How Do You Finish a Basement

How do you finish a basement?

Start by breaking all the rules.

Next, throw out all the traditional notions of home improvement projects. Focus on a test cycle that will speed you through the 8 major phases (see below).

To finish a basement you'll most likely start with framing your walls. Here a photo of my workshop, pre-drywall.

When I was learning how to finish a basement I started by framing this exact room. This one room took what seamed like forever, but after that it got much easier. My daughter Charlotte poking her head in the shot.

Finally, empower yourself by learning the one "skeleton skill" that can un-lock the door to anything you've ever wanted.

I'm going to address the whole "skeleton skill" part at the end of the post but I'm not just blowing smoke here.

How do you finish a basement - Start Small

You need to think big, start small and fail fast.  This is a mantra I stress regularly in my day time profession as a digital marketer but it applies to basement finishing as well.

Stop worrying about getting permits or finishing some 20 page design or budget. Just stop. I want you to start by building a small wall in your basement during the next free weekend you have.  You can read the posts on permits, budgeting and planning later.

Just start small. You can use the wall you build to hold up some peg board and some storage shelves, so you'll be getting benefit right off the bat. And yes, you will need permits, but not right away.

The traditional home improvement show or book always says the same thing.  Gather every single possible tool and supply, plan out in detail and then and only then begin.  Well that is crap!  The fastest way to the finished product is to start as soon as you have something of value.  Yes, you will make some mistakes.  But learning from your mistakes is the absolute best method to learn.

"WAIT! Wait, wait, wait.  How many Benjamins (that's hundred dollar bills to those of you not into Rap culture) is this going to run me?"  For a rough cost break down check out what is the cost of a basement.  Okay, now onto the good stuff.

Plan a little, do a little, progress not perfection

Ok, so you started and finished a small wall project.  Now, how do you finish a basement?  Next, you do want to start designing your basement.  You don't have to do everything, just enough to get the permit and know where to go next.

How do you want to use your basement?  Do you want a bathroom?  Do you want a guest room?  How about a pool table, and a dart board, and a home theater.  Yes please!

I wanted all of it, but I only had so much space and budget to work. So I focused on designing just the basic room layout.  I wanted a full bath, a workshop, game area and a theater area (not a full blown theater room).  Look around, gather some basement ideas.

Small project of value? Check.  Basic design ideas? Check.  Now it's on to the big guns.

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picture of a basement workbench fully lit

To finish a basement, start with a test wall. Here's my basement test wall and work bench after all was said and done. Sweet, sweet candy!

The 8 Major Phases to Finish your Basement

The way I count it there are 8 major basement finishing phases.  They occur in this general order, although they can overlap.

  1. Framing  - You build the 'frames' of the walls of your rooms out of wood, typically 2 by 4s.  There are about 3 key concepts that you'll have to learn but after that it's just rinse a repeat.
  2. Electrical - Yes, you can do you own electrical.  This is one of the more expensive parts of finishing your basement but if you tackle this phase yourself you can save a ton of money.
  3. Plumbing -  Once you've tackled electrical, plumbing is a piece of cake.  It's a different piece of cake so there is a decent amount of learning, trying, failing to go around but you'll be the king of the castle with your wife if you can fix plumbing issues.
  4. Audio Visual - O yeah, pump up the jams and crank out some pixels.  For very little money you can pre-wire your basement to be the hottest night spot in your neighborhood.  Or, sit back and enjoy some Yanni, with that glass of red wine by the fireplace as you sink your feet into a soft white rug.
  5. Drywall - Sorry, got a little off track there.  Drywall!  It's heavy, it's dusty, it's awkward and it takes forever to learn to finish correctly.  So, don't do it yourself.  Hire a contractor.  If the room is small and you really want to torture yourself, go for it, you can do it.  But I just couldn't find enough savings to make it worth it.
  6. Painting - Yes, do this yourself. Learn to be a painting ninja. No masking tape, that's for babies and tweens. Cut down the time by getting a bigger 12" roller. Trick some friends into helping you. Sing while you paint. Own the Zen of painting, save big bucks.
  7. Trim and Doors - WARNING:  Learning curve ahead. But don't go around it. Trim especially is a skill you can use all over your house. Once you learn to install a door, doors will open for you. Sorry, couldn't help it.
  8. Flooring - The final frontier.  I stained my floor and tiled the bathroom myself.  Except for installing carpet I would consider tackling the flooring yourself.  Unless you've got some budget left, then let the pros handle it.  It can be hell on your back.
* HVAC - You may or may not need some additional HVAC work. I'll try to cover HVAC for your basement here
how do you finish a basement - hvac room and hallway

