6 Basement Layout Mistakes You’re Probably Making, According to Home Experts

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If you’re lucky enough to have a lower level offering extra multi-functional living space, are you making the most of it to impress buyers? Probably not, home experts say. If you’re not thoughtful about your basement layout and its uses, it won’t actually add much value to your property. Here are six common mistakes you may be making when it comes to making the most of basements, and what to do instead. 

You have a bunch of small, enclosed rooms

Homeowners often divide basements into walled-in zones for a home office, a gym, a guest room, and TV area, thinking buyers will love separate spaces. But don’t forget that basements house important systems that regulate temperature and air flow, and an open floor plan makes more sense, says Boston-based real estate agent Kate Ziegler.

“You’ll need to access some of your systems in the future, and if you have all those tiny spaces, it’s going to make future repairs much more time-consuming,” says Ziegler.

Smart fix: Having some open space makes repairs easier, and it’s also better for your systems themselves, which need fresh air and air flow to function most efficiently without additional wear and tear on your equipment.  

You messed around with essential structural elements  

We get it, you don’t want to bang your head on the ceiling. But one big mistake people make when they try to add more head clearance is cutting through ceiling support beams or floor joists without realizing they’re actually holding up the house. 

“That’s a major no-no and one of the most costly mistakes to fix,” Ziegler says. 

Smart fix: If you’re missing chunks of support beams, they’ll need to be patched to make sure there’s still structural integrity, Ziegler says.

Can you ever have too much storage? Spoiler alert: Nope. Sure, it’s great to have livable square footage so you can brag about easily hosting family gatherings. But nothing sends a buyer scurrying away faster than seeing clutter everywhere with nowhere to put it, says Atlanta-based real estate agent Leianne Messina, owner of Redneck Renovation. 

“I have clients that want to use every single inch in the basement, but they also have five trees’ worth of Christmas decorations and tons of luggage. You’ve got to have adequate storage space,” says Messina. 

Smart fix: Devote one wall to open shelving, or add sliding doors that won’t eat into your space when you open them, suggests Messina. Also, make sure any cherished items or boxes of important paperwork aren’t sitting directly on the basement floor, just in case moisture infiltrates.

You laid down the wrong flooring

Since most basements are at least partly below grade, make sure you’re using the right flooring materials that won’t become irreparably damaged by moisture. So, forget carpet, hardwood, or anything else that won’t dry out quickly, advises Ziegler.

Smart fix: Install vinyl flooring, tile, carpet tiles, or rubber floor tiles that snap together easily. “Those materials are going to be more resilient if there’s heavy rain and you get some water in your basement,” says Ziegler. “It’s not going to ruin your space or your things.”

You’re in the dark about lighting design

The key to making small, dark spaces like basements appear bigger is with clever lighting design. Chances are, the basement doesn’t get flooded with natural light due to small windows, so amp up your brightness quotient by installing several layers of light, beginning with what’s overhead. 

“The biggest mistake we see in basement lighting is people trying to use the same cheap flush-mount fixtures you see in first-floor living spaces, but those lights take up valuable headroom,” Ziegler says.

Smart fix: Because most basement spaces have access space between the floor joists, put in recessed lighting instead. “It’ll also make a basement space feel much more open, inviting and comfortable to be in,” says Ziegler. Then, add sconces, table lamps and standing lamps to further warm things up.

You’ve gone quiet on soundproofing

If you’re opening up the ceiling to put in recessed lighting, it’s probably a good time to add some soundproofing as well. 

“Soundproofing is definitely worth considering, especially in older homes where there’s not always much insulation between floors,” says Ziegler. Just think of all the noisy activities taking place downstairs—from movie-watching to online gaming tournaments to kids’ karaoke dance parties—that you can solve quickly and easily.

Smart fix: Add spray-foam insulation if you have access to the ceiling, or tuck in fiberglass insulation that fits between the floor joists, suggests Ziegler. “You might also want to sheetrock over the ceiling because it’ll dramatically improve the way sound carries between floors.”

As an added bonus, any of these soundproofing solutions will also improve the efficiency of your heating and cooling systems. 

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