Should You Finish the Basement Floor or Walls First?

You just got a raise at work that allows you more money to invest in your basement that hasn’t been touched for years. You start planning for the project, but you wonder if you need to finish basement floors or walls first. What do you do?

You should finish the basement walls first before you proceed with the basement flooring. This helps the flooring process go much smoother and helps you to install the floor more precisely.

We will go over some general things you need to know about finishing your basement and the step-by-step process to finish your basement. Lastly, we will talk about some general tips on how to find great professionals in case this job is looking to be too much for you.

What To Know Before Getting Started

Finishing your basement will require a lot from your wallet. A finished basement on average costs around $30,000, which simplifies to $25-50 per square foot. Source

You will also need to grab a dumpster to dispose of unneeded installation, drywall, lumber, and/or old flooring. The national average for dumpsters is around $268-766, depending on how big your basement project is. Source

Some other materials that are needed to install a basement (that some DIY’ers don’t take into account) are getting wall fasteners, wall anchors, vapor barriers (to fight against moisture), extra insulation, and a way to heat your basement (if needed). Source

Despite the extra cost that goes into finishing your basement, the property value of your home does go up substantially. Some have even found that finishing their basement gives them a 79% rate of return, which means that they receive back .79 cents of each dollar they spend in increased home value. Source

Be sure not to rush this project. The amount of time it takes to finish your basement varies, depending on the size of your basement. You will need at least 4-8 weeks to remodel your basement thoroughly, but some take even longer (so keep your options open). Source

Prepare Your Basement For Finishing

Be sure to apply for a housing permit before you start with the project. Receiving proper certification gives you the reassurance that your basement is well equipped for a remodel, it is vital if you were to sell your home, and is a great resource to help you find possible issues that will need to be taken care of before proceeding. Source

Part of applying for a housing permit may include (depending on local guidelines):

  1. “Electrical inspection (both rough-in wiring and final electrical)
  2. Plumbing inspection (usually just a rough-in inspection)
  3. Energy inspections (inspect insulation, HVAC, fire-blocking)
  4. Drywall hanging inspection (drywall installation check)
  5. Framing inspection (all framing is checked)
  6. Egress inspection (check to see if you have an Egress exit where needed)” Source

Be sure to handle any dampness issues before starting your project. If you notice any water issues under insulation, on the walls, or surrounding your basement, you will need to get that squared away before proceeding. Source The cost of fixing these issues depends on the severity of the issue, but expect it to cost around $250-600 for a minor problem and $1,900-$6,400 for a major issue. Source

Create an offset between the outside wall and the drywall. This can better protect yourself from problems with moisture in the future. Source

Be sure to take into account additional insulation if needed. Insulation is a great way to protect your basement from having another major project immediately after. Insulation lasts about 80 to 100 years, but can easily be damaged or torn apart from the wall. It is better to replace insulation when you are already finishing the basement so you don’t have to push aside drywall. Source

The best quality insulation costs around $60-75 per square foot. Source

Keep the end in mind. Professionals recommend making sure to pre-plan what you would like your finished basement to function as before you get going on your project. Source This will assure you that the purpose of finishing the basement will be fulfilled and give you more room to do what you’d like. You will need to give extra space for utility ports, fasteners, and the utility room. Source

If you are installing a bedroom in your basement, add a window! International Residential Code (IRC) requires the installation of an escape window in all basement bedrooms. The window must be at least 20 inches wide and 24 inches tall. Source

Get The Best Products For Your Project

There are many things to consider while you are choosing the design of your basement. Whether it is carpet or laminate, drywall or plaster, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • What type of insulation material are you using? Different types of drywall require a different type of insulation, so keep that in mind.
  • What type of exterior wall is supporting your basement?
  • What style would you like your ceiling?
  • What type of flooring would fit your home the best?
  • Where are utility ports in your home? You will need to adjust your measurements on your drywall to take these ports into account, and remove them before you get going on your project.
  • What paint or trim styles would fit the style of your home?
  • Only use materials that are specifically designed for basements. Source

Be sure to also only use materials that are specifically designed for basements. Here are some great things to consider, quoted directly from a home professional:

  • “Use treated wood if the wood will come into contact with concrete, such as the wood floor plates of framed walls, or wood furring strips that attach directly to basement walls.
  • Wood treated with alkaline copper quaternary (ACQ), a chemical that reduces rot, will corrode ordinary nails and screws, so all fasteners should be ACQ-compatible.
  • If installing drywall panels, use moisture- and mildew-resistant drywall.
  • When insulating concrete basement walls (a good idea because concrete basement walls are often cold), use rigid foam board insulation if the insulation will come into direct contact with the concrete wall. Fiberglass batt insulation can be damaged by moisture.”

Steps To Finish A Basement:

  1. Start framing the walls- You build the ‘frames’ of the walls of your rooms out of wood. It can easily be done with 2×4 pieces of wood.
  2. Install the electric work- Yes, you can do your own electrical work through the housing permit.  This is one of the more expensive parts of finishing your basement, but if you tackle this phase yourself, you can save a ton of money.
  3. Install the plumbing- You will need to install your plumbing immediately after you fix your electrical issues. If your electrical work is done correctly, you should be able to handle plumbing without too many major issues.
  4. Install any audio-visual and any other entertainment equipment you would like.
  5. Install the drywall- It is best to use a professional to install drywall on basements.
  6. Paint your walls- Most basements require at least four coats to protect the paint enough for the added moisture.
  7. Address the trim and doors- It is important to check the trim of your doors to be sure the drywall is completely set in stone and good to go. Remove all doors while working in the basement, and replace them once you are done.
  8. Install the flooring. Once you are all set with the walls and the drywall is completely dry, install the flooring! You can very easily install regular wood flooring yourself, but installing carpet in the basement will require a lot more manual effort. Once you have your flooring installed, many recommend painting your flooring with epoxy paint for the flooring to be more durable, protect your floor against mold, and fight against toxins such as VOCs that can get you and your family in your basement sick. Source

If you are not fully comfortable or confident doing these things yourself, please consult a professional as failure to fulfill these steps well can cause major structural and exterior damage to your home.

Tips On Finding Good Contractors

Here are some great tips, taken directly from the U.S. News, on things to keep in mind while you are finding the best contractor for you in case you need some additional help:

  • Know what you want before you get estimates.
  • Ask friends, relatives, and co-workers for references.
  • Interview at least five contractors for the job. Get proposals from every contractor, and pick the contractor that gives you your money’s worth.
  • Be realistic about availability. If they require a long wait time, it is best to go for someone else so you can save money.
  • Ask what work will be done by subcontractors. As the U.S. News states. “A large renovation may require the contractor to bring in subcontractors for specialized work such as electrical, plumbing, or detailed carpentry. You’ll want to know when outside workers will be in the home, and you also want to know that your contractor will manage and supervise their work.” Source
  • Choose the right contractor for the right project. Get one that specializes in a basement with your size.
  • Check licenses, complaints, and litigation history.
  • Check references.
  • Read online reviews.
  • Sign a detailed contract.
  • Don’t pay more than 10% of the total before the job starts.
  • Don’t sign a contract for your entire renovation budget.
  • Negotiate ground rules.
  • Talk to the contractor frequently.
  • Verify insurance coverage.
  • Get lien releases and receipts for products.
  • Don’t make the final payment until the job is done.


Ricky Kesler

With all of the projects I've done over the years, you'd think that I work on my house full-time. But I actually enjoy other things like spending time outdoors and time with my family.

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