Designing Your Basement

6 Steps to complete the detailed design for your finished basement. Have you been imagining yourself down in the basement hanging out in your new theater room? Maybe shooting pool while your kids are playing Nintendo Wii?

Or maybe you've been browsing through tons of glossy home design magazines. Perhaps you can't stop thinking about how nice it would be to have a spot next to the basement door for hanging wet snow gear after being outside.

It's time to design your basement!

From Ideas to Designs

It doesn't matter whether you plan to finish the basement yourself or have a contractor handle some or all of the work.  You should put your ideas down on paper.  You will need a detailed basement design.  You may think that you've thought of everything and can describe it verbally to your contractor but there's probably another 50% of decisions yet to be made.

Here is a snapshot of my basement design with furniture layout .  To zoom in to the detail open the PDF version of the finished basement design. Click here for the PDF of the detailed finished basement design with electrical.

Finished basement design

6 Steps to Designing Your Finished Basement

Step 1 Measure the existing basement walls.   You can do this yourself in about 30 minutes with a standard tape measure.   I ended up measuring three separate times because when I brought the fist set of measurements back to the Visio drawing they didn’t add up correctly.

Step 2 Draw your walls.   This is the fun part.  You are actually designing the layout of your basement, have fun with it.   It takes some time to get the hang of using the Visio wall pieces but you absolutely should use them instead of the regular lines.  (see below)

Step 3  Doors and other breaks in the framing.  Oh yeah, now you're tapping into your inner Mr. Brady (he was an architect, remember?).  I hope you took my advice from step 2 and used the visio wall parts because now you can easily use the Visio door parts.  They are preset to the standard door widths, they easily hook into the wall parts and they have the option to set whether the door opens to the right or the left.

Step 4  Electrical outlets and switches.  You guessed it, Visio has electrical parts.  You can add light switches (dimmable and regular), recessed lights, outlets galore and you can show which switch should control which lights by using the colored lines to represent your electrical circuits.  (if you're not doing the electrical yourself, you do not need to design or show the circuits but you still should layout the outlets and lighting)

Step 5  Plumbing fixtures. The wet bar, sink, toilet,  shower, sauna, lap pool, big shark tank, whatever you want.  You're the boss and the sky is the limit.

Step 6  Audio visual nirvana!  Cable jacks, speaker locations, etc.  You can even design in cool things like an outlet on the ceiling where your future HD projector might go. Maybe some PVC tubing hidden in the ceiling so you can easily run wiring in the future.  Or maybe a dedicated electrical circuit or closet to keep all of your audio visual stuff on a single clean line.    I'm working on an entire post dedicated just to this step.

Basement Design Software

There are quite a few products on the market that you can buy to design your basement but only two seem to get any decent reviews online.

Visio for basement design ideasMicrosoft Visio - In my case I used Microsoft Visio.  You can set Visio to use an exact scale so that the lumber lengths and room dimensions of your design are precise.

I didn't use this feature at first, I just drew some approximate lines, but fairly soon I really needed to know if the ping-pong table was going to fit and where would the foosball table should go, so I started using exact dimensions.

I had a copy through work but it's quite expensive otherwise at around $250.  Buy it on Amazon.

Basement Design SoftwareHome Designer Essentials - A bit less expensive, only $59.99. I haven't used this personally but I did some research and watched there product videos and it seems to have everything you would need and then some.  It even has 3D view, furniture placement and some other cool designer features that Visio doesn't have.

If you're just doing the basement design, the "Essentials" package is all you should need. Buy it on Amazon.

You might be thinking, just give me the standard layout.  Or, I'll let the contractor decide where these go.  Don't do it!  The framing, electrical, A/V are all intertwined, one affects the other.

basement finishing jasonGo through this design phase in detail and you'll know exactly what you want.  I did my design as a I was learning how to build my first wall.  You don't have to finish all of the design before starting some of your framing.  Get started today!

Cheers -



Do you have an awesome basement design?  Please share with us.  Is there an important step or great tips that I've missed?  Let me know!

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Questions and Comments

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  1. Stephanie says

    You make it sound so easy but I feel that I could not possibly design my own layout of the basement so that it makes the most sense.

    • says

      Stephanie - I should have included my 3 weeks of pencil drawings. 4 weeks of playing around until I got Visio to work right. Then 4 or 5 revisions after that. Sooooo... yeah, it's a little more involved. But it's fun to sketch it out. Start with no measurements. Just right down what you would want to do in your basement, then go from there. Good Luck! - Jason

  2. Marlane says

    OMG!! That is a huge basement. I read your eBook. I liked it. The question to ask about their 2 strongest competitors was excellent. And negotiating by email was a great suggestion. I would buy it.

    I got an estimate that was so high it was crazy. My neighbor said contractors do that because they don't want the job. Why would they waste their time?

    I removed all the panelling and the plywood under it, with nails spaced every 3 inches. And I removed the sheetrock on the ceiling. and some framing. I'll hire someone to haul it away.

  3. Tom says

    This may have been asked earlier as I'm showing 3 comments, but for some reason they are not displaying at all on my PC. Anyway, are there freeware alternatives to Visio that would have the same features? Visio is a bit too costly for what I want to use it for and so far the alternatives I have found for it are good at flow charts but not for floor plans.

