Basement Renovation: Getting Started

A few weeks ago Mandy and I decided to start renovating part of our basement. Our 30,000ft plan is to transform about a third of the basement into a rec room, into which we’ll move the big screen. The family room, which currently houses the TV, will become a reading room/office, a more appropriate function considering all the built-in oak cabinetry.

Chicago Basement Remodeling

I like to think of myself as a fairly handy guy, so I’m planning to do most of the work myself. From what I’ve read, doing it myself should cut the cost of the reno in half. I don’t have much direct experience in many aspects of a basement reno — I’ve never framed a wall, added new wiring, or hung drywall before, for example — so I expect I will have a lot to learn in the process.

My first adventure in renovation education was a trip to our local Rona store in early February. They had advertised a session on framing a basement for the Saturday morning, and a related session on wiring in the afternoon. I showed up for the morning session only to find, after waiting for an hour, that the instructor was not able to attend. While I waited a took a look around the store and jotted down some prices for materials and browsed through their book section, which clued me into the idea that an instructed session was a waste of time. I should just order a book on basement renovations that teaches me what I need to know.

When I got home, I surfed Amazon until I found Remodeling a Basement: Expert Advice from Start to Finish, which seemed to have the most favourable reviews, and ordered it. It arrived a few days later. For the next few weeks I didn’t make any noticeable progress on the basement. I was just reading through the book.

The next step was drawing up a plan for the basement. This turned out to be more work than I expected, especially considering how simple our plans are — basically just closing in an open space. I found one very helpful tip in the book for this step. Make a scale drawing of the existing layout on a piece of grid paper first. Photocopy it. Then draw your design in pencil on the copy. With the existing layout in permanent ink, it is easy to try different ideas and erase the duds without having to redraw everything.

With a plan in hand, I finally got started on some actual work last weekend: demolition! This was almost entirely brain-dead grunt work, something I’ve discovered to quite enjoy. I lifted some tired old carpet, dismantled a wall removed a bunch of drywall around the stairway.

On my day off last Friday, I rerouted some central vac conduit. I had to go to a local vacuum store to pick up the necessary fittings; Canadian Tire does not carry them because, according to a salesperson there, they vary in size from brand to brand.

Now I’m all ready to start framing. Well… almost ready. I don’t have a building permit yet, and I’m not sure that I need one. I emailed city hall yesterday and unsurprisingly haven’t heard back from them yet.

I’m hoping to get some quotes and place an order for the lumber this week. Trying to price this stuff online is hopeless. Home Depot doesn’t even acknowledge that they sell lumber on their website.

If I can get the permit and lumber lined up by Wednesday, I can start working on Thursday, which I’ll be taking off. I’ll try to keep track my progress here more regularly in the future.