Category: Basement & Garage

Upgrade to a Basement System

Finishing the basement is a smart way to add space to your home. Using a complete basement system package may be the smartest way to insulate, finish and upgrade that space.

Basement Systems


Finishing the basement is a smart way to add space to your home. Using a complete basement system package may be the smartest way to insulate, finish and upgrade that space.

Unlike a traditional finished basement with stud walls or furring strips with attached wallboard, basement finishing packages are proprietary systems that take an unfinished basement and turn it into first-class living space. As systems, they include more than just walls or ceiling — they include trim, lighting, electrical work, and door installation. Some system installers also offer flooring, plumbing, HVAC, and windows to meet homeowners’ design plans.

Selecting a Basement Package
First, a detailed spatial plan is created to include the homeowner’s wants and needs. Every inch, from creating walls around stairwells to installing lights, has to be taken into account. Wiring or lighting upgrades are custom features and are priced beyond the base package plan.

Some homeowners want their finished basements for a laundry room, family room, game, exercise, or play room. Others might opt for a home theater or home office, so allowances are made for speakers or other special needs.

Owens Corning and Champion both offer basement systems. Their package prices are determined by the local market and the individual specifications of each plan, but are generally comparable cost-wise to a traditional basement remodel. The Owens Corning system is available only through its franchises and their certified salespeople and installers. The Champion system, only installed by its trained employees, can be obtained through its offices across the country.

Basement System Components
Walls are the basic building blocks, insulation, and finish for complete basement packages. Basement finishing walls are modular systems with plastic or vinyl frames that are screwed into the foundation walls. Finished, dent-resistant four-foot wall panels, covered with attractive mold- and mildew-resistant fabrics, are snapped into place on the framing. Baseboard and crown pieces complete the look.

Owens Corning’s Basement Finishing System uses commercial-grade R-11 insulation value fiberglass board for its panels. The wall panels are coated with DuPont Teflon for stain resistance and washability. Suzanne Mitchell, marketing manager for Basement Finishing System, notes that the panels come in Linen Mist, which features speckles of 14 different neutral shades to blend into any decorating scheme.

Basement Living Systems by Champion offer compressed three-inch-thick R-13 fiberglass insulation board covered in one of four linen-look fabric choices. The system includes a suspended white acoustic ceiling and takes about two weeks to install.

Constructing Basement Space
A basement can be a difficult environment to finish because the space is typically colder and more humid than above-ground space. Finishing a basement with traditional building materials presents the risk of encouraging mold, mildew, water damage, or warping. In many areas of the country, a vapor barrier must be installed before hanging wallboard. That can cause more harm than good because it traps moisture in the walls. It may also mean no access to the foundation or mechanicals.A basement system means the entire project is installed at once instead of piecemeal through individual contractors. A good basement system contractor will also lead the homeowner through the necessary steps required to ensure a dry, healthy, and code-compliant basement upgrade. Owens Cornings only sells their Basement Finishing System through certified, franchised dealers to ensure that their product will meet the highest installation standards. “These professionals will conduct inspections to assess the condition of the basement and recommend any needed repairs prior to starting work (waterproofing, mold remediation), and will also handle all needed permitting,” Mitchell says.

Basement System Pros and Cons
Mitchell cites the 2005 Cost vs. Value Report from Remodeling Magazine when talking about the return on any basement investment. The report says a basement remodel recoups an average of 90 percent of its cost in the first year. This tops other popular projects like added bathrooms or major kitchen remodels for return on investment.

Even more significant, says Jones, a basement system investment goes toward a durable, substantial wall. With traditional building materials, the money goes largely toward the labor necessary to create the walls.

Basement systems provide a way to tuck mechanicals and wiring out of sight. Yet, with the snap-in and snap-out panels, homeowners have easy access in case of needed repairs to foundation walls, plumbing, and electrical or mechanical equipment.

Wall panels offer noise-deadening acoustic and insulation value, making for a warmer, quieter space. The Owens Corning Basement Finishing System panels also have a Class A fire rating.

Because they are designed specifically for basements, package components avoid the problems that can plague other materials. They do not wick up water and, if they do get wet, they can be cleaned and dried.