Insulated this south wall of the HVAC room in my basement to cut down on noise, it helped a ton.

There you have it. If you've done each of these phases then you are now sitting in your finished basement, watching a movie or playing pool while your friends are mixing you drinks behind your new bar. You know the exact answer to how to finish a basement.

But wait, there's more

You also now possess what I've termed,  the 'skeleton skill'. You know how to learn. Once you learn how to learn you can do almost anything you want. With electrical, you took something you knew nothing about, read books, websites and watched videos and now you can do almost any residential electrical work.

We get out of school and we just stop learning. Then when we want to install a fan in a room we have to call someone to come over. Then we have to wait.  Then we have to give them a bunch of our hard earned money.

basement finishing jason

By sharpening the learning skill you now have the one tool that let's you do anything you want.

You now know how to finish a basement.  You just need to start.

Do you have a question?  Leave it in the comments below and I'll answer it within a few hours. Let's hear it!

Cheers -  Jason

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Questions and Comments

Click here to ask a question or leave a comment.

  1. says

    Thanks for commenting. I'll have to double check with my inspector when he reviewed it he said that's not an issue as the wires are fully shielded. - Jason

  2. Gregg says

    In my area we have to build floating walls in the Basement. Does anyone have an tips or tircks to m ake this as easy as possible. Thanks. I have really enjoyed the reading so far.

    • says

      Jawwad - Well there are two camps on adding HVAC to a basement. Camp 1: Upgrade your HVAC to support multiple (5-6) air registers for your basement (fairly expensive - 2-3k). Camp 2: Tap an existing HVAC line and just add a few registers 2-3 (not expensive at all). I went with camp 2. I'll add this question to the blog list, a lot of people are quite sure which HVAC solution is right for there finished basement. - Jason

  3. Lindsay says

    I see you have the first step as framing, what if your concrete unfinished floor needs to be leveled? Would you suggest doing that first? Our house was built in 1958, so its's a litte rough down there. What about water proofing?

    • says

      Lindsay - Yes! I should go back and preface step 1 with "level and water proof floor". I couldn't start framing until I figured out my basement flooding issue. I was to scared to put a lot of time and money into finishing it if the basement was just going to flood. So yes, make sure your floor is level, more or less. It doesn't have to be "perfect" the framing can adjust to small changes like little bumps or whatever. Good luck! - Jason (ps here's a link to my post on dealing with water).

  4. Steve says

    When estimating the cost of creating a finished basement, are you including cabinetry (basement kitchen) as part of the 10k-35k price?

    Im getting ready to build a house. I have a nonconventional idea to build a large primary basement living area, with a smaller home above (yes, basement square footage COMPLETELY underground). We are loving the idea so far.

    • says

      Hi Steve- No, I did not include an cabinetry or kitchen type costs. Count me in for "lovin' it"! I've always wanted a deceptively small house that's completely pimped out and much bigger than people think.


  5. Mark says

    I have the opportunity to buy a house (new construction) that has an unfinished basement. One of the things that attracted me to this house was the idea of finishing the basment into a Man Cave. The construction won't start for another 12-16 months but I have already started planning and designing the space. My question is two fold, one, I plan on including the framing and electrical into the construction of the house. The builder would assume the responsibility of getting the framing and electrical inspections. The second part is the floor. I am planning on having an epoxy floor. Is it better to have this done while there is nothing in the area or after all the dry-wall and ceiling is complete?

