Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Basement Finishing

An easy way to increase the finished square footage of your home is to finish or update your basement. One question I am always asked is does it pay to finish my basement? Will I get my money out of it? To get that answer from a real estate professional I asked Erich Young from Edina Realty in North Oaks, Minnesota. So Erich what is your answer?

A basement finish remodel can have a significant impact on your home valuation. The biggest return on your investment will come if you can add an egress window in order to get an additional legal bedroom. This is especially true if your home has three or less bedrooms currently. The second biggest return will be an additional bathroom. Remember, with just the bedroom and bathroom your house has moved up the valuation ladder two steps from lets say a two-bedroom one-bath to a three-bedrooms and two-baths. This is a significant factor in your home's valuation. The third factor is the total finished square footage. This number is always listed on the MLS sheet and again affects your home valuation. So, yes as Joe says do it and do it right to get the most for your money!

Before you start it is important to approach your basement project by taking care of the essentials first. The last thing you want is to stick a lot of money into your home and not have it dry, safe and comfortable.


Make sure that you have drain tile and a working sump pump with a battery backup. If not have a system installed, or make sure there has not been a water problem previously in the home. I recommend in either case sealing the concrete or block walls with 'Drylock' which will reduce condensation and moisture on the wall surface.

Check for Radon

Do a radon gas check. Radon occurs in certain soil formations and can build up in basements. A simple test kit can be obtained from: http://www.mn.radon.com/ There are several remediation methods available including radon blocking paint and air ventilation. In either case both are easier and cheaper to do before you begin work on your basement.

Balance your Heating and Air Conditioning

In most cases there are not the proper number and proper sized supplies and return vents to make the basement air system effective. Additionally, you need to determine if your current system is sized properly for your additional living space. Have a professional balance your system so you have a comfortable newly finished basement when completed.


Especially if your home is older, a thorough evaluation from a licensed electrician can save a lot of time and money if done prior to beginning your remodel.


If it fits your budget I recommend foam insulation in the rim joists and top of outside walls. Foam is also the best for below grade concrete walls. Rigid insulation such as 'Thermax' is a less expensive alternative for these areas especially against concrete walls. Only use fiberglass bats in above grade wood framed walls. Visit BuildingScience.com to get the latest research on the best practices for basement insulation.

Frame and Finish

Make sure at the very least you follow code in using treated wood on all floor contact wall plates. Moreover, mold resistant framing and gypsum wall board are more expensive now, but can be a huge money and health saver in the future.

Follow this checklist when starting your basement remodel and you will be sure to have a dry, safe and comfortable living area.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

What is the best surface for my tub or shower surround?

I am frequently asked for my opinion on the best surface for a tub or shower surround. There are a number of good choices that depend upon the look you are after as well as your budget. Here is my list and their approximate cost levels.

Natural Stone (granite, slate) or quartz (Silestone, Cambria) slabs. A hard solid smooth surface with tight epoxied and/or silicone joints is tough to beat. Slabs can be cut to a 2cm thickness to save money vs standard 3cm as for counter tops.
Most expensive

Solid Acrylic (Corian, HiMacs,) slabs. Again, a hard solid smooth surface with either 'hard joints' (those epoxied together) or lapping siliconed joints. Many new colors to choose from. For a shower the pan can be made of the same material.

Stone, porcelain or ceramic tiles. A traditional finish with an endless choice of colors, textures and finishes. Installation and wall prep is critical though. Make sure that walls are first covered with cement board, taped and mortared. If a steam shower is in use, an additional water proof layer is recommended before setting the tile with thin set mix.
Moderate to Expensive

Cultured Marble slabs (Onyx) is an option to not have grout lines and still get a smooth surface. Cultured marble slabs can be custom made for your tub/shower or purchased in kits. Though cultured marble is not a solid surface like quartz and acrylic it does hold up well in a tub/shower.

Fiberglass or other composite materials covered with an acrylic or polyester coat are clean, smooth, durable and cost effective. Many colors and styles are available. You will want to make sure and get a unit that is actually either 3-piece for the tub or 4-piece for the shower. One piece units may be too difficult to place in other than new construction. A good pre-formed unit is sturdy, self supporting and attached directly to the stud requiring no wall prep work.

Vinyl surround panels that must be glued to cement board and cut to fit. The most affordable alternative.
Least expensive

No matter which tub/shower surround you choose make sure and choose an experienced contractor that warranties their work. Most products work very well when installed according the manufacturer's specifications.

Joe Nelson