While the fabrics have a rich look, color choices are limited. The panels cannot be painted, since paint would prevent the walls from breathing, which would eliminate the key benefit of mold and mildew resistance.

Hanging artwork or similar items on the panels requires special picture-hanging kits, but the pins used leave no holes. Heavier items such as plasma screen TVs or shelves require additional structure behind the walls.

Add an Entrance to Your Basement

Exterior access doors adds value and convenience to basements.

Basement Doors

Photo: Flickr

When building a new home, plan the foundation to include an exterior staircase and entry basement doors. The foundation contractor can build a foundation extension or areaway to fit the door system you choose. Whether you use poured concrete or concrete block, accurate construction of the areaway foundation and the door opening is essential. Your foundation contractor will follow the specifications from the access door manufacturer for a weather- and watertight fit. Once it’s poured, it’s time to look at the stairs and doors.

New Construction
The typical basement foundation is nine feet deep, so stairs are a necessity. The most cost-effective stair-building solution is to purchase pre-made stringers to support the stairs. The steel supports or stringers are placed within the areaway foundation and bolted to the foundation walls and floor. When the basement doors are installed, wooden stair treads are cut and placed in these stringers.

Another option is a pre-cast concrete stairway sized to fit the steel door unit you select. When the foundation contractor pours the footings and foundation, a cutout is left sized for the pre-cast stairway. Once the foundation had cured, the pre-cast stairway system is delivered and dropped into place. Typically, the pre-cast stairs were prepped with a self-sealing adhesive and attached directly to the foundation wall. Steel anchors hold the stairway to the foundation, and backfill sits under and around it to insulate the stairway and keep it in place.

Access for Existing Homes
For existing homes, either solution is possible, but there is the added headache of clearing out around the foundation and cutting through the existing foundation wall. Be sure to select a qualified foundation contractor and follow codes for headers, supports, and bracing. Once the footings have been placed, you may choose to construct an areaway foundation or install a pre-cast entry solution like the one we used.

Door Installation
In all cases, the door unit is assembled on site and installed on top of the foundation wall. If you are working with concrete block, experts suggest filling the cores of the top rows with wadded newspaper. The assembled door unit is then lowered in place and blocked so that a concrete cap can be shoveled underneath. Finishing the cap by sloping it away from the bulkhead and smoothing the concrete will allow for water runoff and a leakproof seal with minimum caulking. If you select the pre-cast stairway, the cap is already in place and door-ready.

Either way, the installation of the door unit entails bolting the door frame into the concrete and caulking for a tight seal. Finish up with a coat of metal enamel to improve the look and life of your exterior doors.

A qualified foundation contractor can best advise you on the appropriate basement access solution for your home project. Whatever method you choose, providing access, egress, and easy storage to your basement will enhance your home and improve its value.

Keep Garage Doors in Top Shape

Regular maintenance ensures smooth and safe operation of garage doors.

Garage Door Maintenance


The garage door is the single largest moving part in your home, and should be inspected and maintained every year. Whether you have a belt-drive, chain-drive, or screw-drive opening system, maintenance issues and steps to lubricate garage door tracks are virtually the same:

• Inspect the tracks to make sure there is no debris to catch the rollers. Wipe them out or vacuum if needed.

• Lubricate the rollers with regular engine oil. Put a drop on each roller and allow the rolling action to draw it into the bearings. Don’t use grease, it will just gum up the tracks and collect hair and debris.

• Check cables for any sign of fraying and make certain that springs are tight and connected.

• Lightly lubricate any bearings and garage door hinges.

• Check the spring to make sure that it is “wet” or lightly lubricated. If it gets dried out, it will clump and jam up your system.

With a chain-drive system, check to make sure the chain is greased. Aside from that, the door is your final moving part and should be checked for tight screws and lightly oiled connections.

The garage door opener itself controls a number of features that require monitoring. Basically the system is designed to shut down in the case of malfunction. While this is an opener’s greatest safety feature, the cause may not be readily apparent.

