. Installing Peel and Stick Tile

An inexpensive and quick way to solve your basement's flooring mess is to install 'peel and stick' tiling, which can be purchased at home improvement stores. Palmarozza offers these expert recommendations when taking on the project:

• Check for moisture by taping a piece of plastic to the floor. If condensation appears, the tile may not stick

• Use the special primer designed for installing peel and stick tiles. Be sure the subfloor is flat, clean and dry before starting

• Lay out the floor to allow for the largest tiles to be placed in the most visible areas and avoid installing pieces that are less than ½ a tile

• Store the tile in the room for a few days before starting, since warmer tiles are easier to work with

• Any tiles that become loose can be re-installed with vinyl tile adhesive, which works like contact cement. Use a thin layer and let it dry before sticking the tile back to the floor

4. Laminate Flooring

If you're looking for a more in-depth flooring project, installing laminate flooring is another way to spruce up your basement's bare concrete floors. Palmarozza adds these tips for the perfect laminate floor:

• Be sure to add a six millimeter layer of plastic covering the entire floor. Overlap the seams by a few feet and tape them closed. Additionally, turn the plastic up the wall a few inches and hide it behind the baseboard

• Use more padding under the laminate for a warmer more comfortable floor

• Take your time when cutting the material. Undercut all door jambs and trim. Plan to add shoe molding after the install. Use transition t-strips where needed and allow the proper expansion space for the floor -- this expansion is critical for a long lasting floor

• To be extra cautious, always remember your safety glasses

5. Dehumidifier

Even if you replace your basement's floors and do a perfect paint job, the space won't be ready for use if it has the quintessential basement scent. The solution? A dehumidifier, which can be purchased at home improvement stores for about $200.

And if your basement has a 'slop sink,' Palmarozza offers this tip when it comes to dehumidifiers: "Install the unit on a shelf near the slop sink and run the hose from the dehumidifier into the sink. This will save you from emptying the dehumidifier's built in reservoir."

6. Basement Garden

You probably never thought of having a garden in your basement, but aside from the fresh produce, it will make for a unique decorative addition to your newly renovated basement. Nate Lipton, owner of the garden supplies store Growers House, shares these simple tips for creating a hydroponics (growing plants without the use of soil) or a traditional soil-based garden...in your basement!

• Depending on the size of your basement, figure out how much vertical height you have and the size of your growing footprint, since growing tomatoes will take up more space than growing lettuce, for example

• Next, decide whether you want to grow your plants in soil or in a hydroponics system. Soil tends to be more forgiving for the new grower, since it requires little maintenance. Hydroponics systems can grow plants faster, yet these systems are more along the lines of a science experiment with variables such as pH and parts per million of your nutrient solution (see below) that must be monitored

• With a hydroponic system, decide whether you want to build your own or buy a kit. You'll also need to buy the liquid nutrients to add to the reservoir in your hydroponics system. These will be the sole supply of nutrients to your plants and the water must be monitored for the correct pH and parts per million of nutrient solution, which will depend on what plant you're growing.

• Next, determine your light source. If you have windows coming into your basement, take advantage of that. Alternatively, there are three main types of indoor lighting systems for gardening: High Intensity Discharge (HID), Fluorescent tubes, and Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs). Talk to your local nursery and ask them for help in choosing which one is best for your budget and growing environment.

• Next, it’s time to start planting. Take precautions with how close the light source is to your plants. Too close and it can burn them; too far and the plants will stretch for the light.

7. Faucets

If your basement has a bathroom, replacing its faucet is a cheap, yet impactful way to update the bathroom. Sean Murphy, DIY specialist at Build.com, reveals these steps for replacing the basement faucet:

• Before you remove the original faucet, cut the water from the supply lines and turn the faucet handles to release any pressure and/or water stuck inside the lines

• Use your adjustable wrench to loosen the old water supply lines, then remove the handles and spout

• If your old bathroom faucet lacks a solid seal between the spout and the deck, roll out a thin line of plumbers putty to be placed on the spout base. This creates a watertight seal and prevents water from leaking down below the sink where it can silently wreak havoc. Remove any excess putty when it dries

• Now that your spout is in place, attach it using the provided brass nut and your adjustable wrench

