I am interested in developing my basement. Our house is about 1250 sq
ft. The basement is already framed but I want to make a few changes.
I would like to remove a bedroom and make a large family room/games
room with a fireplace. I also need to add some storage area. I have
some ideas but I would like some additional input/ideas on how best to
use the space to meet our current and future needs. I do not want
this to look like a do-it yourself job.
So my question is this: who can help me with this task: an interior
designer, an architect, or someone else? Also, about how much money
do I need for these services. I see this as a very small project and
my objective is to keep things simple.
I have detailed drawings of the house the existing framing and my new
I went with a contractor who gave some general ideas but he deferred to an
architect for some of the things I wanted done (ex removing a bearing wall
in the basement which required new footings, posts, etc). I also took the
drawings to the city for a permit and they had their own suggestions to
make. This kind of made sure I had someone to name in the lawsuit if my
house came tumbling down! I mention this because you raised the point about
removing of a wall.
I also started the project by listing what I wanted out of the space and
doing a lot of research like looking at books on basement remodelling and
the like. I probably spent the better part of a year thinking about the
project. Plan out things like storage, closets, incorporating the
furnace/hot water area, lighting, do you want a washroom, computer area,
etc. Wire for more than less, add cable, etc. A lot will fall into place
once you know what you want down there.
You know, a lot of this really depends on several factors, including
existing type of structure, the size of the new opening you are trying
to make (in the load bearing wall), and last but not least, local
(building code) requirements.
In MY town, any time structural changes are to occur (especially to an
existing load bearing wall), the City wants you to have a licensed
architect (and/or a lic. structural engineer) design and detail all
the necessary elements. That legal requirement varies by
jurisdiction, but is common enough nonetheless.
Also, as a licensed architect, I can't tell you the number of times
I've seen so-called experienced licensed contractors COMPLETELY
mis-engineer some structural system ( projects where I was not the
AOR.) I shudder to think how many disasters are out there waiting to
collapse. Oh, the nightmares I've seen...
And I suppose if you (as Owner) have an agreement w/ a licensed
architect and the A/E makes a major design/calculation error, there
may be grounds for a lawsuit.
However, the reality is MOST construction errors (something like over
80%) are a result of Contractor errors-- not architect/engineer
errors. You can have a set of plans that properly show the correct
information, but that doesn't mean your HS level contractor is going
to follow said plans (or even understands the plans for that matter).
The insurance industry has gathered statistics and facts from actual
construction lawsuits, and can say objectively that most construction
flaws and errors are a result of contractor error-- not design
So the idea of skipping the architect altogether and just relying on
what a contractor recommends is an even larger risk in reality.
I don't know what your floor plan looks like, so I'll only deal with
The only reason you'd need an architect or structural engineer-type
people is for tearing out existing (and possibly load bearing)
walls, joists, etc. -- anything that could make your house (or some part
of it) potentially fall down, leak, or see some other sort of
financial ruin-type disaster.
Turning basements into full-fledged living space is pretty much
something you can do on your own because really, all you're
doing is not only transforming dead or poorly-used space into productive
space, but making virtually every single square inch *do*
something -- or even better, have some spaces do more than one thing at
the same time. And not only that, but taking into
consideration the effect one room/space has upon the adjoining
room/space. That's pretty much what interior designers make a
career thinking about. I've found that the challenge in turning a
basement (often a single dead and dank dungeon for lots of
people, especially those with old/er buildings) into a nifty addition is
to continually think about how you've been using the room
until now, and then continually think about how you'd not only want to
use the room tomorrow, but how you'd want to be using it
5, 10, 20 years from now. And then make it all work so you can use the
same changes made for tomorrow in 5, 10, 20 years
without having to do any (OK, not too much) renovation at all. For
example, I planned our basement renovation to give us or a
future owner the added ability to turn the whole 1,000 sq-ft level into
an in-law or renter's apartment with its own separate
outdoors entrance by doing nothing more than moving the washer and dryer
5-10 feet over to the other side of the wall and turning
the laundry room into a full kitchen, since we already have a second
oven and fridge/freezer in the basement already. The
bathroom's already there, and we expanded a cramped bedroom/office a few
feet to 12'x12' to provide more closet space as well
as using a god bit of dead under-stairs space to allow for a dresser or
bed or desk in the room without those large pieces of
furniture actually *being* in the room and taking up floor space better
used for actually moving around the room without having to
bump into too much. And the rest of the basement has transient-use areas
(workout equipment, shop/workbench areas, small
wetbar) that could be easily turned into additional storage space or
other-type space within a day or so if necessary.
All in all, everything and everyone should flow as easily as the stuff
you can't move (utilities, load-bearing posts, etc.) allows
without first having to turn it into a major public works project. I've
found the one thing DIY renovators don't give much mind to is
traffic patterns/room flow -- in other words, how a room is/will be
actually used every single day -- and then designing the room
around that instead of trying to get people to conform themselves in
unnatural ways to the way *you've* built the room. Fer
instance, it's common knowledge that the kitchen collects the most
people during a party, yet how many people do you see with
remodeled kitchens where everyone's constantly running into each other
going in and out doorways, the door swings into where
people naturally congregate instead of away from them, light switches
aren't where you'd naturally expect them be, or where
everyone still seems to be squished in around the seating or counter/bar
areas, etc. etc. In the same vein, I can't count how
many people with their bathroom at one end of the basement insist on
putting up a wall, thereby cutting the whole space neatly
in half, but they put in a single doorway between the two halves at the
*other* end of the basement -- thereby making anyone who
wants to go to the bathroom walk to the other end, cross over, and then
have to walk back to where they just came from, except
on the other side of the wall. Then they have to do the same thing in
reverse to get back to where they were in the first place.
Had they done any simple planning, simply cutting a second doorway into
the wall on the bathroom end when building the wall in
the first place would do wonders to improve flow and overall useability
without sacrificing a thing. But it's amazing how many
people never give stuff like that a single thought when rehabbing rooms.
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