Troubleshooting Garage Door Problems
Any garage door opener installed today must, by federal law, have optic sensors to detect any person or object in the pathway of the door. This is usually the cause for a non-functioning door. Optic sensors must be aimed at each other so that they can send and receive an uninterrupted beam of light. If these eyes get out of alignment, the system will shut down. First check to see if there are any obstructions or items blocking the eyes. If not, check to see if the eye has become misaligned. Jiggling the eye or rotating it slightly usually brings it back into line with its partner.

The more sensitive the garage door opener, the greater the chance of shutdown. This is intentional, but owners need to know the signs of trouble. Newer openers feature diagnostic lights that flash a code to tell the owner of the problem. Dirty tracks, misaligned rollers, broken springs — all cause the opener to shut down. Get to know your system and check it regularly for force of operation and automatic return.

Most garage door companies suggest that you test your system every month or two months to be certain it is functioning properly. The force with which the door closes can be adjusted. To test its sensitivity, place a two-by-four in the opening and close the door. The door should return or bounce back on contact. If not, the force needs to be lowered. This adjustment is usually on the back of the housing itself. Keep in mind that door weight varies depending on temperature and humidity. A door may return safely at a force of 5 in the winter, but require a 4 in the spring.

Grinding, scraping, or whirring sounds indicate a problem in the gears, motor, or sliding mechanisms. If in doubt, call a qualified service technician. As for springs, there is no foolproof test for strength or remaining life. There’s comfort in the fact that they virtually never give way when the door is raised, because there is no tension then. To be safe, make sure that your springs are on safety cables so if they do snap, they won’t hit people or vehicles. Another test is to disconnect the opener and raise the garage door manually. If it can be raised by an older child, the springs are fine.

From Wreck Room to Rec Room: Laying a Subfloor

DRIcore 2' x 2' Laying a Subfloor Panels

DRIcore 2' x 2' Subfloor Panels

After 13 years in our house, the basement was finally dry—or as close to dry as it was ever going to get. The walls weren’t fancy, but they were clean and white (and did I mention dry?). We weren’t prepared to spend many thousands of dollars on a true finished basement; we just wanted it usable. But to do that we had to tackle the floor.

The concrete floor was not only unsightly, with cracks and discoloration and remnants of a previous owner’s misguided tile job, but it was also a hazard. Knowing the ninja warrior games and gymnastics moves our kids and their friends favor, we knew that concrete wasn’t the best solution.

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From Wreck Room to Rec Room: Drying Out the Basement

Drying Out the Basement

The basement in its somewhat original condition (after the drywall from the previous owners was removed).

One lesson I learned fast when I bought a house is that a homeowner’s number-one enemy is not the mortgage—it’s the water. That vaguely brown spot on the pantry ceiling? Water leaking in between the two-story side wall and the one-story extension, where 90-year-old tin flashing had completely corroded. The rotted windowsills? Water overflowing the clogged and poorly pitched gutters, then cascading onto the windows below (apparently for decades). And the basement’s musty smell and chalky walls? That was water too. And it was everywhere: seeping in through leaky old windows, dripping down the walls from where the foundation met the sill, and creeping in from below where the foundation walls met the floor.

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Bob Vila Radio: Basement Waterproofing

There’s no such thing as a waterproof basement.  The key is to minimize the water that gets in and get it back out again before it affects your home.

From Basement Finishing and Family Space: Keep Water Out of the Basement, Season 17 Episode 11

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There’s no such thing as a waterproof basement. Special waterproof paint on the walls or coatings on basement floors may keep leaks from showing for now, but if the hydrostatic pressure in the earth around the foundation is great enough, water will find its way in. The key is to minimize the water that gets in and get it back out again before it affects your home.

Often, a basement is wet because it’s the next stop for rainwater after it leaves the roof. If gutters are clogged and overflowing or downspouts dump water too close to the house, and especially if the ground slopes toward the foundation, water is literally funneled into your basement. Gutter maintenance, downspout extensions and re-grading may go a long way toward a drier basement.

Inside the basement, digging a perimeter drain and installing a sump pump is the most common way to remove any water that comes up through the floor or through the walls. Since flooding can happen suddenly and is often accompanied by a power outage, some systems even include a second pump to handle extra volume and a third battery-powered backup pump.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 60 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day. 

