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There are many reasons that drive homeowners in the city of Toronto to renovate their basements. As a general contractor we find the most common reasons for basement renovations include the basement being unfinished, outdated, having water related issues, or a fundamental issue such as low ceilings or lack of services. While other homeowners just want to add more functional space to their home.  With seemingly endless options when it comes to basement renovations, this blog article is intended to be a guide to the key considerations for your basement renovation project in Toronto.

Layout

A crucial consideration of any basement is the layout. This determines what goes where.

Your basement layout will be determined by the space available as well as the desired function. Adding an in-law suite, man cave, kids game room, office, gym, meditation centre, screening room, rental unit or all of the above? The key is to create a basement layout that meets your needs.  

Depending on your desired basement usage, you will need to decide which layout elements to incorporate.

Standard basement layout elements include:

  1. Bedroom(s)
  2. Bathroom s)
  3. Kitchen
  4. Laundry room
  5. Office
  6. Living room/play room
  7. Storage room/pantry
  8. Utility room

Luxury/purpose-built basement layout elements include, but are not limited to:

  1. Gym
  2. Dry sauna/steam room
  3. Bar/wet bar
  4. Wine cellar
  5. Vault 
  6. Theater
  7. The list goes on…

Before you start designing feature walls and building your basement oasis, there are several functional elements that may or may not need to be addressed. These include ceiling height, structural framing, waterproofing and insulation.

Underpinning (basement lowering)

If your basement features low, ceilings, the first step in your basement renovation should be underpinning. Many homes in the city of Toronto were built when the basement was not considered a living space. The result was a low ceiling height. Low basement ceilings make the space not functional. The solution: underpinning.

Underpinning is the process of lowering an existing foundations depth by excavating below the entire basement floor and pouring new foundation footing below the current one. 

For more information on underpinning/basement lower, check out our article here.

Structural framing

In certain situations the existing structural framing may be old and inadequate or the new layout requires some structural reworking. For example, if you are looking to create an open concept space.

If there is structural work involved, there is a high chance that a structural engineer will be required. As a full service contractor we always arrange for this if needed.

Basement water management

Water management is extremely important when planning a basement renovation in Toronto. It is also often the reason people decide to renovate their basement (resulting from water damage). We have a history of ground water in Toronto and our municipality has notorious storm water management issues, as such, the onus is on homeowners to ensure their basements aren’t at risk of flooding. 

Water management considerations for your basement renovation include:

  1. Exterior waterproofing – prevents water from coming through the footing and foundation
  2. Interior waterproofing – creates a path for water entering between the footing and foundation to be discharged (interior weeping tile)
  3. Weeping tile disconnect – Older homes have storm water drains that can back up into a home when heavy rain occurs
  4. Sump pump – Discharges water collected from your home’s exterior/or interior weeping network
  5. Back water valve – prevents sanitary drain back ups
  6. Flood alarm – notifies a homeowner that unusual water is present in a basement
  7. Sewage ejector (if basement is underpinned) – forces sanitary waste water to flow through the existing sanitary drain pipe which is now higher due to basement lowering.

Years ago the City of Toronto created the “Basement flooding protection subsidy program” to help combat basement flooding and to take the pressure off of the city’s drainage infrastructure. The program offers $3400 in rebates for flood protection devices. For more information on the city of Toronto’s Basement flooding protection subsidy program click here.

For more in-depth information on waterproofing check out our article here.

Insulation 

Insulation contains a few very important properties. By installing the right insulation one can improve the climate control of the space and increases energy efficiency. Insulation can also be used as a sound dampener (sound proofing). There are 2 types of insulation that can be used: spray foam and batt. While spray foam is great for getting into all nooks and crannies, it should be noted that it makes any future renovations more difficult as it is hard to remove.

Drywall 

Drywall or gypsum board might seem like a very basic topic, but it is important to note that drywall comes in different thicknesses and can have various specific application. While standard 1/2” drywall is most commonly used, Green and blue board are used for areas with higher moisture as they are mould and mildew resistant. Noise reduction drywall like Silent FX can be used to attenuation sounds coming from another room. Finally fire rated drywall can be used to prevent the fast spread of fire. Fire rated drywall also called Type-X drywall is usually mandatory for fire separation purposes, including for the separation of basement apartment units.

