Step No. 1 to finish your basement

At some point in the life of homeowners the idea of turning an existing basement, which up to this point has served the home as little more than a giant closet for junk and seasonal apparel, into real living space, will cross the kitchen table.

Strategically, the finishing of a basement makes sense. You’re heating and cooling 1,200 square feet of area that’s presently housing maybe three key elements to the home: them being the furnace, freezer, and beer fridge, and not necessarily in that order.

Which leaves about 1,100 square feet dedicated to mostly junk, so we’re talking a pretty lousy return on your home investment.

As a result, it would make sense to turn such an existing storage space, or a portion thereof, into something of real living value, like an exercise area, big-screen TV room, an extra bedroom or two, or simply a play area for the kiddies.

However, and logistically, there may be challenges.

So, before ordering your Peloton exercise bike and investing in series five of the buns of steel fitness videos, let’s make sure your basement is ready to be finished.

First, has water ever infiltrated your basement in the form of moisture spots or pools of water on the floor, or even minor flooding? If the answer to this question is either sometimes, only in the spring or fall, or simply well, it’s happened once, then officially list this project as a non-starter.

Those persons finishing their basements must understand of all the frustrations you’re bound to face regarding the finishing of this basement, be it mechanical systems, the permit process, arguments regarding the location of your free-standing popcorn machine, and discussions as to whether or not your chaise-lounger should include the hot dog-warming option; none of these stresses will compare to the heartbreak of water infiltration, or worse, a flooding.

Until you do what it takes to ensure the status of your basement is officially regarded as bone dry, moving forward with this project would be extremely risky. Therefore, check the concrete basement walls for cracks, and any areas of previous water infiltration.

Do-it-yourself, crack-injection kits are available to solve minor fissure issues, while moisture-sealing paints, such as Zinser’s Watertight product, do well to solve concrete walls that feel moist, or that tend to condensate during certain periods of the year. Try these first-aid type products first, then wait a few weeks to gauge their success.

If you achieve dry, congratulations, you might be ready to move on.

If, on the other hand, there’s anything more serious than this going on, such as a very obvious wall crack, water infiltration at the point where the wall meets your concrete floor, or sump pump issues, then the hiring of an experienced professional will need to be your next call.

After having succeeded in creating a dry basement, the next step will involve strategizing the use of space. Invite a favourite contractor or home designer over to help you with this challenge. And, it will be a challenge.

Essentially, you’ll be attempting to compartmentalize your basement into four sections: them being living space, mechanical/furnace room, workshop area, and storage.

Getting rid of some of the junk, moving boxes and shelving out of the way, and a general clean-up, all in an effort to create floor space, will be helpful start to this evaluation. However, the real issues often lie in what’s above.

Some homes have the luxury of what’s referred to as an open-web joist design, which allows the plumbing, electrical, and furnace ductwork to travel basically unimpeded throughout the basement, while not affecting the headroom— now that’s smart building. Or, you can have a home similar to ours, where the original owner had all the foresight of a fruit fly, having all the mechanical and plumbing fixtures fly under the 2×10 joists, providing a basement space where I have to duck every 10 steps in order to avoid concussion.

Next week, basement planning.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Get it off the floor

A typical storage space at a client’s home in Lucan, Ont. on Thursday April 16, 2015. CRAIG GLOVER/THE LONDON FREE PRESS/POSTMEDIA NETWORK

So, how successful was your fall cleanup?

If you’re not sure how to grade your effort, the calculation is as follows. Measure the floor space of your garage, backyard shed, unfinished basement area, and/or those locations that would be defined as storage depots. Next, divide this number by the floor space occupied by items that are not furniture, riding mowers, or things weighing over 40 pounds.

If only 10 per cent of your storage square footage is covered by miscellaneous seasonal matter, or things weighing under what should be a manageable 40 pounds, then 90 per cent of your floor space was clear, essentially earning you an A grade, which is pretty good. The more things remain on the floor, the lower your grade, with anything lower than a B, representing the fact you’ve allowed 25 per cent of your available floor space to be covered with seasonal junk, earning you a failing grade.

Basically, the storage world has little sympathy for clutter.

So, if up to this point, you’ve been failing in junk management, there are two options. Either you invest in hooks and racking, or you eliminate the junk by means of a yard sale, donation, or dump.

Because humans love to collect and hoard goods, eventually developing a closeness with their stuff, the simple elimination of overstock is rarely possible. So, until death finally separates you from grandma’s wooden bowl collection, boxes of board games from the 1970s, and those priceless paint-by-number works of art, let’s get all this stuff on a shelf.

Because some things are better hung, while other stuff is more comfortable on a shelf, you should consider dedicating wall space to a combination of heavy duty hooks, shelves— and probably the best means of separating and displaying small tools and brackets: a pegboard. Also, we won’t be adding shelving, but in fact be building “racking.”

If you stop by your local building supply centre and ask for shelving, you’ll most likely be given the choice of either 12-, 16-, or 24-inch wide panels of 5/8-inch melamine finished particle board. Melamine shelving is fine for your closets or finished areas of the home, and does well to support towels and shoes.

However, you’re not going to be wanting to toss a car battery, place clay pots, or stack used gallons of paint on melamine shelving.

For racking, I suggest you use three-quarter-inch fir plywood. Fir plywood is more expensive than spruce sheeting (that would work also), but its smooth finish makes for the easier manipulation of goods, especially the heavier things, as you push and slide stuff off and onto the racking. Plus, the fir plywood won’t buckle, even under severe stress, and will take a pounding for the long term.

Support the shelving using 2×3 lumber, fastened along the front and back edges of each shelf.

Hooks for the purpose of hanging anything from extension cords to bicycles should be of the screw-in, vinyl-coated variety. Avoid choosing regular coat hooks. I find the shape of regular coat hooks dangerous, and when I see them, am always reminded of the final scene in the 1978 movie Midnight Express, where the fellow escapes after the guard’s head get skewered on a coat hook during a brief tussle.

You’ll never get skewered using vinyl-coated hooks. Plus, they won’t break like coat-hooks sometime do, and they’ll support significantly more weight.

Vinyl-coated hooks are best installed on a length of 2×4 spruce lumber, with the 2×4 then fastened onto the wall using lag screws. Again, and related to safety, although I can’t recall an improperly installed sheet of pegboard in a scene from Halloween 5, the revenge of Michael Myers, leading to somebody’s untimely death, your sheets of pegboard should be installed behind a shop table, or base shelving, and/or placed at least three feet off the floor.

Bending down to retrieve something off a hook is a recipe for getting skewered.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard