Basement Redo Brings Light Into a Dank, Dark Space

After photo of basement renovation Images: Michael W. Groman Consulting

See how one homeowner turned a dark, unfinished basement into two cozy bedrooms and a bath.

We’ve been touring Mike Groman’s 1920s bungalow, which he transformed from dilapidated to divine. We’ve already shown you how he made the outside of the Philadelphia-area home a jaw-dropper, and how he opened up his claustrophobic kitchen. Today we’ll visit his basement, which went from an unfinished cave to a welcoming bath and two bedrooms.

I wish I had the vision to look at this stairway to the underworld …

Basement stairway before renovation Image: David Očenáš Photography

… and imagine this heavenly downstairs renovation.

I’ve got about 500 sq. ft. downstairs that’s been begging to be finished since we built the house 15 years ago. So I was eager to hear how Groman remodeled his basement, creating usable space without adding to the house’s footprint.

Dig It!

Groman’s cinder-block basement, typical of 1920s construction in the area, extended throughout the full footprint of the house. It was musty (I hate that wet-basement smell) from moisture seeping beneath the basement door and from gutter downspouts that were directed at the foundation. Take a look.

Musty basement before renovation Image: Michael W. Groman Consulting

Over time, so much water had entered the basement that the bottom of the staircase had rotted.

Rotted wood on stairs to basement Image: David Očenáš Photography

Groman had two goals: 

  1. Fix the wet basement problems. 
  2. Banish that middle-earth feel so he didn’t think he was sleeping underground. 

Excavating 18 inches down accomplished both goals. Now, he could install a footing drain system that directed water — ground and otherwise — to a new sump pump. The new depth effectively raised the ceiling from 7 1/2 feet to 9 feet (Groman is 6’ 2”, so he appreciated the extra headroom).

Excavation to deepen basement Image: David Očenáš Photography

Downstairs was also screaming for more light. Digging away foundation soil along the south side of the house allowed him to install windows big enough for code-compliant emergency egress. Plus, the new windows added plenty of light.

Egress windows in newly remodeled basement Image: David Očenáš Photography

See how that bigger window brightens the finished bedroom?

New basement window in bedroom Image: David Očenáš Photography

Systems that Save Space and Energy

Being an environmentalist, Groman updated the house with eco-friendly, energy-saving heating and cooling systems.

  • Rinnai on-demand tankless hot water system
  • Buderus gas-fired heating system, which sends hot water to baseboard radiant heat panels throughout the house.
  • Unico high-velocity mini-split air-conditioning system that shoots cold air through 2-inch insulated tubes, a space-saver in smaller homes.

In case you’ve never seen a tankless hot water system, here’s Groman’s. It’s only 1-by-2-ft. and fits neatly on the wall.

New tankless water heater in basement Image: David Očenáš Photography

Here’s a picture of the baseboard radiators in a finished bedroom. They look like trim on the bottom of the wall.

Baseboard heaters Image: David Očenáš Photography

Groman added “half walls” throughout the perimeter of the downstairs to hide water, electric, and gas lines. I love half walls for all the uglies they cover and the design opportunities they provide; the top of the half wall makes a convenient shelf for artwork and knicknacks.

This is what’s behind the half wall.

Half wall in basement Image: David Očenáš Photography

And here’s what the space looks like finished. That half wall makes a great picture gallery.

Picture rail in basement Image: David Očenáš Photography

Peek Into the Bathroom

Groman wanted the bathroom remodel to look modern and uncluttered. And although he hadn’t planned on installing a tub, he thought the 70-sq.-ft. bathroom was too small — his friends convinced him that every house should have at least one tub, for little kids and big aches. He chose a claw-foot tub because they’re popular now, and he happened to have an extra one in storage. (Doesn’t everyone?)

The bathroom also has a small shower, which you can see peeking out of the bottom left corner in the picture below (still love that half wall).

Bathroom shower in basement Image: David Očenáš Photography

One of my favorite features in the entire house is the sliding bathroom door, which glides on barn door hardware. Groman repurposed one of the house’s original exterior doors for the bathroom. He sanded and painted it, and covered its windows with window film, which lets in light and protects privacy. Gotta love that blue!

Barn door in basement renovation Image: David Očenáš Photography

Touches of Class

  • Floating (not glued down) cork flooring throughout the lower level — a better choice than carpet, which can harbor bacteria in underground spaces. Cork is sustainable and waterproof.
  • Chestnut tongue-and-groove wood on staircase landing, left over from another project.
  • Under-stairs storage.
  • Reusing demolished basement concrete as the base of the backyard rain garden — instead of sending it to a landfill.

And Now, the Cost

  • Excavation of basement: $6,400
  • Install drainage system: $1,000
  • Tankless water heater, installed: $3,000
  • Heating system with radiant panels: $6,000
  • High velocity air conditioning system: $7,000
  • Cork flooring, installed: $2,640
  • Barn door hardware: $360

TOTAL: $26,400

Related: Basement Remodel: Return on Investment