DIY Basement Finishing Can Be Risky: Here’s What to Know

Lauren Murphy
Written by Lauren Murphy
Updated November 4, 2021
Finished basement in house
PC Photography / iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

When it comes to finishing your basement, there are a few key things to consider before diving into a DIY

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Unfinished basements can give you handy extra storage space, but they aren’t areas you typically want to spend time in. If you have an unfinished basement going unused, you may want to consider finishing it to transform it into an extra hangout space for your teens, a game room, a craft room, or even a home theater. If you can imagine it, you (or a pro) can create it.

That said, there are several things to take into account before you get to work. DIY basement finishing comes with a few risks, including injury. To avoid unnecessary mishaps, develop a plan that accounts for the following potential problems.

Waterproofing

Excess moisture is a common issue in basements because they are often underground and close to groundwater or draining rainwater. Plus, there are usually moisture sources inside the basement, like clothes dryers, showers, and humidifiers. If you live in a humid area, moisture problems in your basement can be even worse as outside air enters the basement and condenses on cooler surfaces.

Before you start finishing your basement, waterproof it. Extreme moisture can damage drywall, carpets, and furniture. For that reason, it’s crucial to eliminate leaks and implement proper drainage in and around your finished basement. 

Check for obvious water stains and implement these strategies to prevent moisture from becoming a problem:

  • Regrading to slope soil away from your foundation

  • Sealing cracks around pipes

  • Painting the walls with waterproof paint

  • Redirecting downspouts away from your foundation

  • Adding extra drainage outside your basement

If there are significant leaks or other moisture problems that you don’t feel confident fixing yourself, you may want to call in a basement finishing professional for help. 

Flooring

Man building a floor in home basement
Marc Dufresne / E+ via Getty Images

Most basements have a concrete floor. While concrete floors are durable and functional, they’re not the most comfortable to walk on. That can work in some spaces, like home gyms, but more livable spaces need a different type of flooring. 

The type of flooring you choose should be able to stand up to humidity. Some great options for basement flooring include:

  • Vinyl

  • Ceramic tile

  • Stone

  • Painted concrete

  • Carpet

If you install a material susceptible to warping or rot, like wood, for example, you could end up with damage to your subfloor. In turn, you may have another basement remodeling project on your hands much sooner than you’d like.

Electrical

Whether you’re finishing your basement to become a standalone apartment or to add more living space to your current home for your family to spread out, electrical work is a central consideration. 

Basement refinishing projects should start with electrical work—especially before drywalling—to have wiring and outlets ready to go for the new space you have planned. Electrical outlets also allow you to easily plug in your power tools, and use your shop vac to clean up messes after projects (sawdust gets everywhere during remodels).

Electrical work can be hazardous and is not suitable for DIY. Instead, call in a local electrician to complete the job. A professional will be able to wire your basement correctly while following any local codes and regulations in place in your area.

Drywall

Drywall sheets are big, unwieldy, and heavy, meaning hanging your own drywall is hard work. DIY drywall doesn’t always yield the best aesthetic results either. It requires putting together  panels like a jigsaw puzzle, matching seams perfectly, and sanding everything evenly. 

It could take weeks, if not months, to complete this project on your own. Professional drywall crews may take just a day or two to finish. And once they’re done, you can get to the more fun parts of finishing your basement, like painting the walls with your inspired color selections. Hiring a professional will ensure your basement looks great and likely save you from a nasty back injury.

Basement Refinishing Costs

According to HomeAdvisor, the average cost to finish a basement is $18,400, with prices ranging from $2,800 to $34,000. That’s a huge difference. 

Costs can quickly add up and spiral out of control if you aren’t paying close attention. Break your finishing project down into individual projects or tasks and create a budget for each one. Consider the cost to increase your basement’s headroom, install flooring, repair foundation, paint walls, and more. Throughout your project, refer back to your original budget to ensure things don’t stray too far from what you had in mind. This way, you’ll avoid unexpected bills.

Personal Injury Risks

Always have an understanding of the process before taking on a DIY project, especially a significant one like basement refinishing. If you’re unsure of what you’re doing, you could put yourself at risk of injury

Research how to finish a basement to make sure you thoroughly understand each step before you dive in. Consider the risks involved with each step and plan accordingly, making sure to keep a first aid kit on hand at all times.

If you’re hesitant, hire an inspector to confirm that everything is safe beforehand or consider hiring a contractor to do the dirty work for you. A professional will already have all the safety gear on hand.

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