DIY Basement Upgrades

5 Replies

I'm looking for some helpful DIY basement upgrade ideas!

We recently purchased a 4-unit rental property in Cleveland and the basement serves as the communal laundry room.  Completely unfinished with exposed foundation, pipes, hot water heaters, crawl space, etc. The walls need a good brush down with a broom and the ceiling for some cobwebs.

That being said, while it isn't a large space we'd love ideas on how we can make this space a little more inviting for our tenants.  We've tossed around the idea of hanging curtains to cover the exposed foundation and adding some storage shelves for laundry products. 

I'd love to hear what you have done either DIY or on a budget to make these types of spaces a bit more welcoming than just a dark, damp basement.

@Matt Rutter I’ve never done anything like this. Pictures would have helped to see what your up against. Perhaps try spraying the ceiling of the basement all black like they do in some commercial spaces. And paint the studs or concrete walls. Expory the floor? Just brainstorming. Good luck

@Matt Rutter - I have an REI friend who just did this to a 4-plex for value-add.

Unfinished basement, dark, etc.. 

He had his handyman: 

  • Touchup/cement all the wall areas with any cracks/holes
  • Painted the basement white (professional sprayer used)
  • Any exterior cement walls got UGL Drylock just in case
  • Added extra lighting (3-4K LED bulbs are great) so it makes the whole space now feel 'light and bright' and not a scary, dark dungeon
  • Added coin-op laundry x2 (washers and dryers, 2 sets).  If you have already that's fine.
  • Also made a laundry 'station' with a large folding table on the wall and shelving for soaps, etc
  • Built (4) large 8x8 storage units with their own doors. Tenants provide their own locks.

Overall I think he spent a few thousand on this (namely 2/2 washers/dryers he had to purchase) but well worth it and in the end increased his rent a few hundred dollars for the building too. 

Part of the basement in my rental was already finished when I bought it. Somebody put a light coat of plaster over the poured concrete, and then painted that a light pink color. Then, somebody else nailed 2x2s to the poured concrete, and put wood paneling up. Later on, the wood paneling was painted white. I ended up having to tear out all the paneling (and install a sump pump... whee!), leaving me with the pink walls again... painting them white helped brighten the space back up. I washed it with TSP and water and let it dry, and then I used the "bright white" Sherwin-Williams base paint, with no tint in it whatsoever. If it's poured concrete, and you DIY it with a roller, get a roller with a really long nap - this helps you get into the little holes and bubbles in the concrete. You'll never get them all, but you can get most of them. If it's block, a shorter nap roller may work.

I don't know if I would go for the curtain idea... the fire marshal may have something to say about that.  In theory, wall coverings are supposed to meet some flammability specs, and curtains from the general store probably won't meet that spec if they're used to cover an entire wall.  You can get curtains that will meet the spec, but they're enough money that it would be cheaper to do drywall or paneling at that point.

The company that did my sump pump had an add-on offer (which I didn't take up) to install fiberglass reinforced plastic (FRP) panels on the inside of the walls.  You've seen these in a gas station bathroom - 4x8 plastic sheets, usually with a shiny finish and pebbly texture.  I don't remember if they proposed gluing them up, or using nails or screws.  I've seen the sheets for sale at the big-box store, as well.  The advantage of these is that water doesn't bother them.  However, if you have an active leak behind one of these panels, you may have to pull out the panel to fix it... or funky stuff could start growing behind the panel.

The finished part in the basement of mine is kind of an L shape, with a 10'x20' area and about a 10'x10' area adjoining, drywall ceilings throughout.  When I bought it, there was one can light in the center of the 10'x20' area, and one old shower-type fixture (square frosted glass) in the center of the 10'x10' area. I took out those fixtures and put in some LED "disk" lights - three down the middle of the big area, and two down the middle of the small area.  This also helped bring up the light level.  The disk lights only need a deep regular (4") junction box, so they might be good if you have low ceilings.

