In the Greater Toronto Area where land is scarce, prices have skyrocketed and homeowners are making the most of smaller spaces, basement remodels have become a secret weapon for anyone looking to maximize their footprint and increase their property value.

“Many people in the GTA are looking to do basement renovations because it’s a great way to add more usable space in the home and it’s an excellent way to add a second unit to help pay the mortgage,” says Jagdish Bajaj from the renovation company Basement Reno Plus, located within Improve Canada (showroom 125).

Improve Canada is the largest home improvement centre in Canada. Conveniently situated two stop lights north of Toronto in Vaughan, Improve Canada offers a one-stop shopping experience for all of your renovation needs. There are over 350 showrooms in the 320,000-square-foot centre, where you can source materials, get quotes, ask questions and speak to professionals in one fell swoop. There are 26 showrooms in the custom builders/renovators category, alone.

If your basement currently consists of exposed beams and concrete, you’re sitting on major potential. Here, experts from three Improve Canada businesses that specialize in basement remodels break down what you need to know before building.

Think about how you’ll use the space.

Photo: James Bombales 

“Step one is planning,” says Bajaj. “I find people often don’t spend enough time in the planning stage. The first thing that needs to be done is to figure out how the space is going to be used and what the lifestyle of the family is.”

Do you have a young family that loves to hang out and watch movies? You’ll need a recreation room or entertainment area. Do you have a teenager who loves banging on her drum kit? For your sanity, consider building a sound-proofed music room. Your inlaws love to visit? You might want to gift them an ultra-luxe bedroom suite. Consider how you’ll actually use the space before moving onto the next step.

2. Complete professional architectural drawings.

Photo: Moose Basements 

Sosna Inc. is an award-winning design and renovation company located within Improve Canada (showroom 372). They always take time to determine the clients needs and lifestyle. Then, they look at the nuts and bolts of the basement to see what’s possible. “Before we even start space-planning, we come to your house to do two things: We measure everything and consult our production manager,” says Sosna designer, Anna Zhilkin. “He checks what can’t be demolished, where we can install for example, plumbing for the bathroom and kitchen, and more.”

“Even if you want to renovate the basement on your own, hire a professional to do the drawings,” says Bajaj. “Work on your layout and then go from there.” If you’d like to consult a specialist at any of the 350 showrooms, it’s best to schedule appointments on Improve Canada’s website via each of the showrooms profile pages in advance since these local businesses can sometimes be out on a service call.

3. Check for moisture and structural issues.

Photo: firstchoicewaterproofingnj/Instagram 

Don’t begin any work on your basement before you check for moisture and structural issues. “The first thing we examine is any cracks in the foundation and any signs of previous leaks on the perimeter walls,” says Bajaj. “Then we look for cracks on the floor, examine the joists to see if there have been any plumbing issues that remain unresolved and more.”

The basement will tell you a lot about the health of your house — in fact, it’s often the first place home inspectors look to identify any major issues in the home. “I would say every second basement in Toronto has a little problem, whether it’s a small crack that we can easily fix or it’s a big problem and we have to do to the proper repairs, water reduction and water-proofing,” says Mark Dayter from Moose Basements (showroom 113 and 161).

4. Finalize your budget.

Photo: em_henderson/Instagram

Basement renovations are one of the more costly projects you can do, which is why it’s vital to go in with an airtight plan. “Budgets can quickly escalate because the area of the basement is large, compared to a washroom or upstairs kitchen which is one third of the space,” says Dayter. “We often have to start building everything from scratch — it’s like building a house within a house.”

At Moose Basements, they have a basic basement renovation package that includes adding drywall, flooring, electrical and painting. “This also includes insulation since there’s a building code for insulation and you can’t skip this step,” says Dayter. It gets more costly as soon as you add a full-bathroom, kitchen or separate entrance (so you can legally have a tenant).

The best way to reduce stress, manage timelines and stay on budget during a renovation is to go in with a detailed plan of everything that needs to be done and how much it will cost. Check out these expert tips for managing your reno timeline and budget.

5. Secure the right permits.

Photo: moosebasements/Instagram 

Next, you have to secure permits to avoid having your renovation delayed by the City. “If you’re adding in any plumbing fixtures or a kitchen, you must have a permit,” says Dayter. “The only way you can finish your basement without a permit is if you’re just finishing the walls and not creating any washrooms, etc.” You’ll also have to check with your specific municipality on the minimum size of your windows. “Every city is different but generally speaking, there needs to be at least one window in the basement that is large enough for someone to escape in the event of a fire,” says Bajaj.

6. Select your finishes and furniture.

Photo: memehillstudio/Instagram

You’ve done the prep work. Now it’s time for the fun stuff — bringing your vision together with decor. “It’s important to select features and finishes that will create the illusion of additional lighting,” says Zhilkin, who recommends painting your walls a light, bright colour like an off-white or a light grey.

For lighting, Bajaj recommends LED pot lights. “They’re energy efficient, you get a ton of light from a single fixture and they’re flush to the ceiling which is great in a basement with lower head room,” he says. With 14 showrooms in the lighting/electrical section at Improve Canada, you’ll be able to consult their specialists about the best options for you.

As for flooring, the experts suggest going with a good quality laminate or luxury vinyl planks. “I usually recommend using luxury vinyl because it gives you the absolute feeling of hardwood, it looks great and it’s durable,” says Zhilkin. “Even in luxury houses, we’re using vinyl on the main floors.” At Improve Canada, there are 24 additional flooring showrooms to help you find exactly what you’re looking for.

When it comes to design, Dayter suggests making your basements as open-concept as possible, then creating a focal point. “You may want to throw in a feature wall with a fireplace to make it more family-oriented and cozy,” he says. Stop by the showrooms within the heating and cooling section at Improve Canada, like Maple Air for a state-of-the-art selection of fireplaces. Lastly, with 25 showrooms in the furniture section at Improve Canada, you can peruse the latest styles, whether you’re going for a modern basement or a more traditional look and feel.

Photo: Improve Canada 

Beginning your renovation journey at Improve Canada will get your basement remodel off to a great start. Visit the website and schedule appointments with any of the 350 showrooms to learn more.

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