Basements were once a dark, cobwebby, cold place to store unused items and do laundry. They’ve starred in horror movies as the place where scary things lurk. But basements have come a long way. Sure, some are still nothing more than a carpet remnant and cast off furniture, but most are a highly useful part of the home and necessary for family life. Whether you’re finishing your basement for the first time, or remodeling to make it more attractive and functional, here are some things to consider before you dive in.

Your Basement Should be on Par With the Rest of Your Home – The phrase “bargain basement” shouldn’t apply to your lower level. You want people to walk down the stairs and say, “Great lower level, let’s hang out!” not “Hmmmm basement. Let’s go upstairs.” Your basement finish should be commensurate with the rest of your home, not a shrine to low quality.

Always Drywall the Ceiling – A drywall ceiling will be slightly higher than a drop ceiling, which makes a big difference in a basement. The look is also much nicer. Will you possibly have to remove drywall at some point to access utilities? Maybe, but drywall is easily repairable. You can also install access panels in strategic areas to avoid having to remove drywall.

Be Strategic With Utilities – The ceiling height in basements is often already relatively low, so why make it even lower with ducts, plumbing, etc? Strategically relocate mechanicals to logical places so that the ceiling height is as high as possible throughout the space.

Basements Don’t Have to be Dark – You want plenty of lighting so that your basement feels less like a dungeon and more like living space. In addition to plenty of recessed lighting, install as many egress windows as possible to maximize natural light.

Fire It Up – Basements can be chillier than the rest of your home and nothing says cozy like a fireplace. Not only can a fireplace make your space warmer, they can be a great design element that complements any style.

Have a Real Budget – The Cost vs. Value Report for 2015 says that the average basement finish in the Des Moines area is around $63,000 for 600 square feet of finished space. This space includes a full bath and wet bar. If someone says they can do yours for far less, remember the phrase “too good to be true.” Always ask for references, and ask those references how much their projects actually ended up costing vs budget.

Finish In Stages – Your basement wish list might include a wet bar or kitchenette, a fireplace, built-in storage, etc, which is great! If you’re struggling to find the budget for all those bells and whistles, keep in mind that many of these can be added later. Have your remodeler design a comprehensive plan for your basement and complete it in stages if necessary.

Open Space Is Important – A lot of basement stairs lead right toward a wall with very little landing space. Make sure you design plenty of open space at the bottom of the stairs for moving in oversized furniture like beds and couches.

Bathrooms Matter – You might be tempted to emit a bath because it will add cost, but don’t. You’ll really appreciate the convenience of a bathroom, as will guests who stay in your basement. Plus, the basement bath will benefit you if you ever sell your home. If it’s not part of your initial budget, at least plan it and finish later.

Don’t Skimp on Storage – Be honest about how large your storage room needs to be. Will you really get rid of all the stuff you say you’ll get rid of? No one has ever said, “I wish I had less storage.”

Solve Problems Sooner Rather Than Later – If you’ve had water in your basement, or you have issues with radon – most homes in Iowa do – take care of those very important issues first. Water problems can be a costly problem if not properly addressed, and why expose your family to radon?

Keep these common sense tips in mind as you begin planning for your basement finish or remodel and you’ll enjoy your investment in your home.

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