WATER LEVELS IN THE GTA
In cities with high water levels, homes often do not have basements due to risks of flooding and water damage. Fortunately, this is usually not the case in the GTA, except for a few low-lying areas near natural water sources, such as lakes.
Unfinished basements typically accommodate hot water tanks, electrical panels, furnace systems, laundry rooms, and storage spaces. The floors and some parts of the foundation walls are usually made of exposed concrete on the floor, and cinderblock walls, and often there is insulation taped to some or all parts of the exterior walls to maintain a warm environment.
WHY FINISHING BASEMENTS
Finished basements are often repurposed as kids play areas, home office, entertainment and party rooms, additional family living space, a second kitchen, home theatre, extra bedrooms, home gym area, or a combination of all or some of these items.
Some people prefer to finish their basement to rent as an “apartment” to tenants for an extra source of income. Rental units have different code requirements than if you are simply using the extra space for your purposes, rather than for a legal tenant. If you are going to finish your basement for rental purposes, we recommend applying for the appropriate permits and understanding the code requirements.
There are numerous code elements you must be aware of before renting your space out to someone else. Here are just a few examples;
- There needs to be a certain % of windows based on the square foot of the rental space
- You will require a dedicated entrance door into the basement for tenant security
- You must make sure there are at least two points of egress in case of fire or other unexpected situations requiring immediate escape. Egress is the term used in the building code meaning “exit”.
There may also be requirements for fire barriers between floors
What’s the minimum, so you can call it finished
A basic finishing job involves framing, plumbing, electrical wiring, insulation, drywall, lighting, and flooring, and HVAC. What this will give you is a basic space that you can use for basic purposes. Adding furnishings, home gym equipment, toy boxes, and other portable items make the basement rooms useful.
If you want your basement to have some purpose-built design elements included, you can consider adding a kitchen, bathroom, finished laundry room, bar, steam room, wine cellar, dedicated home theatre room, and so on. These items all reflect how you want to use the space and each will have it’s own specific requirements and costs.
Consider this before you finish your basement
Before finishing a basement, you should make sure your basement is completely dry and that there is no water seepage through the foundation walls, flooring, or drain system. Usually, wet basements have a mildew smell, similar to cat urine. Upon entering a basement an early indicator that you may have a moisture or dampness problem will be your sense of smell. A dry and healthy basement should have little to no smell on its own.
If the water is fresh, for example leaking from a tap and running into a drain, you may only be able to identify this with a visual check for damp walls, discoloured insulation if it exists, or actual water on your basement floor. Before venturing into finishing your basement it’s important to resolve the cause of any water issues before getting started, and making sure your basement is dry.
In some extreme cases, if the basement has any dampness or leakage coming from outside of the home, waterproofing from the outside walls and possibly re-grading the soil or improving the drainage adjacent to your house may be required.
Some older homes have basements that are just too short to be effectively used as a living space making them impractical for renting out. In such cases, additional height can be added by an excavation of the soil under the home and lowering the basement floor. The general process for this begins with demolishing the old slab (basement floor), digging further down until the required depth is reached, underpinning the footings, and pouring new slab; all this should happen before any other finishing operation in the space begins.
Adding extra windows, or widening the existing ones will make the basement into a more pleasurable living space because of the additional natural light.
Basement renovations are truly exciting and help families get more enjoyment from their home.