Thursday, Sep 27, 2012

The basement: not just for storage anymore
A reno adds living space and value

One of the easiest and most cost-efficient ways to add living space to your home is to renovate your basement. Once considered spaces for storage and workshops, basements are now being used for family rooms, self-contained granny flats, rental suites and home offices.

Before you begin any work on your basement, you’ll want to ensure the space is clean, dry, healthy and free of any possible problems.

Do a visual inspection and be on the lookout for any intermittent or permanent traces of moisture on the floor or walls. Are there any beams or ducts where you need to stoop in order to avoid bumping your head? Is there a musty odour in clothing or other items stored there? Also check for cracks as wide as a pencil, or that appear to widen or shrink, in the walls or floor.

If you notice any of these potential problems you will need to include the cost of fixing them in your budget.

You may need to obtain a permit if you intend to alter the structure of your house, increase the size of windows or exterior doors or change the occupancy (adding a self-contained apartment, for example). Although secondary suites can be a great source of additional income for homeowners, it’s best to check with your municipality regarding zoning bylaws and other requirements before you begin.

Make it safe and livable

Protecting your family from fire and dangerous fumes are two very important considerations when renovating your basement. If your furnace is enclosed in a small room, it is critical to ensure that the furnace receives an adequate air supply.

As an added precaution, install a CO (carbon monoxide) detector in the living space near the furnace and outside all bedroom doors. Install smoke alarms and ensure windows are large enough and easily reached to provide safe escape if necessary. Be sure every bedroom has an operable window.

Keep in mind that moisture problems can make your basement space unlivable. Excessive humidity and insufficient air movement contribute to two common problems in basements – mould growth and stale air.

Once you have repaired any sources of water entry, you can install heating and air circulation to make the space comfortable. If your house has a forced-air heating system, the furnace can supply both heat and air circulation. With baseboard heaters, you will get heat but no circulation. In either case, a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) is a valuable addition because it can vent stale air to the outside and replace it with fresh exterior air. If you put a kitchen or bathroom in the basement, you’ll also need to install a kitchen range hood or a bathroom fan.

Now that you’ve taken care of moisture and safety issues, you can focus on finishing touches and decorating. It’s important to note that even a well-designed basement can experience a serious leak, spill or flood. You can lessen the likelihood of damage and make cleanup easier by installing water-resistant or impermeable floor and wall finishes, such as ceramic tile in bathrooms, kitchens and near the hot water tank.

Renovating your basement adds living space and could increase your home’s value. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation has a free About Your House fact sheet called “Renovating Your Basement for Livability.” Visit us at for your copy or call our toll-free number: 1-800-668-2642.

Mark Salerno is district manager for the GTA at the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. You can reach him at 416-218-3479 or

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