More than a few people have asked me why I didn't just pay a contractor to finish my basement for me? There are several factors, but right off the top the answer was money! We didn't have a lot to spend.
- There is a significant cost savings if you do it yourself.
- I also wasn't sure what I wanted in my basement. I kind of wanted to think about it as the building got started and then make adjustments along the way. Contractors are not fond of on the fly adjustments and rightly so.
- Finally, I want to learn something new and I wanted that something to be real, tangible and physical. I needed an outlet to tap into one of the core inner human desires, the need for shelter.
Before I decided to do it myself I did have a couple of local contractors give me rough estimates. They stopped by for about an hour, took some measurements and asked a couple of questions. Nothing we discussed was super fancy. Just put up walls, a full bathroom and a hobby room. No theater room, no sauna , no gym or wine cellar.
All I really wanted was a plain 'ole functional basement where the kids could play and be loud. And... maybe a spot for a dart board, my Foosball table, and have it wired for a future home theater. About a week later the estimates came in and they ranged from 30k to 45k. These were fair estimates, and they could finish the basement a lot faster than me, but that was just way over my budget.
Around the time I wanted to renovate our basement the financial world was sort of, I don't know, collapsing around us! The stock market tanked, housing values were plummeting (including ours) and everyone was worried. So I kept a very detailed budget list, everything I bought, got for free or already had went on the list. I included any contract labor that I hired like drywall and rough-in plumbing. I included permits and delivery charges, anything and everything that related to the basement. In the end the total was $12,890.
So if we take the middle of the professional estimates - let's say 35k and subtract my own costs of 13k (rounded up). You're left with a savings of 22,000 dollars. That's over 50%! That's real big money. Plus, and this really is the best part, all of the tools I bought I were also included in the budget and I still use those on household projects everyday.
As I finished the first wall, to protect the HVAC unit, I realized that for the second wall I wanted to build in an art niche. I had seen a couple in the design books and I thought this would be the perfect place. What's great about doing it yourself is that you can decide on exactly what you want, where and when. If you like control over a project this is a major plus.
Because you are learning each step along the way you have a lot of time to think about the uses of your basement and what makes sense for you and your family. Not just today but in the future.
In the section of the basement where I wanted to put the TV, I wasn’t sure which wall I would ultimately want it to be on so I roughed-in electric and audio visual boxes on both! It was only about $20 more in materials and now I have a choice. Or, since it's kind of my sports watching area, I might decide to put in 2 tvs, brilliant!
As I was framing the room where the kids toys were going to go I thought about the future of that space "Pool Table!" so I decided to go ahead and frame in some built-in bookshelves. It took an extra day or so to do it, but man, that is one of the most commented on features of my basement and it looks fantastic!
Doing your own basement renovation gives you unlimited flexibility. The sky is the limit and that is not something you get very often in life.
Feeling Empowered and Confident
This particular benefit was not something that I was seeking at the beginning of the project. Most people aren't sitting on the couch watching TV pondering "I think I'll finish the basement so I can gain confidence and feel empowered" but in the end this is the benefit that's lasted the longest and had the most value.
After building the first wall I felt like a million bucks! I mean it was a lousy framed wall, didn't even have drywall or electric or insulation. But it was straight. And it kept soccer balls from flying into the HVAC unit. And it gave me insight, a prediction of the future possibilities. I'm not kidding when I tell you that I would go downstairs to the basement to feed the cats or something and just stop and stare at "the wall". It's a feeling that's hard to describe and it can't be bought.
Jenn, my wife, was also impressed. This of course made me feel even better about myself. She would bring it up on the phone with family and friends, "You'll never guess what Jason is up to…. He built a freakin' wall?!" Okay, so it was a mix of " I'm impressed" with a little bit of "does he know what the freak he is doing". This was a common theme throughout the project.
If you played sports as a kid and you remember the awesome feeling of winning or just playing for that matter. This is kind of like that. When you get older the sports go away and it can be hard to find things that build confidence. This is a project, if you complete it, that will absolutely do that and that will, in turn, improve many other aspects of your life.
Those are my top three. I'm sure there are many more. My Grandmother never understood how I make a living "doing computers" so she was super glad that I now had a "real trade" to fall back on if computers turned out to just be a fad. So one more, making your Grandma happy.
Tell me about some of your favorite home improvement projects and whether or not you constantly stare at them!
Cheers - Jason