The LEDs I used were Cooper Halo 6", 1200 lumen, 2700 K.  I picked them because Cooper has a photometry program on their Web site that lets you pick out your room size and desired level of light, and tells you how many fixtures to use.  You can also tell it if you want one row down the middle, or a grid, etc, and it will compute the light level for the arrangement you want.  The only thing I don't like about these lights is that they have patents licensed from Rambus, which is a patent troll.  You can get equivalent lights in other brands from the big-box stores.  If you're not sure how many to get, buy one or two, wire it/them to an extension cord, and temporarily hang it/them from the ceiling some evening.  Play around with the spacing until you like the light level, and then order more if you need to.

If you're trying to do the real low dough show, at least put in a few more regular round junction boxes, put the classic ceramic lampholder on them, and wire them to the existing light circuit... pull chains or wall switches to taste.  Most basements need about double the amount of ceiling lamps that the builder installed.  Also, for some reason, the LED industry has decided that the 60 W equivalent is the size they really want to sell... if you have the headroom to spare, you can often get cheaper lumens by installing a Y adapter and two 60 W equivalent lamps, rather than one 75 W, 100 W, or higher equivalent lamp.  Or, get an LED "shop light" fixture, and install it between two joists to get a little more headroom.

The laundry shelves are probably a good idea.  This is one place where it might be better to install plastic or wood shelves, instead of metal... the detergent and bleach and stuff may eventually rust a metal shelf.  If your tenants like to fold their laundry down there too, maybe some kind of table to make that easier, like @Mike B. said.  If there's not a lot of room, you can get or make a table that mounts to the wall on one edge and folds down against the wall when not in use.  If it's awkward to set up an ironing board near the washer (and the washer outlet), find a good spot for an ironing board and make sure there's an outlet on the wall there.

If your tenants trust each other enough, I have seen storage rooms in an apartment basement that were made by building walls out of 2x4s, and then just stapling chicken wire to the studs.  Each room had a door with a hasp for a padlock.  You may need to extend the walls (or at least the chicken wire) up into the space between the joists.

If the pipes aren't super rusty and crusty, and don't get real hot, you can either paint them white to dress them up, or go nuts and show them off.. paint the water supply lines blue and red, the sewer lines green, etc.  :)  Don't paint any forced-air ducts or the flues from gas appliances, though.

If you have any gas appliances down there, be careful about building them into closets or other small spaces.  They need combustion air to operate (unless it's a newer high-efficiency furnace with its own intake air pipe coming from outside the house).  The installation manual will tell you how many cubic feet of room per BTU/hr it needs.  If you can't find the manual for exactly your furnace or water heater, look up one for a current model with equal or higher input rating (BTU/hr).  You can build a small room around them, but you then need to provide vent grills in the wall or door, or a pipe that brings air down into that room from the attic or outside.

Maybe this is obvious, but if you add storage rooms, make sure there's still enough room to move a replacement water heater, washer, dryer, etc, from the basement door or stairs to the place it needs to live.  On mine, the water supply comes through the foundation wall about 3 feet off the floor, goes into the meter, and then goes up to the ceiling... I built a fairly stout box of 2x4s around the whole thing, to help prevent tenants from accidentally shearing off the pipe when they're moving boxes around.

I hope this helps!

Matt R.

Fast, cheap, quick, and easy answer--- Go buy "Daylight White bulbs" for all your fixtures.  If you wish more light up the basement with more fixtures.  Nothing worse than a shadowy dark basement.  And nothing better than a bright well lit one.  Daylight white bulbs are great compared to old yellow ones whether its a screw in or florescent.

@Matt Rutter

Get the space cleaned up.  Paint the ceiling black or dark gray to unify the look.  Paint the walls a light color. You want this space to look bright and unified.  New light fixtures perhaps like 2x4.   Install them in a pattern (Unify).  A must is Daylight (color temp of 5000k or 6000k) light bulbs.  The 3000k color temp is not high enough. If you don't like the look of the foundation, then fur out the walls with studs, drywall and insulation.  Create rooms of anything you don't want tenants to have access to.   Laundry stations are good, basic millwork and counter top.   Picture is my unfinished basement after a fresh coat of white paint and daylight bulbs.

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