REMODELING Basement system adds living space painlessly and fast

While stick-built basements take a month or more, the finishing system is ready to use in roughly half the time.
Basements are hot. And a lot of homeowners are cool with that.
All across the "basement belt" -- from Boston to Atlanta and on west to Kansas City -- families are finding basements are the solution in the hunt for a few hundred square feet of extra living space.
One family life researcher says that basement re-dos offer consumers the best of several worlds -- more living space and a place for the family (especially teenagers) to find privacy.
"Parents don't want or need to be in their kid's faces all the time, but they can't let kids go unsupervised," says Stephanie Coontz, director of research for the New York-based Council for Contemporary Families. "Basements are part of the answer for families because the space is private yet not remote and kids can get away for unstructured time. When the kids are downstairs, parents get some privacy upstairs, too."
But there's a catch: to be livable and truly enjoyable, these dark recesses need to be finished out to reflect the d & eacute;cor and style of the rest of the home.
All sorts of homeowner fears stall the creation of lower level family rooms, home offices, or teen getaways. What if floor or wall leaks ruin wallboard and carpet or cause mold? What if a wall or room needs to be added later?
And most basement rehabs aren't done on the fly. Crews can take weeks to complete these major remodeling jobs. Even self-assured do-it-yourselfers may find basement build-outs like grabbing a tiger by the tail. Local building codes and electrical or mechanical systems -- plus the ever-present drywall mess -- are considerations the homeowner must ponder.
Systemized approach
There is now a systemized approach to basement makeovers. Insulation and home product maker Owens Corning has developed the basement finishing system as a way to reclaim -- quickly and attractively -- subterranean space for the entire family.
"Homeowners can reclaim several hundred square feet of great space in their basement," says Chuck Stein of Owens Corning. "They can pretty quickly turn marginal living area into prime living space."
All components are modular, so installation is fast, and if something goes awry -- such as a water leak -- wall panels and ceiling tiles come off quickly for easy access to areas needing repairs. While stick-built basements take a month or more to complete, the basement finishing system is ready to use in roughly half the time.
The system is not a do-it-yourself project. Owens Corning trains installers to handle the entire process. The custom components aren't familiar to homeowners, says Stein, and most customers prefer quick installation by professionals. Stein says Owens Corning has licensed installers in most areas where basements are most common.
Unlike paper-clad wallboard and wood wall studs, none of the Owens Corning components contains organic materials. This impedes the growth of molds. The fiberglass based panels also help walls to breathe. Concrete or masonry walls tend to sweat and trap moisture behind rigid drywall or plaster. Moisture readily passes through the panel fabric.
The fabric-covered 4x8 panels click to wall studs. A basement can be subdivided into rooms with paneled walls. TV, Internet, stereo and electrical wires can be conveniently tucked behind baseboards at the bottom of the panels. If need be, panels can quickly be replaced with a minimum of work and expense.
There are other advantages of expanded living space below ground rather than above it. Homeowners have already paid for the basement, and conversion of unused space is at a far lower cost per square foot than room additions that require a chunk of yard or landscaping area. Additions are rife with design troubles if the add-on doesn't match the rest of the house. System installation costs are competitive with those of a traditional basement makeover.
A finished basement may well add to a home's resale value, too. According to Stein, finished basements can be an advantage when a home is resold.
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