For more on basements, consider:

Keep Water Out of the Basement (video)
How To: Dry a Wet Basement
Know the Rules for Finished Basements

Bob Vila Radio: Finishing a Basement

Finishing your basement is a great way to add space and value to your home. If you have enough ceiling height and you’re willing to take care of moisture problems first, your basement is a good candidate for a build-out.

Photo: Bob Vila's "Home Again"

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Some Advice About Sump Pumps


If you’ve ever wondered, "What is a sump pump?" then you’re lucky, because you probably don’t need one. But for the unlucky owners of wet basements, here’s the scoop: A sump pump sits in the basement, either beneath (in the case of a submersible pump) or above the floor. It pumps out water that collects in the sump basin, discharging it to the outdoors. Installing one can be messy, so first try to fix the water problem some other way. If you do need a sump pump, get one with an alarm to alert you when the water reaches a certain level. Another feature to look for is a battery backup, which allows the unit to function even during a power outage. Test your pump regularly and make sure the check valve is functioning, so water doesn’t flow back into the basement.

Sump Pumps - Flooding


There are a few rules to keep in mind about sump pumps.

The first is that you’ll never have to buy one if you purchase a house that never floods. The second is that, if you do buy a house with a water problem, there may be several ways to correct it before resorting to a sump pump and pit. Third, if you must buy a sump pump, buy a very good one—in fact, it may make sense to buy two or three!

I’m lucky with basements. Having purchased five houses in my life, not one has been wet. Some dampness in summer, yes, but nothing a dehumidifier couldn’t handle.

When being shown a house by an agent, try to begin your tour in the basement. If there’s evidence of a significant water problem (such as an active sump pit and pump or high-water marks on the walls), walk away before you fall in love with the kitchen or master suite. A wet basement is going to cause all sorts of problems beyond water—rust, rot, mold, and unhealthy indoor air.

Related: 7 Ways to Avoid Basement Flooding

If you simply must buy the house or have already bought it, try to stop water from entering. I’ve known homeowners who put in a sump pump only to abandon its use after installing an outdoor curtain drain that diverts water to a pond.

Installing or repairing gutters so they don’t drain near your foundation can also make a big difference. And if a walkway, patio, or pool deck slopes toward your house instead of away from it, they are contributing hundreds of gallons of water to your problem.

There are services that can re-level slabs so they drain away from the house, and many types of patios can be removed and reinstalled with the proper slope without too much expense.

Sump Pumps - Diagram

Photo: Umbrella Plumbing

Buying a Sump Pump
If your water problem is serious (e.g., a high water table that gets higher when it rains), you will need a sump pump. Here are some quick tips on selecting the right sump pump to buy:

• Choose a submersible pump over a pedestal pump if your sump basin has the space. Submersible pumps allow the sump pit to be covered with a lid, reducing pump noise and stopping debris from falling into the pit. An airtight lid also helps keep moist air from being released into your home.

• Buy a pump with a cast iron core, not one made of plastic. Cast iron helps to dissipate heat to the surrounding water, lengthening the life of the pump.

• To minimize the chance of clogs, the pump should have a no-screen intake design coupled with an impellor that can handle solids up to ½-inch in diameter.

• The switch should be mechanical, not a pressure switch, and the float should be solid so it can’t become waterlogged, fail to switch off, and burn out the pump.

Secondary and Backup Sump Pumps
A secondary pump installed right next to the first is a good idea too, especially if your basement has been converted to living space or if you store valuables there. If your primary pump fails or is overwhelmed, the back-up pump automatically takes over.

For extra insurance, a battery backup pump can also be installed. When the power goes out, as it often does in a storm, the battery-powered pump can continue pumping for up to two days, depending upon the demand.

Combination packages with two or three pumps are available. A less costly option is to install a water alarm and to keep a spare pump on hand should the primary pump fail.

Bob Vila Radio: Garage Door Openers

Your garage door opener controls what is probably the largest moving object in your house. But it’s not actually the motor that hefts the weight of your garage door–it’s the springs or counterbalances. The motor only controls the lifting and doesn’t have to be that powerful for most doors.


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Bob Vila Radio: Garage Storage Options

Installing a garage storage system can have the same effect as adding a room, and it’s a good way to increase your home’s value.

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