    • Joshua says

      While I'm not a pro in any sense of the term, I have worked with epoxy at my church. I would think it's best to epoxy first and then start framing. Epoxy is like cement and the last thing you want is to remove a wall in your basement and see a part of the floor that isnt epoxy'd (sp?). However, thats just my opinion. I'll let Jason chime in. I would also ask the builder since he's the one that would most likely know.

      • says

        You COULD do the floor first. If it's epoxy, then by all means go for it, that stuff is crazy durable. But if it's stain or any other flooring, I'd wait until the end. - Jason

    • says

      Mark - So you want the builder to go ahead and frame and wire the basement according to your design? Am I reading that correctly? If they're doing that I would have them go ahead and do the drywall as well. Then you can do the flooring, painting, doors and trim. - Jason

  6. Melissa says


    I want to finish my basement and reading your posts is really helping me put everything in perspective. My concern is about HVAC. Do I need to install a bigger system to accommodate the extra space? Put in a secondary unit instead? Or, do I not even need to worry about it?

  7. Jim says

    Hi Jason,

    Checking out your site and it has some good information since I am in the midst of finishing my basement. I am also looking to stain the concrete floors and have been looking for information on how to properly do this which is how I found your website. Do you go into details on this in your book/videos? Or would you happen to have any information dedicated to the subject that I may be able to check out?

    Thanks for producing some helpful information to help the DIY'ers!


  8. Jeff says

    Great info Jason
    Just had 2 quote for finishing my basement- 95K and 72K. I am seriously considering doing my basement myself (except for the drywalling) and saving a ton of money to put towards other items. Do you favour the stick building framing? or build it on the floor first, framing? Air gun?
    I already have a 6 gallon compressor so I would just have to buy a framing nailer and put it to work. love the website. I will be checking back often to gain insight

    • says

      Hey Jeff - Sorry for the delay in replying. Definitely stick build, see this article for why. Framing nailer, absolutely makes things easier, if you already have a compressor then definitely worth the money. Thanks for the feedback, it's great to hear. Good luck finishing your basement! - Jason

    • says

      Hi Darryl - Yes! You'll need a permit just about anyway in the US or Canada if you want to do it legally. AND YOU SHOULD! It doesn't cost much and will keep you safe and ensure your house can be resold down the road without issue. Go and get one, basement finishing permits are very easy to get.

      Good luck finishing your basement - let me know how else I can help.


      • Scott says

        You said that you don't need to get the permit right away. At what point do you suggest I get my permit?

        • says

          Hi Scott - As soon as you're sure you are going to finish your whole basement I would go for the permits. But if you just want to build a single wall to hang some peg board and see what it's like - then you're probably fine with out one. - Jason

        • says

          Yes and no. The permit itself doesn't increase taxes but once you've gotten your final inspection your house may be assessed with a higher value now that your basement is finished. Hence, some people wait a really long time to get that final inspection (not recommended, but that's what "some" people do). Your yearly tax bill would go up slightly, maybe 1 to 2 hundred dollars - depending on the tax rate in your area and the overall value of your home and the perceived value of your new finished basement.

          Short answer - yes. - Jason

    • says

      Hi David - Have you signed up for my newsletter? Email 2 has a great tip for getting the best contractor. Next month I'll also be releasing a new book on how to do just that. Stay tuned. - Jason

    • says

      Hi Frances, I'm not sure about the best contractor but for basement flooring I would recommend vinyl strips. The new vinyl strips look and feel like wood but are easy to install and are completely water proof. Great if you have pets! - Jason

  9. Markus says

    This site looks like it will be a great resource as my wife and I look ahead at out journey of home ownership. The big step that I have questions about which wasn;t covered anywhere here - Demo! IN my case, we have purchased a 1928 colonial, where previous owners have gone through the trouble of installing the french drain, two sumps, etc. but have also installed ugly drop ceilings over what I can only imagine are old cardboard ceiling tiles. Do you have any suggested resources for the process of demo?

  10. Aletha says

    Hey Jason, you've done a great job of getting informed for this project. The basement is already an apartment, it's very dated and gloomy. My biggest problem is lighting & the ugly drop ceiling. I have a couple of questions that need addressing please. The drop ceilings will be removed, replaced with drywall ceilings at what point and how do I mark were my recess lighting will go?

