Basement Remodel: Splurge vs. Save

From bars to insulation, get tips for where to invest money and how to cut basement remodeling costs.

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Once you've tallied up the cost of your basement remodeling project, the final price tag can be shocking. As with any home improvement project, staying within a certain budget means clarifying your priorities.

Basement designer-contractors Steve Iverson of Finished Basements Plus and Dave Schrock of Basement Ideas have seen just about every possible way to spend money on a basement remodel. These are their tips for getting the most out of your dollar, and note that they don't agree on everything. It's all about personal preference and putting your money into what you want most.

Where to Splurge

Install a fabulous bar. For the entertainer, a great basement bar with coffered ceilings and pillars is a must. "The ceiling detail gives it a pub feel," Steve says. "It's a great space to gather around."

Consider cultured stone. Steve and Dave swoon for stone, which is expensive but dramatic. "It adds a lot of character and warmth to the space," Steve says.

Add ceiling insulation. Putting R-19 fiberglass batts in the ceiling keeps upstairs noise from ruining your theater experience or your ability to work, if you have a home office. Footsteps on hardwood floors upstairs can be maddeningly loud.

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Make the most of your lighting. In the basement, natural light is hard to come by. "Once you've spent money on tray ceilings, stone, niches and a beautiful bar," Steve says, "you want to make sure the basement is lit properly to highlight those features." You'll need task lighting in work areas, focal lighting to play up great features, and adequate ambient lighting to set the mood.

Install Ethernet. This isn't even much of a splurge. Simply have your electrician wire in your Internet connection before the drywall goes up. Wireless connections in basements can be spotty.

Where to Save

Skip the fabulous bar. Dave, unlike Steve, is not a fan of basement bars unless you're a hard-core entertainer. "We really thought we needed a sink in our basement," he says, "and we're lucky if we use it once a year. The sink and plumbing probably cost $1,000 to $1,500 that we could have saved." He prefers to install a bank of prefab cabinets and a fridge so you can entertain occasionally downstairs but design the space primarily for elements you'll enjoy regularly.

Avoid the guest bedroom. An extra bedroom is a must only for those who have frequent guests. "Do you truly want it?" Dave says. "In most homes, it won't be used much, so do you want to give up real estate you could be using for yourself?" A simple sleeper sofa downstairs might make a better choice, freeing up space for the media room you always wanted.

Have an open space instead of separate rooms. If you don't have a burning need to close off your home gym or office, don't. The price of doors, studs and drywall adds up.

Go with cheaper tile in bars and bathrooms. "Two-dollar tile can look just as nice as $10 tile," Steve says. "No one will know what you spent."

Buy standard sizes. Use standard-size cabinets and prefab countertops in your bathroom or bar. "Adding or subtracting a few inches from your design can save you big," Steve says.

Downsize in general. Do you need a whole new house downstairs? You don't have to finish the entire basement just because the space exists. If your budget is straining at the seams, make your plan smaller. You won't enjoy your new space any less.

Next Up

Managing a Basement Remodel

Get tips on tracking costs, hiring contractors and working with permits.

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