I’m in the process of designing a basement for one of my clients in Bethesda, MD. It’s a modest split-level 1950’s era home. The basement is already finished with a vinyl tile floor and drywall walls and ceiling. It’s split into 2 rooms. They want it converted to a playroom and an au pair’s bedroom & bath. They were hoping to keep the costs to $40,000 but also wanted some more expensive options such as porcelain tile flooring throughout, a glass shower surround, and recessed lighting fixtures in all rooms.
Above is a floor plan for remodeling the basement. You can see that we’ve kept the wall dividing the space and allocated the space for the bedroom and playroom. The sewer line runs under the floor just a few feet off the new wall that will have toilet and shower stall. Which makes the bath location the most cost effective. I have not included in the drawing the location of light fixtures and other details.
Since most of us have a hard time believing how expensive remodeling can be, I thought it would be useful to see the costs of the different components for this remodeling project and where cost savings can be achieved.
You can see that even this modest proposal comes to about $62,000. With changes in finish level, we can reduce the cost to just over $50,000. This includes a 10% contingency which is a bare minimum.
So here’s what to keep in mind if you want to achieve savings:
The labor costs for specialty trades such as plumbers and electricians is 2-3 times the cost of construction labor. You can lower these costs by keeping down the number of fixtures and difficulty of installation. For this basement, we could lower the costs for the electrician by using fewer surface mount fixtures instead of recessed fixtures like the client originally wanted. Because we have to break into the concrete slab to install the toilet, there’s not much we can do to reduce the plumbing cost.
We can reduce the cost of the bath by replacing the shower with a bath tub and shower curtain; replacing the vanity with a countertop and drop-in sink, and replacing the ceramic tile with an acrylic insert for the tub walls and vinyl flooring. With the exception of the tub, the other changes are not acceptable to this client.
The largest potential savings can come from the choice of flooring material. In this case, it’s not the cost of the material but the labor to install the material that makes the biggest difference. Porcelain, stone or ceramic tile takes a lot of labor to install. If we move to a “sheet” good such as vinyl or carpet, the labor costs can be reduced substantially.
The basement is cold. It sits directly on a concrete slab and the heating ducts are in soffits on the ceiling. We proposed 2 changes to address the problem: First we suggested furring up the floor an inch and putting insulating foam board between new plywood and the existing floor. I know from personal experience that this makes a tremendous difference. Second, we proposed adding additonal ductwork and moving the registers to just above floor level. A cheaper alternative is to add baseboard heat.
These are the costs in the Washington DC area for a fairly bare-bones basement remodel. If you are looking to use more luxurious materials like granite countertops or add additional features such as a kitchenette, the finish costs can easily double or triple.