Materials, fixture and finish considerations

Now for the fun part! Once your basement is dry, warm, quiet and has enough head room, you can start thinking about making it both functional and beautiful. 

As with any renovation, you will need to make selections with regards to paint, trim, doors etc. These selections should be reflective of the intended purpose for the space as well as the specific design aesthetic you are hoping to achieve. 

Flooring

There are a variety of flooring options available, each with their own pros and cons. Your flooring selections will be largely dependent on the intended function of your basement space. For example, in a playroom you may want to use carpet, versus your gym space should integrate some easily washable rubber gym mats. 

  1. Laminate
  2. Vinyl 
  3. Hardwood
  4. Engineered hardwood
  5. Polished concrete or epoxy
  6. Tile
  7. Carpet
  8. Speciality flooring (e.g. rubber gym mats, bamboo, etc.) 

Since your basement’s substrate is made of concrete you know that it’s going to be cold on your feet. Some great options exist to not only mitigate the cold sensation, but turn your cold floors warm. These include:

  1. Flooring underlayment
  2. Wood subfloor
  3. Wood and polymer combo subfloor
  4. Hydronic radiant infloor heat system
  5. Electric radiant infloor heat system

Millwork 

Millwork is a great way to add extra storage/organization/cabinetry to your space. When it comes to millwork, there are a few variables to consider:

  1. Off the shelf (e.g. Ikea) vs. custom millwork
  2. Material – solid wood, wood veneer, MDF, high gloss laminate or thermofoil 

Electrical

It is important to incorporate the correct electrical elements into your new basement renovation as many of these items are not easy to retrofit. Do it once, and do it right. Important electrical considerations include:

  1. Lighting fixtures
  2. Switch type and location (Standard, dimmer, sensor, timer, or smart switch).
  3. Receptacle (outlet) location
  4. Ethernet cable
  5. Electrical radiant in-floor heating
  6. Security and camera systems
  7. Built-in speaker systems
  8. Other cable requirements (HDMI, etc.)
  9. Ventilation fans
  10. Electric fireplace
  11. Appliance and other speciality electrical requirements
  12. Panel/service upgrade

Stairs and hand railing

In many basement renovations the stair set leading from the main floor to the basement is incorporated into the basement renovation. Options include:

  1. Capping existing stairs with wood veneer
  2. Removing and replacing existing stair sets with solid wood
  3. Vinyl and laminate caping (not a great options due to poor durability)
  4. Wrought iron

Additional basement renovation elements

If you are adding/upgrading bathrooms, kitchens, etc. as part of your basement renovation, you will have to make selections with regards to finishes, flooring, cabinetry, hardware, etc.

Secondary suites/legal basement apartments

Many homeowners in Toronto renovate their basement with the intent to rent it out. While many homeowner rent out their basements, they don’t exactly do it legally as far as the city by-laws and even insurance companies permit. A basement renovation with a legal secondary or basement suite should include:

  1. City of Toronto building permit
  2. Egress windows from bedrooms
  3. Adherence to fire code (fire separations, detectors, etc.)
  4. Secondary electrical metering and electrical panel
  5. Secondary HVAC systems

Conclusions:

There are a lot of things to consider when starting a basement renovation in Toronto. It is important to understand the options ahead of time and create a sound game plan. This will help make the budgeting, planning and execution process as smooth as possible. To close this article off here are three tips for your basement renovation:

1) Basement renovations are a good time to replace basement windows.

2) A mechanical room should be left unfinished unless otherwise specified by code.

 3) Serious consideration should be made as to when is the right time is to renovate your basement. We recommend that a basement should be the last space or floor renovated in your home. The reason for this is that when you renovate the other floors in your home there is a good chance that access will be required to the services that originate in the basement. This may require some “Swiss cheesing” of the drywall in the basement for access. If you have no issues with cutting holes, patching, and painting the new basement, then no worries, but most folks would opt to avoid this.

If you have any questions or are looking to renovate your basement, we are here to help. Please contact us using the form below.

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