Home Improvement

Tips to Keep Your New Finished Basement Safe

Having a finished basement is an excellent way to add value and usable space to a home. However, there are certain safety risks associated with transforming a room. Here are a few safety tips for a finished basement that will make sure it can be enjoyed for years to come.

Build by the Code

No matter where you live, there are certain laws associated with having a living space in your basement. The International Code Council (ICC) has established a set of rules that most of the country abide by, including guidelines for basements.

For example, in most cases, a finished basement must have an egress window (or emergency exit window) that meets certain criteria in case emergency crews need easy access. Specifications include:

  • A window with a minimum width of 20” and height of 24”
  • An opening of at least 5.7 square feet to crawl through
  • The sill height must be at or less than 44” from the floor
  • Window well with at least 9 square feet of floor space
  • The window well must be at least 36” in length and width
  • If the window well is more than 44” deep, there must be permanent ladder access

These measures ensure firemen or other personnel can get into the basement or those unable to escape upstairs still have a viable exit.

Neat and Tidy

While not strictly a building code, there are other steps to take that make your finished basement safe. It’s important to remember that basements are typically used for storage and many homeowners tend to use finished areas for the same purpose. Creating space specifically for that purpose is always a good idea. Keeping a basement well organized can make sure anyone downstairs can easily leave the space without tripping or moving boxes out of the way.

While it’s always a good idea for the rest of the house, installing smoke, radon and carbon monoxide detectors are essential in a basement. Since most home designs place furnaces and hot water heaters downstairs, many finished basements make an effort to hide them. Having detectors will keep you notified of emergencies even when those appliances are out of sight.

Keep It Dry

Because they are located underground, basements can naturally draw water in from outside. Fortunately, proper planning can keep the moisture out and make sure your finished area stays nice and dry. Some things to keep an eye on include:

  1. Make sure window wells have adequate drainage so they don’t allow water to seep in through the basement walls.
  2. Examine how the ground slopes away from your home. If the grade isn’t steep enough or is in the wrong direction, water could actually flow towards your home.
  3. Keep an eye on the gutters around the roof to make sure they don’t leak, and check downspouts to see if they drain at a good distance from the foundation.
  4. Before covering the original foundation walls, check for mold and white powder clinging to the surface, which could indicate water seepage that needs to be addressed before it’s hidden for good.

From added value to extra living space, finished basements provide many benefits to homeowners. However, it’s important to think about safety with this space, just as you would with other parts of your home. Follow these tips to make your finished basement safe for your family and guests for years to come.

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Matthew Breyer is the owner of Breyer Construction & Landscape, a family-owned residential remodeling company in southeastern Pennsylvania that specializes in designing and building custom outdoor living areas and other home improvements.

Matt wears many hats in this role, including Lead-Designer where he works directly with clients as well as supporting the rest of the BCL design team as they work to understand our client’s dreams, needs, and concerns — and create a unique solution to ensure the finished project exceeds expectations. When not working, Matt enjoys spending time with his family, as well as serving as president of the North American Deck and Railing Association.

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