A basement renovation can be a game-changer — even if you’re on a strict budget. Whether it’s to increase the value of your home or add another functional living space, you don’t have to pay top dollar to enjoy this area of your home.
According to HomeAdvisor, the average cost to renovate a basement is $30 to $75 per square foot for most homes. However, this depends on the materials you use, the square footage of the basement and if you plan to make it a do-it-yourself project.
Instead of transforming your entire basement, smaller DIY projects may be a more cost-effective option. Here are 11 project ideas that will make your basement livable on a budget:
— Improve part of the basement.
— Paint the ceiling and walls.
— Incorporate an accent wall or ceiling.
— Add new lighting.
— Include storage options.
— Customize your staircase.
— Get creative with flooring.
— Break up open areas with furniture or dividers.
— Add a functional space.
— Make sure there is plenty of seating.
Improve Part of the Basement
If your budget limits what you can do, renovating a single area of a basement can be a cost-effective way to update or improve the space.
Areas that include the furnace, water heater, washing machine and dryer hookups and electric service panel can be left alone. Focus on open areas of the basement that are dry to finish and create a functional living space, preferably near windows.
Paint the Ceiling and Walls
One of the best ways to update your basement is to add a fresh coat of paint. Exposed beams, ducts and pipes on the ceiling can be painted a solid color to make everything blend and using a light color, such as white or light gray, can help to make the space feel brighter and more welcoming.
“To determine a good paint color for a basement, you’ll want to first assess the lighting situation. If the basement has a lot of natural light, that provides the flexibility to choose a light or dark paint color,” says Margie Kaercher, lead designer of Hearth and Honey Homes, based in Tampa, Florida. “If the basement has minimal windows, it’s best to stick with a lighter, more airy color to avoid the look of a depressing dungeon.”
The one exception would be if you’re planning to build a home theater, Kaercher says. “Darker colors are always better to make the picture really pop,” she adds.
For unfinished basements, you can paint cinder blocks with latex masonry paint or acrylic paint made for walls, though you should expect to need a few coats since concrete is more porous than drywall.
Incorporate an Accent Wall or Ceiling
If you want to make a statement with your basement, consider using a bold color or creating an accent wall. “Between millwork, molding, wallpaper and contrasting paint colors, there are endless options to create a stunning focal point and naturally draw the eye to (or away from) a certain element,” Kaercher says.
An accent wall can bring depth, pattern, texture, color and dimension to a space, Kaercher explains, which can be an easy DIY project for some. “In general, a lighter colored ceiling will make the ceilings feel higher and the space feel more expanded,” she says. “And while a darker colored ceiling can result in the space feeling more closed in, it’s not always a bad thing — especially if you’re trying to create an intimate, cozy ambiance.”
Just be sure to balance it out with neutral accents to avoid overwhelming the space. You can also use color to define different areas and create a sense of separation.
Add New Lighting
A lack of lighting and low ceilings can be a big remodeling challenge in most basements. You may not have much natural light to work with, but you can easily change out light fixtures to improve the overall look and feel of the space.
Consider wall sconces or lamps to really brighten up your basement. Avoid hanging fixtures like pendant lights if your ceiling is low. Recessed lighting is another great option that won’t draw attention to low ceilings.
Include Storage Options
Unfinished basements often become a magnet for clutter and catch-all storage space for items that don’t fit in closets and cabinets above ground. Make use of wall space by installing shelving or storage cabinets along the walls to create more storage space. Invest in clear storage bins or containers to keep items organized and visible.
Look for spaces in your basement that are not being used. For example, you could install shelves under the stairs or use hanging organizers on the walls.
Customize Your Staircase
All basements have a staircase and there are many ways to make your staircase stand out and become a design feature in itself.
Add a runner or carpet down the center of the stairs, which can add comfort underfoot and a pop of color. You can also paint the stair risers or treads, or swap out your old railing for something more unique.
Get Creative With Flooring
Installing carpet, tile or hardwood flooring in your basement is a project that can take you beyond your budget. Carpet tiles, which are squares of carpet that can be fitted together as a DIY task, are a cheaper alternative. Find carpet tiles from specialty sellers or home decor and improvement companies for $1 to $2 per square foot. Other options include foam mat squares that fit together like puzzle pieces, laminate flooring or water-resistant vinyl tiles or flooring planks.
If you have a concrete floor, you can use special concrete paint to give it a fresh, new look. This is a cheap and easy option, but it may not be as durable.
Break Up Open Areas With Furniture or Dividers
You can use room dividers or different furniture arrangements to create separate areas or define different spaces in your basement. “By creating ‘zones’ in your space, you give clear purpose to each designated area and create a better flow throughout,” Kaercher says. She recommends grouping furniture together in separate arrangements and adding rugs to help define the different zones.
You can also use hanging dividers, which are panels made from acrylic, resin, wood or other solid materials that hang from the ceiling. These dividers can slide open or closed for privacy. Hanging curtains and accordion dividers are another affordable and simple way to divide a space in your basement. Use them to create a private area, such as a home office or bedroom, or to completely block off an area.
Add a Functional Space
Use this opportunity to create that gym or home office that you’ve always wanted. Not only can a finished basement be used as additional living space, such as a family room, home theater, playroom or guest bedroom, but it can also potentially increase the value of your home.
According to the National Association of Realtors’ 2022 Remodeling Impact Report, a basement conversion to a living area has a return on investment of about 86%. However, this can be pricey to meet required code for living spaces. You can also leave the basement unfinished but use it as a home gym or as an extra playroom for the kids when going outside isn’t an option.
Make Sure There Is Plenty of Seating
If you plan to do entertaining in your basement, you want to make sure there is plenty of seating for your guests. “Other than a large sofa for lounging, tables and chairs that can double as both a place for eating and playing games will make for good use of the space,” Kaercher recommends. “In smaller basements that don’t allow for a table with chairs, you can squeeze in a long but narrow bar table right behind the sofa — which will still provide guests a place to eat that isn’t on your sofa.”
[Read: How to Paint A Bedroom]
The basement is the perfect space in your home to take any decorative liberties. You can check out local secondhand stores to find unique accessories, such as area rugs, wall art and mirrors. Kaercher says you don’t have to fill every square inch of blank wall space. “In fact, you need some negative space so the eye can rest in between visual points of interest and take it all in,” she says.
She recommends large-scale artwork on the walls to make a statement and to keep you from worrying about making multiple smaller pieces all work together. “Another idea is to display a personal collection, and there’s no better place to do this than in a basement because it’s separate enough from the rest of the house to where it doesn’t necessarily have to be perfectly cohesive with everything else,” Kaercher adds.
A large, unfinished basement is a blank canvas full of endless possibilities.
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Update 01/09/23: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.