unfinished basement ideas

13 Unfinished Basement Ideas That Won’t Break the Bank

How many times have you looked down your basement stairs with dread? A dusty, dirty hole filled with ghouls and darkness waiting to swallow you as soon as the lone swinging light bulb is extinguished. If this sounds familiar to you, it may be time for a basement revamp.

If you have an unfinished basement, the idea of overhauling it can seem intimidating and expensive. But there are plenty of unfinished basement ideas to improve your space without breaking the bank.

Before I dive into the 13 ideas, let’s briefly discuss why you should even bother finishing your basement.

Why Finish a Basement?

Having an unfinished basement in your house can be an awful waste of real estate. Every square foot in your house should count, and that includes your basement. Besides, you should be able to enjoy every square inch of your home.

Not to mention revamping your basement is one of the best investments you can make in your home. According to one estimate, homeowners recouped about 81% of the cost they put into remodeling their basements when they sold their home. If you can do your basement overhaul on the cheap, you’ll come out way ahead when you get ready to sell your house.

Without further ado, here are 13 of the best and cheapest unfinished basement ideas that you can use to finish your basement.

1 – Declutter

One of the biggest first steps you can take in making your basement a more pleasant place to be is to declutter. A lot of us tend to use an unfinished basement as a place to toss all the junk we don’t know what else to do with. There may even be some leftover junk from the last person who lived in your house.

Start by clearing everything out of the basement that you can and getting rid of most of it. If it’s not something you absolutely must keep, donate it, trash it, or sell it. This project won’t cost you a thing, and you’ll be amazed by how much better the space looks.

2 – Clean 

With all the clutter out of the way, it’s time to undertake a deep cleaning. If your basement is unfinished, it’s probably become a home to all sorts of bugs, and it’s bound to be dusty. There may be mold or mildew growing, as well as years of accumulated grime.

Bust out the buckets and get to work scrubbing down that space. Sweep the floors and, if they’re unfinished concrete, powerwash them to get down to clean, bare concrete. Dust and wipe down everything, clean the windows, get rid of cobwebs, and get it back to a nice, clean state. 

3 – Lighting 

Once your basement is decluttered and clear, you’ll be amazed at how much better it looks already. The next step is to stop it from being a creepy, half-lit space that you’re certain is full of monsters. Getting some better lighting for your basement will go a long way towards transforming that space. 

To start, get some daylight LED strip lights and put them around the edges of your basement in discreet places. A roll of LED strip lights costs about $8, and they’ll do a lot to light up your basement. You can even create false windows by running these around an alcove in your wall and putting frosted glass over it. 

From here, you’ll need to decide what sort of aesthetic you want in your basement. If you want this to be a practical space, those LEDs may provide all the light you need. But if you want this to be a more homey space, you’ll need to think about how to add some additional light fixtures.

4 – Sealants

Now that things are clean and well-lit, it’s time to start taking a look at the design features your basement already has. Things like brick, polished concrete, and exposed beams can be amazing things to play up. However, you’ll need to make sure they’re protected from the elements so they don’t absorb dirt and grime again over time.

If you have brick walls in your basement, you can put a clear sealant over them. This will help protect them and keep the mortar from wearing down with time.

If you want to keep polished concrete floors in your basement, make sure they’re really clean (again, I cannot recommend a pressure washer enough here) and then seal them too. You can get basement sealants in a variety of finishes, and you can also look into staining your concrete before you seal it. 

5 – Paint 

A fresh coat of paint can do wonders to freshen up a space and make it feel more welcoming. If you have trouble with dampness in your basement, a coat of moisture-resistant paint will serve you better than installing sheetrock. Not to mention it’ll be cheaper than putting up sheetrock in your whole basement.

When you’re choosing paint colors, it’s best to stick with lighter hues. Basements are already dim sorts of places, and dark paint has a tendency to make everything look like a cave. Instead, pick a color that will make things look light and airy to counteract the natural enclosure of a basement.

6 – Flooring

If you decide you don’t want to keep your polished concrete floors, you’ll need to decide what sort of flooring you want in your basement. If you struggle with dampness in the basement, wood or laminate flooring may not be a good choice. These warp with moisture, which can be hard to control in a basement.

A lot of people like carpet squares for basement spaces. For one thing, they’re easy to install; you just peel off the backing and stick them down. You also won’t have to worry about a little bit of moisture affecting the flooring, and it can help make a cold basement space seem cozier.

