Like many homeowners, you might be thinking about adding living space by finishing your basement. Before you go too far, be certain that space will be healthy for your family. This will be beneficial whether you finish your basement or not.

The first steps in planning a finished basement are these:

1. Inspect for signs of dampness. Look for standing water anywhere in your basement, especially in corners and below windows. Also look for signs of mold or mildew. Mold and mildew can grow on walls, floor, windows, and on the wood beams and framing for the floor above the basement. Mold and mildew inside your home can cause respiratory problems for your family, even if no one has allergies or asthma. Basement dampness can also cause warping and buckling of framing boards, damage hardwood floors above, cause odors and even increase your heating and cooling costs.

2. Determine the cause of dampness and correct the problem. Water or dampness in a basement can be the result of cracks in walls or floor, leaking windows, inadequate drainage below the basement, and inadequate removal of water around the foundation. Be sure to check the areas where floor and walls meet. Drainage of rainwater is relatively easy to fix.  At the least, make sure downspouts are correctly placed and extend far enough away from the house so that rainwater is directed away from the foundation.

3. Correct any foundation problems. When you inspect, look for large and uneven cracks in walls or floor. These could indicate a foundation problem. You will need to have this fixed before you finish your basement.

4. Have your basement inspected by a professional before you start construction. Particularly if there are cracks in your basement floor or walls, it is a good idea to have a professional check your basement for structural problems. You should also have it checked for Radon and other gases that could be collecting under your basement. While many homes today are built with drainage systems under the basements, this might not be the case with your basement. A professional can advise you about what you need to do to protect your family when you plan to use your basement for living space.

5. Check local building codes for specific things you must do before you start remodeling. For example, some localities require a particular number of windows and doors for emergency escape. There might also be specifications about stairs and ceiling height. Remember that the most important part of finishing your basement is protecting the health and safety of your family.

6. Make plans to install appropriate vapor barriers and adequate insulation. A vapor barrier on the walls and floor will prevent moisture from penetrating the porous concrete. There are floor mat products and insulation with an attached vapor barrier that can be used for this purpose.

7. If you have any appliances in the basement that use water, check pipes and hoses for leaks before you start construction. It will be worth the time and trouble to check bathroom pipes, washing machine hoses and the like to be certain there are no leaks. Also check for leaks around your water heater and where pipes penetrate walls.

By taking these first steps in finishing a basement you can be assured that your new living space will be safe for your family and will protect your investment in your home.