Finishing a Basement - And How to Plan For It

Profile: We had the opportunity to talk about finishing a basement with Bobby Assadourian, President and CEO of Triple R Inc. Located in Hamilton, Ontario, Triple R has been serving customers throughout the Golden Horseshoe for six years. The company covers a wide range of renovation, rebuilding and repair services. One common job type is basement remodeling - Triple R can often be found finishing a basement in a new home, or enhancing an existing finished basement that needs work.
Other services include general repair and maintenance - both indoor and outdoor; renovations - bathrooms, kitchens, basements, and more; masonry; complete plumbing and electrical; landscaping; framing, drywall; painting; ceramics and flooring; heating and cooling; doors and windows; siding; and roofing.
Q: Let's talk about basements. Finishing a basement is a concern for many homeowners. What advice can you offer to get them started?
A: First, make sure your basement is dry.
If your home is new, wait two to three years to let the home settle and for all the materials in the basement to interact with each other. Be aware that some basement waterproofing may be necessary.
If it's an older home, make sure there are no moisture issues in the basement before you start anything!
Don't trust that basement moisture is temporary or may "go away," or that nice drywall and paint will "cover it up" - it doesn't work that way.
Every dollar you spend on your basement remodeling will be wasted if you don't address the moisture issues first. I'm always totally honest with homeowners: if they're better off to wait, I'll tell them upfront.
Bear in mind the Tarion warranty (see Tarion for the exact specifics regarding time limitations, etc.). During the two-to-three year period, you're covered for defects in the foundation - but you need to be able to see the problems! You have to see the whole basement floor and the walls. There can be no dream basement until this period is over!
The documents from Tarion often sit on refrigerators collecting dust, and that's very dangerous. You have to put off the sports bar, the home theatre and the sound system in the basement until you can be certain the foundation is sound. This might not be what you want to hear about your dream basement remodeling, but if you don't allow adequate time you're going to be throwing your money away (this all pertains to new construction).
Q: Assuming moisture issues are addressed, what's the homeowners' next step in finishing a basement?
A: Do not build to Ontario minimum building code! Mike Holmes of Home & Garden backs me 100% on this. Often, basement remodeling comes down to money - but beware that the "minimum building code" is exactly what it sounds like! It won't produce a basement or anything else that will stand the test of time and it won't provide value for your dollar. It's truly the bottom of the barrel.
The funny thing is, there's not much of a monetary difference between good to best. However, because building codes are designed for builders and contractors, in some ways the system benefits them. Builders can save a few dollars on products, and that really adds up over time as they build hundreds of houses. That's why many of them choose to build to lower specifications.
For homeowners, though, the cost difference is pretty minor. Labour is the same - or, in some cases less, because good products are easier to install. It's really worth your while to insist on the best when you're finishing a basement. Bear this in mind and you'll save a lot of pain in the years to come.
C: What's the best way for homeowners to budget for a basement remodeling and get a reasonably accurate idea of total costs?
A: To get an accurate idea, they shouldn't try to cost it out themselves - get a contractor.
Take your time, though, to educate yourself before calling a contractor. Read magazines, literature, talk to people at big box stores.
Get a really good idea of how your finished basement with look in terms of layout, design features, and materials - know them by trade name! Contractors have a much easier time when homeowners know exactly what materials they need. If you can't afford certain materials, talk to the contractor about finding the best balance between cost and quality.
Knowing your materials will also increase your chances of having a good contractor experience - the contractor will know within a few minutes of speaking whether you've done your homework and are knowledgeable and serious. Contractors need to impress homeowners, yes - but there's nothing wrong with the homeowner impressing the contractor! Contractors are more likely to prioritize your quote and get back to you quickly if they can tell that you are serious, that you know what you want, and that you've done your research.
Q: What trends are you seeing in basement remodeling? Any exciting new products homeowners should be aware of?
A: First off, remember that you'll spend a lot of money over the years heating and cooling your basement. Due to this, there's a growing trend toward being Energy Star-efficient and -compliant.
To achieve this standard, you must seriously consider upgrading from "pink or yellow" basement insulation to Roxul. It provides some labour savings because it's safer and not itchy, it lasts much longer - but most importantly, the energy savings are phenomenal! The money you spend upfront will pay itself back in dividends over the next few decades in energy savings. It's also fire-resistant.
Another interesting basement product to be aware of is "Ipex." It's a revolutionary plumbing product that's phasing out copper. It'll take several years for most contractors to adopt it, but that's true for any new amazing product that comes out on the market. Even if the products are the best choices for finishing a basement, or are more green and efficient than other products, contractors tend to "wear their old shoes."
Again, be aware of the product options when finishing a basement, do your research and be ready to ask for them by name. Show the contractor that you know what you're talking about.
Q: What other advice can you offer to homeowners looking to finish a basement?
A: To have a really successful basement renovation, you must have good communications with your contractor. The vast, vast majority of problems in basement remodeling are caused by poor communication!
Homeowners have to consider the time they spend looking for a basement contractor, or any contractor, as a dating period! "Date" your contractor for an appropriate amount of time, because you're entering into a relationship with that contractor. You need to evaluate them personally, not just professionally!
Q: Why did you join our contractor network?
A: It's an association that's doing good on a large scale and bringing quality people together. Since I started with them, nothing but good has come my way. These people run the company so efficiently and with so much discipline, and they contribute to so many good causes in addition to their regular work (such as the March of Dimes).
Q: We hope homeowners use our service to find a reputable local contractor...but if they don't, what criteria should they use to determine who's the right choice for finishing a basement?
A: I firmly believe that there are three or four valid ways that you can research a contractor and make very sure he's legitimate. When renovations go wrong, the contractor bears responsibility - but, to be honest, the homeowner usually does too! The bottom line is that a basement renovation or any other type of work demands that you thoroughly research both your project and your contractor, and maintain good communication. If you do that you'll almost certainly have a positive experience.
1) never hire a contractor without a city license (*note - where applicable).
2) call in to WSIB and make sure your contractor has proper workplace insurance.
3) call their commercial insurer.
4) call references and visit the jobs in person.
Remember that nobody else can do this for you (unless you're using a service such as ours). It is your responsibility and you must take it seriously!
You can view this article with photos on our website.
This article was written by Trevor A. Bouchard
President & CEO of QuickContractors.com Inc.
For more information go to: www.QuickContractors.com

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