    • says

      Hi Aletha - I cover this in much more detail in my book and video series but let me see if I can summarize. Basically you can draw a 3 to 4 foot circle around each recessed light. 3 feet, lots of light, 4 feet still good but not quite as intense. Now just make sure you have a grid of lights so that the circles touch or just barely over or under lap. Don't put any light close than a foot to the wall or the light bounces to harshly. Hope that helps. - Jason

  11. Eileen says

    Hi Jason! A few questions. I'm working with a completely unfinished basement and can't use an airgun to secure the metal framing into the concrete because of the water table. Would I just use Liquid Nails cement glue? Also, I'd like to install recessed lighting throughout. Do I run the ceiling electrical at the same time as I run wire through the framing? Or can I start the ceiling earlier? Any advice is appreciated! Thanks!

    • says

      Hi Eileen - Well, I'm not 100% sure on the liquid nails for metal framing. My gut answer is yes, that's fine, although for everyone else I only used nails, I did not glue down my bottom plates. Some books recommend it but it's not required by code in 99% of places.

      Yes, you can run your wiring for lights before framing if you want, no big deal. Usually you would run it at the same time because the lights will need to be wired to a light switch and you'll need some framing installed in order to install your electrical boxes for to hold those switches.

      Hopefully that helps. Good luck finishing your basement!


    • says

      Hi Rick - Flooring is done last, in most instances. I also wouldn't recommend a sub-floor (for expense reasons) unless you have a really good reason. You can install just about any flooring type for basements right over the concrete. Why do you want a sub-floor? - Jason

  12. funmi says

    I have a basement am trying to finish,my problem is the house uses fuel gas for heating. Can I still finish the basement?

    • says

      Yes, of course. I also have a gas furnace and hot water heater. I do not recommended do your own work on the gas lines, so if you have to move them or re-route them, hire a professional. Otherwise you should be good to go for finishing your basement! - Jason

    • says

      Hey Sammy - I use Visio. They have a stencil for electrical diagramming. For the circuits I just used the "line" shape and changed the color and dash type. - Jason

    • says

      Hi Alison - If you're finishing your basement and plan to spray paint the ceiling I would recommend doing that right after you've installed and primed your drywall. Basically right after you drywall is installed. Are you're walls new as well? Might as well spray paint the entire basement.

      Have fun, spray painting is fun!


  13. Heather says

    Hello Jason,

    We are preparing to do a dig out basement. That will be done by the pros of course but that also means it is crazy expensive! So we have decided to do the finishing ourselves starting with framing! I saw on Bob Villa that he adhered insulation foam panels to the concrete walls to provide insulation. Did you need to do any of that? How did you insulate your exterior walls?


    • says

      Hi Heather - I did not need to add insulation because the builder had already attached insulation. I would recommend adding some if you don't have any. It's not difficult to do. Foam panels are a good option but can be more expensive compared to "rolls" or batt insulation. If you have a chance please take some picture and/or video of the dig out, I'd love to see how they do it. Lot's of people ask about that option.

      Cheers - Jason

  14. Brian says

    We just had our basement framed in using metal studs. The channels are screwed into the concrete on the floor and the ceiling joist. Unfortunately, the guy who did it just realized we have a floating slab floor. How big of an issue do we have and what do you recommend for fixing it? Thanks.

  15. Darla says

    Hey. Thanks for all the tips. I am a woman. I have a boyfriend and I do all our plumbing. I enjoy it. So not all wives will be loving you for being able to fix plumbing issues. Many will want to be able to fix their own. ?
    Thanks again for the super informative site. All the best.

  16. Tristen says

    This may be somewhere else on the site, but in the "order of operations", where do stairs come in? We want to replace the old rickety wood stairs with a metal staircase. A family member suggested to do it after framing- is that correct? We're also looking at building custom storage under the stairs. Currently the walled side of the stairs is drywall to the foundation and then painted cinder block. The foundation sticks out into the stairwell about an inch from where the drywall ends if that affects anything.

