Your basement: a blank canvas

Green Renovation by Roy Nandram

We are in the middle of a societal shift following COVID-19. It might be time not only to get used to a new way of living, but to start planning, perhaps with space for a home office and other comfortable areas.

One of the most economical and environmentally-friendly answers to increasing the living space in your home is to finish your basement.

The nice thing about a basement is that it can be a blank canvas. You can include any space you like: a home office, a play and learning area for kids, a bathroom, a bedroom, a bar, a games room, a home theatre, or a separate dwelling unit. Even small work spaces – for instance, spaces under your basement stairs – can be practical and add functionality to “wasted” space.

Things to consider:

  • There are requirements for egress and natural lighting.
  • For egress, the operable portion of a window must open to 0.35 m3 and have no dimensions smaller than 38 cm. It can be difficult to widen a basement window due to structural considerations. Making a basement window deeper and installing a window well allows more daylight into the space and can potentially meet the egress requirements, depending on the window type.
  • You should test for Radon before you begin. Radon is the second-highest cause of lung cancer in Canada. (More information here:
  • Basements are notorious for being damp and cold. In fact, if your basement is uninsulated, this may account for 20 per cent of your home’s total heat loss. Bare concrete walls and floors transfer heat and moisture to the surrounding soil, creating a damp, cool space and wasting energy. By properly insulating your basement and sealing it from moisture and air leakage, you can expect to save on heating costs and increase the thermal comfort of your entire home.
  • Installing frost walls between the finished space and the concrete foundation wall will insulate your basement and create a moisture barrier between the concrete wall and exterior space. This will make your basement significantly warmer and less damp.
  • A raised insulated subfloor is an excellent way to keep the finished flooring warmer and prevent potential moisture problems, as long as the gap between the concrete slab and the insulated subfloor is ventilated properly.
  • Each enclosed space must be provided with a supply and return air duct. Return air grilles should be kept close to the floor, and supply air diffusers should be kept close to the ceiling.
  • Any valves or electrical junction boxes being hidden by the walls or ceilings must have an access panels to provide access in the future. (They can be painted to match the finished wall colour.)

When properly designed and constructed, a basement living space can use significantly fewer materials than an addition.

It can also be just as bright, comfortable and functional as the rest of your home.

Roy Nandram is president of RND Construction Ltd.