• To save time and hassle, attach the hot and cold hoses to the corresponding handles before putting them in place (this, of course, assumes your new bathroom faucet has two handles.) Use your adjustable wrench to attach the handles

• Apply a strip of seal tape to the supply lines and tighten the hoses for a leak-proof connection

8. Door Knobs

Especially if your basement has closet doors and multiple rooms, changing the old door knobs is undoubtedly a noticeable update. Murphy shares these recommendations when it comes to replacing door knobs:

• Using a screwdriver, remove the existing door hardware. This includes the knob or lever, as well as the latch and strike plate

• Your new strike plate should be the same shape as your old strike plate. For example, if your old strike plate had rounded or square edges, your new one should be the same shape to fit perfectly into the space

• Next, select the appropriate latch face. Also, make sure the slope of the latch is in line with the way the door closes -- then tighten the latch into place.

• Insert the new knob or lever through the latch and connect it to the inside handle. Avoid a common mistake and make sure the keyhole is on the outside of the door, if your hardware includes one. Tighten into place.

9. Installing a Dimmer Switch

Instead of having your basement lights turn on and off, installing a dimmer switch makes for a more relaxing atmosphere. While this is a project suited for the more experienced DIYers, Paul Lobo, vice president of retail sales at Lutron Electronics offers these tips for installing a dimmer switch:


• Turn the power OFF at your circuit breaker or remove the fuse

• Remove the wallplate and switch mounting screws from the wallbox in which you want to add the dimmer, leaving all wires attached. Carefully remove the switch from wall

• Next, identify which type of circuit you have: Either a single-pole or 3-way circuit. Below are key identifiers for each wallplate.
Single pole: Insulated wires connected to two screws of the same color. Replace with a Single-Pole dimmer.
3-Way Wiring: Insulated wires connected to three screws. One of these wires is connected to a screw of a different-color (not green) or labeled "common." You should mark or tag this wire to identify it when wiring. Replace with a 3-Way dimmer.

• When disconnecting the wires from the switch, if your wall switch has two wires attached to the same screw, tape these two wires together before disconnecting.

• Remove the wallplate (if there is one) from the switch. Depending on the type of circuit you have, here are some wiring instructions for the two types of circuits:
Single pole: Connect the green dimmer ground wire to the bare copper or green ground wire in the wallbox. Connect one of the black dimmer wires to either of the wires removed from the switch. Connect the remaining black dimmer wire to the other wire removed from the switch.
3-Way Wiring: Connect the green dimmer ground wire to the bare copper or green ground wire in the wallbox. Connect the black dimmer wire to the wire removed from the different-colored screw on the switch (marked or tagged wire) as referenced in the previous step. Remove the tag from wire. Connect one of the red dimmer wires to either of the remaining wires removed from the switch. Connect the remaining red dimmer wire to the remaining wire removed from the switch.

• Finally, form the wires carefully into the wallbox, mount and align dimmer -- and install the wallplate

And anytime you're dealing with a project that involves electrical wires, if you don't feel up to the challenge, save this one for a professional electrician!

10. Bookshelf Unit

Stocking your basement with enough furniture makes for a hefty credit card payment. For creative furniture ideas, we turned to Christopher Lowell, best selling author and Emmy-winning lifestyle authority, who suggests the following steps for building a bookshelf unit:

• Take three bookcases spaced about four feet apart on a single wall. Then take two matching half bookcases (which are shorter in height) and place them between the tall bookcases

• Next, take solid plane hollow core doors or 3/4 inch plywood (from your local hardware store) and attach this to the top of each half bookcase

• Paint the tops a complementary color to the bookcases or the same color as the wall. This will create a usable working surface with enough overhand to be used also as a desk for computers or TVs.

Basements tend to be the nightmare area of the house, especially if unfinished. And while you may need the help of a professional for some of the more intense basement renovation projects, some elbow grease and vision will transform the space into your dream basement, or in the least a liveable space.

--By Scott Gamm

Gamm is the founder of the personal finance website HelpSaveMyDollars.com. He has appeared on NBC’s TODAY, MSNBC and CNN.  Follow Scott on Facebook and Twitter.

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