    • says

      Replacing stairs is not my area of expertise but in my "general knowledge" bank I'm seeing that as the first thing your would do. Your framing will change quite around the stairs depending on what space it takes up etc. So I would start with the stairs. Again, I'm not stair-master but that's what I would do. - Jason

  17. Joe says

    My basement is a dirt floor and tends to fill a little with water, is there any way we could do something about this?

    • says

      Hi Joe. Aaaahhhh.... not really. Step one - pour a concrete floor. Step two - begin to address the water issue - most likely related to water management and yard grading.

  18. Yohannes says

    Hi Jason, I have been following you advise for quite a while. I am about to start my project (finishing the basement) , I am just wondering what kind of, including brand name, drill bits you suggest me to use for drilling the cement and installing the plate . Thank you in advance

    • says

      Hi Yohannes - I've used Tapcon masonary bit and screws. They sometimes come in a kit together. Never had any issues. Other than that I'm used a variety of brands for regular drilling - haven't found one yet that won't break when over stressed. It's all about using the right tool for the job I guess. - Jason

  19. Patrick says

    Hi Jason ,
    Great site and info! I have an outdated 70's basement that I'd like to bring up to this generation. The good thing is all the lighting (old recessed lights) and electrical is there -- as well as the framing. Would you recommend reframing (or replacing) since the current framing is 40 years old?

    • says

      Hey Patrick - Not really. If the framing is where you want it and the boards are in good shape - there's no reason to change it. Surprisingly there's been almost no improvement in "wood" since the 70's. Have fun, good luck! - Jason

  20. Kim says

    Hi Jason we r ready to get started but our existing duct work hangs way too low right at the bottom of the stairs. we will need a new HVAC system for the 1000 sq ft space. Is it expensive to move it or should we just deal with it?? Also who do we call to ensure we seal and eliminate moisture? 3/4of the basement walls is underground the rest are Windows and a walkout to a patio.

  21. Sean says

    Love this site! I mention it so often, some of my friends think I know you personally. :) About sound deadening: If you were to list the top 3-5 reasonably affordable ways to reduce noise transfer, what would they be? I've learned fiberglass insulation in the ceiling can be hit and miss, and many people consider it a waste of time and money. Thank you!

  22. says

    Thanks Jason for the tips!

    The question I have is about how to plug up a drain that exists right where I would like to build a room in my basement? It's an old house and I already have a drain in the opposite part of the basement.
    I thought of pouring concrete into it but I feel that there's a better way doing it.

  23. Ty says

    I am planning on finishing my basement and want to start with insulation. Should I just stick with extruded polystyrene boards and adhesive/tape or have you had any success using double bubble foil insulation (reflective foil)? If you have used the double bubble, can I just staple that onto my studs when the wall is up? Any help is greatly appreciated.

  24. says

    Thank you so much for the step by step process of how to finish your basement! My wife and I are not qualified in the slightest; however, we decided to take it upon ourselves to work on our basement ourselves. I was unaware that there are so many different steps and I really appreciate what you said about HVAC -- it was needed! Thanks again! What is the best way to learn the skills to do all of this? Is it just through experience?

  25. Rebecca Phillips says

    Hopefully getting ready to do this. Your commentary has helped a lot! I was kind of leery about doing it myself. But I think that I will try. I have a brother and an uncle that do drywall for a living. So hopefully that will help.

  26. Sarah says

    Hi Jason, once the framing is done, can I do the electrical work before putting in the insulation? Or do I have to do insulation first before the electrical work?

  27. Paul says

    Great site! We went the contractor route (due to me not having any time - 3.5 year old and 6 month old!). We've used him for other projects and are very happy with his work. One hurdle we had to jump before anything was waterproofing - initially we had brand new glass block windows installed, new bilco doors and drylocked all our walls. Everything was good until we had a week of heavy rain where we had wet spots on the ground (coming from floor), we had a french drain/sump pump along with window well drainage so now we can move forward. Will be looking on this site for ideas!

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