In an environment where housing prices are increasing and the square footage above ground is being consumed by larger family rooms, kitchens and bedrooms, refinishing a basement offers a way to meet both present and future space needs.

This is true in both existing houses and new construction.

One of the questions clients are asking home inspectors is about waterproofing. It is apparent that they are thinking about finishing the basement, even if they are not going to do it immediately.

Many older houses don’t have finished basements. Some can be turned into usable space simply by adding insulation and drywall. Others require major reconstruction and waterproofing work that might include a sump pump and installation of interior perimeter drains. But most buyers these days appear willing to undertake such work - either as a do-it-yourself project or by hiring a contractor.

Although a finished basement is just one item on a buyer's wish list, it sometimes can make or break a resale.

The space requirements basements are filling are similar to ones they've always met. A lot of parents are finishing them for their teenagers, so that the parents can have the family room to themselves while encouraging their children to stay at home for recreation.

Other uses include exercise rooms, home offices and storage, she said.

The finished basement was an important aspect of the postwar home-building boom. The rumpus or recreation room was a way of giving parents and children more space to play and to get away from each other for long periods of time - especially during the baby boom, when children often outnumbered their harried elders 4 to 1.

It meant that the kids could be out of sight and mind and yet within the safe perimeter of the house. Although many basements perform the same function today, they are as likely to hold a spare bedroom and extra bath as they are game rooms and media centers.

In addition, finished basements are becoming more high-tech. High-tech finished basements are more likely to be found in new, rather than existing, housing. However, the high cost of new housing usually delays such work until after families have gotten settled, recovered from sticker shock, and started thinking about what they'll do next.

The cost of such finished basements can range from a few thousand dollars to more than $100,000, if you throw in sophisticated electronic gear.

The finished basement therefore fits in well with the needs and desires that the National Association of Home Builders frequently hears from consumers. They want bigger houses, they want to make the best use of space, and they express "a willingness to work with high technology." Basements in most new houses are designed to be finished, whether immediately or in the not-so-distant future. In older houses, basements were designed as a place to keep the mechanicals -- furnace, hot water heater and utilities -- not as living space. But that doesn't mean that such areas cannot be converted to living space, especially if they are dry and have plenty of headroom.

In some high-end new houses, finished basements are part of the standard package.

In most new construction, however, finished basements are options.

To prepare for eventual finishing, builders typically use poured concrete for basements, because it is strong, is relatively waterproof, uniform, and has a perceived value to our buyers. A waterproofing system, typically provided by an independent contractor, and coming with a guarantee of usually 10 years, is added.

In some new construction, basements have nine-foot ceilings rather that the standard eight-footers so that there is still eight feet of clearance when the drop ceiling is installed.

Because finishing a basement is a project that can be completed at the homeowner's leisure, it is an ideal do-it-yourself project.

All the plumbing, electrical, and heating is in place. And since this is usually bonus space, a homeowner can work on it at his or her own pace, without the intense pressure to finish the job that you have with a kitchen remodel.

New-home buyers rarely have it in their heads to finish the basements when they come looking, especially since they have plenty of space on the upper floors -- as much as 3,800 square feet in some houses -- to furnish already.

They're more interested in what's upstairs at first, but as their space needs grow, they tend to look at the basement as a place to expand.

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