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.

By Maureen Blaney Flietner | Updated Nov 13, 2013 6:21 PM

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Basement Systems

Photo: affordablewaterproofingllc.com

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.