    • says

      Tom - Sorry about that, for some reason all of the comments aren't showing. I've updated the post with a second recommendation for basement designer software that's only $59. I haven't used this personally but in researching it, it looks pretty good. Let me know how you like it if you end up using it. Have fun! - Jason

  4. says

    Good site Jason.

    Another good software tool that I used is Sketchup, which is free. A bit of a learning curve but works really well to create layouts.

    • Christine says

      I have also used SketchUp to design room layouts (like my kitchen and basement). It's important to know the dimensions of the materials you are going to use.

  5. says

    Great site and very informative. I just wanted to add that design is not as easy as many think. I'm a professional designer and space planning and fitting rooms into an existing foundation configuration takes skills as well. You can find me at and see how I do this but in no way can one have the experience of designing over 2000 basements unless it's what they do as a profession. I do work with many DIY clients and it is a fun process I provide all through email. I would like to exchange some links if possible as well.

  6. liz says

    Isn't it a bit antiquated to address everyone as male?? I feel like I am stuck in the 50's here. We females might be a good revenue source for your ideas as well.

    I appreciate all you've put into this. Just wanted to give you a heads' up on the gender glitch.

    • says

      Hi Liz - I absolutely do not want to come off as "guys" only. I grew up with 4 sisters so being fair to both sexes usually comes easy to me. That being said, I'm not sure where in the article I'm "guy" focused. Which passage(s) are you seeing?

      Thanks - Jason

      ps. I 100% believe anyone, male or female, can finish their own basement.

    • Joshua says

      Seriously? Can you just check your feminist agenda at the door, get over yourself, and enjoy the article?

    • says

      Anton - thanks for sharing. Lots of good stuff in here, and I think we all benefit to see it. And if I shit that many times in a day I'd be flat out wasted - even without running .7 or 7 or 70 something miles in it. Hope to share some miles with you soon.

  7. Phillip Morrison says

    I downloaded Home Design Essentials just yesterday and have figured out how to use all of their tools quickly. If you are not wanting to spend a lot of money on design software, but would like to know what the finished product will look like, it is a great choice. It seems to be very comparable to the Visio layout you posted. Also, I had asked about the 21 degree framing nailer last week, and it works great. Highly recommend using the site Jason recommends for a nailer. 2 walls up already!

  8. Brian Battee says

    Hey Jason,
    Are plans like you have posted necessary for permits? Am I stuck with having to buy a software program before I even get started?

    Thanks, Brian

    • says

      Brian - Absolutely not. The plans I submitted to the county for permits fit on a half sheet of paper and I drew it while standing at the counter talking to the clerk. She was like "You need to draw your basement plan here." I said : "Here, in this tiny box? Don't you want my uber plans that took me a month to do on my computer???" "No. I don't. Just draw a rough sketch here and label anything that's a bathroom or bedroom". Done.

      Some of it really depends on the your location. You might be able to draw a monkey playing coconut bongos and they'll accept it.

      - Jason

  9. Jaime says

    Thanks! I use for designing, and you can do one project on there for three. I have the floorplanner plus, which cost me $14.95 a year. (I'm not affiliated with the website, just a person who likes the web-based software vs. buying a software program).

  10. Travis says

    Something that helped me visualize the project is to put painters tape on the floor where the walls were going to go. That way I could visualize whether a room would be big enough or not. The best part is if you need to adjust something, rip up the tape and move it. Then I took the measurements and put it in Visio. Sometimes it is daunting looking at a large open space.

    • says

      Travis - Great idea! This also lets other people in your family see the potential and start to get involved in the project. AKA, a spouse who thinks you're crazy for thinking that you'll finish your own basement. - Jason

  11. Di says

    Hi Jason, great site.. Typically how big should we make a basement bedroom . I would like to put a desk and have room for a nice bedroom set for company. Thanks Jason, hope you can give me some ideas. Thank you.

    • says

      Well, let's see, I made my basement guest room 12x11 which is big enough for a bed, two side tables and a desk at one end. But if you wanted a entire bedroom set like with a big chest of drawer and a desk plus queen size bed - I would go a touch bigger, maybe 12x15. Good luck! - Jason

  12. Heather says

    Hello Jason,
    I am trying to figure out a location for my stairs and I am not sure how much space they require. I will have 9 foot ceilings in my basement and I am trying to determine how to connect my main floor to the basement. Do you have any information on that?

    • says

      Hey Heather - I afraid that's a bit outside my basement design range of knowledge. One suggestion though... Firepole. Just a thought. Sorry I couldn't be more helpful on this. - Jason

  13. John says

    Insulation question... If I have a large area designated for unfinished storage, do I need to insulate the concrete basement walls or can I insulate only the interior walls (between storage area and living area)? Is there an advantage to either (other than additional cost if I insulate)? Great site!

    • says

      Hi John- Thank you, great question. I would suggest just insulating the interior walls. There's no reason you must insulation the extra walls, as you describe. - Jason

  14. David says

    My house is fairly new (~10 years) but they put the utilities all over the place. Oil tank in one corner, electric service in opposite corner, well tank and hot water heater about 10' away from each other on the back wall, and the furnace standing free halfway between stairs and end wall, but centered front-to-back. I think I can live with the location of the electric panel and the well can't be moved, but what about the furnace and hot water heater? Anyone ever have either of those moved? I'd like to put them closer to the oil tank to create more of a mechanicals room. Love to hear suggestions.

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