7 – Space Dividers

Lots of basements tend to be open-plan, and while this can work well, sometimes you need separate spaces. However, framing up walls is expensive and can require consultation from a construction expert. An easy way to avoid that hassle and expense is to set up faux space dividers in your basement.

Setting up a partition can be as simple as hanging sheets or curtains from the ceiling in the area you want to cordon off. This will also help to soften a stark space and make it seem homier. You can also use screens, foam partitions, or large shelves to divide your space without having to frame up walls.

8 – Shelves

If you need your basement to serve as a storage space, one of the best things you can do to keep it looking good is to add shelving. This will allow you to organize and store all of your belongings without having them piled around a dark and dusty basement. It will also make finding things like holiday decorations easier when you need them.

You can get cheap DIY assembly shelf units at big box stores for a reasonable price. You can also look into building your own. Measure your basement, decide how much of it you want to give up to storage, and plan your shelves to fit into that space.

9 – Rugs

If you decide to stick with polished concrete floors, you may notice that the floors stay cold, especially in the winter. If you plan to use your basement for any sort of a living space, you’re going to want to protect your feet from freezing concrete floors. Rugs can be a good way to do this, as well as to warm up the space visually.

Area rugs can be expensive, but there are a few tricks you can use to get a rug without breaking the bank. If you know someone who works at a carpet store, ask about getting a carpet sample when they’re done using it; it will be in near-perfect condition and is often large enough to function as a rug. You can also check discount stores and shop sales at secondhand stores in your area if need be.

10 – Ceiling Drapes

Oftentimes, basements have exposed beams, ductwork, wiring, plumbing pipes, and all sorts of other industrial-looking fixtures on the ceiling. If you want to go with an industrial loft look, you can embrace this look and let them show. That said, you may want to make the space look a little more elegant than those fixtures allow.

Hanging a ceiling can be time consuming and a bit expensive. It also limits access to those very fixtures in case they need repair. And if you have moisture issues, you’ll have the same problems you’re going to encounter with hanging sheetrock walls.

Putting up ceiling drapes can be a nice way to hide the more unsightly parts of your basement ceiling without going to all the expense of putting in a new ceiling. You can get some cheap curtains or sheets from the local discount store and staple gun those to the ceiling in loose, drapey folds. This will give your basement a soft, ethereal look and still provide access to the vital systems of your house when they need work.

11 – Stairs

One of the often-overlooked parts of the basement is the stairs leading down to that area of the house. Your basement should be beautiful from the very beginning, so be sure to give those steps some love. Revamping your basement steps doesn’t have to be a costly project.

If you have plain wooden steps, something as simple as putting a coat of stain or paint can make them look much nicer. You can also add boards on the front of the steps to make them look more complete. If you use carpet in your basement, consider extending that carpet up the stairs.

If you don’t use carpet on your stairs, adding tread strips to your stairs can be a good safety measure. Paint the stairs a neutral color and you can find rubber or vinyl grip pads that will blend well with the stairs.

12 – Rafters

Many basements have exposed beams as a part of their construction. Given that people go to great lengths to recreate these kinds of exposed beams in their homes, you should take advantage of them where you can in your basement.

If your floor joists are in good shape, you shouldn’t need to do much to make them look nice. One great way to make them stand out is to fit foam core panels on your ceiling in between the joists. You can paint these a light color to provide more contrast to your floor joists, and they’ll add a lot more insulation to keep your upstairs well heated and cooled!

13 – Dehumidifier

As I alluded to a few times, one of the biggest problems people have with basements is dampness. It’s hard to keep water out of a basement, and even if you don’t have any leaks, basements generally just stay damp. Keeping the basement dry is one of the best things you can do to make it more hospitable.

The first step in this process is to find any leaks you can and seal them up. If you notice puddles on the floor every time it rains, try to find the source and close up that leak. Something as quick and easy as a line of caulk around a window casing can make a big difference in keeping your basement dry.

If you don’t have any leaks but you’re still noticing a general humidity, a dehumidifier is a great investment. New, these only cost about $85, but you can find some reasonable options secondhand. Make sure you either get a model that’s big enough to manage your whole basement or several smaller machines and put them around the space.

Get More Unfinished Basement Ideas

Having an unfinished basement can seem like an awful waste of space, and there’s so much potential for what you can do with that room. For just some elbow grease and a few dollars of paint or sealant, you can transform your basement into an amazing living space.

While you’re at it, if you’re also looking to remodel your attic, we have a post for that too.

5 of My Favorite Tools to Help Finish a Basement

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