How Much Does a Basement Remodel Cost?

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The cost varies greatly and can be jaw-droppingly high. With an average return on investment of 70 percent, though, it's a sound investment.

The basement in my sister’s home in Arlington, Massachusetts is an all-in-one example of the three possible basement conditions: finished, partially finished and unfinished.

There’s a fully renovated living area at the bottom of the stairway, complete with a bathroom and steam bath. Passing through a door takes you to the laundry room, with new flooring and unfinished walls. Through another door you’ll find the workshop and storage area with a concrete floor and walls, a single light fixture and exposed pipes and wires along the walls and ceiling.

Paul Conway, my sister’s partner and a general contractor, did most of the remodeling work. Though his labor was free, he assures me it was an expensive project. While fuzzy on the exact amount they spent, he does remember one significant cost: $12,000 to remodel the bathroom and add the steam room.

“Unforeseen problems are bound to arise, no matter how carefully you plan a basement remodel,” Conway says.

“When budgeting for your remodel, you can get ballpark costs that depend on the size of your basement and what you want to do with it, but they will be approximate. Every basement is different, so to go over the details of your remodeling project with a contractor before you start.”

If budget is a concern, it’s a good idea to get estimates even if you plan to do a lot of the work yourself.

Before starting your remodeling project, learn about the concept of daylight basements.

Benefits of Remodeling a Basement

People often use the terms “remodel” and “renovate” interchangeably, but they don’t mean the same thing.

A basement remodel typically involves changing the layout and bringing in new materials, while a renovation involves repairing or upgrading what’s already there. A remodel is more complex and expensive, but there are good reasons to do it:

  • Extra usable space: Who can’t use more living space? A basement can become anything from a gaming room to a studio apartment. If you include bedrooms, you need an extra egress window for each one. If zoning allows, a remodeled basement can even generate income.
  • Improved energy efficiency: Cold air from an unfinished basement wafts up into the rest of the house and pushes up your energy bill.
  • Better air quality: An unfinished based is a moisture and mold trap. If there’s a blower in the basement, mold circulates through the rest of the house through the HVAC system. By controlling mold, a basement remodel makes the air throughout the house safer to breathe.
  • A good investment: A finished basement adds value to the house. Though a remodel is expensive, you’ll get on average a 70 percent return on investment when you sell.

Factors Affecting the Cost of Remodeling a Basement

Just like major auto repairs, there’s no standard cost for basement remodels. All kinds of factors come into play, such as:

  • Size of the basement: A bigger basement costs more to remodel.
  • Condition of the basement: Moisture issues must be addressed before you can remodel. If you need to waterproof the floors and walls, expect to add at least $3.50 per square foot to the cost of the project. If drainage must be improved, that adds even more.
  • Scope of the project: A remodel that includes new plumbing and electrical costs much more than one that doesn’t. You may also be planning to install new windows, subdivide the space into separate rooms or raise the subfloor to prepare it for wood flooring. Perhaps you want a steam bath. All these raise the cost.
  • Choice of materials: Quality materials may look great and last longer, but they also cost more.
  • Permits: If you install new plumbing or alter the structure, you’ll need building permits. The cost varies by community and can be anywhere from a few hundred dollars to $2,000.
  • Contractor rates: You can save a lot by DIY-ing as much as possible, but it’s unlikely you can do it all. General contractor rates vary by location. In Massachusetts, they’re around $65 per hour. Conway estimates they could be as high as $95 per hour in California, where I live. Plumbing and electrical contractor rates are typically higher.

How Much Does It Cost To Remodel A Basement?

With so many factors to consider, it’s no surprise there’s a wide range of costs for a basement remodel.

At the low end, converting a small basement into a modest rec room with a vinyl floor and finished walls might run as little as $4,000. At the high end, remodeling to create a living space with a bathroom and kitchen might be $80,000 or more. The average national cost cited by online sources like Angi and HomeAdvisor is around $21,000.

Here are some typical labor and materials ranges for the basics almost every basement remodel would include:

  • Framing: $700 to $1.400;
  • Insulation: $1,500 to $4,000;
  • Drywall: $1,000 to $3,000;
  • Paint: $1,250 to $3,500;
  • Flooring: $1,500 to $12,000.

Typical labor and materials ranges for items in higher-end remodels are:

  • Windows: $1,000 to $7,000;
  • Electrical upgrades: $3,000 to $12,000;
  • New plumbing and fixtures: $2,500 to $15,000;
  • Furniture and appliances: $1,000 to $30,000.

Money-Saving Basement Remodel Tips

Conway strongly advises double- and triple-checking the foundation for leaks and moisture before beginning a remodeling project. In their remodel, failing to properly seal a gap between the foundation wall and a plumbing pipe created a leak that necessitated tearing out and replacing a new interior wall.

“There’s nothing more wasteful than going back and redoing work you just did,” he says.

Conway offered these other money-saving pointers:

  • Code mandates at least one egress window in a finished basement, and each bedroom you build must have one. Save money by installing recycled windows. Put them on the side or back of the house to maximize curb appeal.
  • Install drop ceilings. They’ll make the space look finished, and you won’t have to move the pipes and wires attached to the ceiling joists.
  • Install luxury vinyl tile flooring. It’s inexpensive, waterproof and long-lasting. It also looks convincingly like real wood or tile, and it’s comfortable to walk on.
  • You don’t necessarily need to remodel the entire basement. You can save money by leaving part of it unfinished and using it for storage.

Chris Deziel
Chris Deziel has been active in the building trades for more than 30 years. He helped build a small city in the Oregon desert from the ground up and helped establish two landscaping companies. He has worked as a carpenter, plumber and furniture refinisher. Deziel has been writing DIY articles since 2010 and has worked as an online consultant, most recently with Home Depot's Pro Referral service. His work has been published on Landlordology, Apartments.com and Hunker. Deziel has also published science content and is an avid musician.