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Reza Amirisefat, of Unique Home Construction, converted the unfinished basement of a home on Orcas Island into a comfortable, well-lit living space. It’s a popular project in the Seattle area because “we have lots of houses where the basements are not finished,” he says. (Courtesy of Unique Home Construction)

The basement. The garage. Crawl spaces.

These parts of the house might make you think of words like “dark,” “damp” and “dreary.” Maybe even “dungeon.”

But with an investment of time, effort and resources, these spaces could conjure up a different description: delightful.

No matter what kind of shape your basement, garage or crawl space is in, there are plenty of fixes — both simple and elaborate — to turn these underutilized spaces into useable areas that will delight you for years to come.

Finishing the basement

When Elizabeth Goode and her partner, James, bought their home in Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood in January, they knew right away they wanted to renovate the semifinished basement.

The lowest level of the 1924 Craftsman had a big, open space with a washer and dryer, utility sink and furnace, along with a “weird little L-shaped room” separated by a door.

“It was kind of wonky and not very useful,” Goode says.

It also took up a good deal of space: about half the home’s total area of 1,600 square feet, which upstairs included two bedrooms — and a single bathroom. “We just felt like one bathroom wasn’t going to do it for us,” Goode says.

Their solution was to do a full remodel of their basement. The project, which began in June and is nearing completion, has left the basement replete with a luxuriously tiled bathroom of its own, a den/entertainment area, and the home’s new primary bedroom, which they plan to start occupying in December. The two upstairs bedrooms will become a guest bedroom and a home office.

They also invested in a French drainage system, which redirects water away from the house.

“We didn’t want it to flood, ever,” Goode says.

Goode loves the basement’s new functionality. “We’ve essentially doubled the size of the house,” she says.

The couple worked with Reza Amirisefat, owner of the Bellevue-based contracting firm Unique Home Construction.

“In Seattle, we have lots of houses where the basements are not finished,” Amirisefat says. But homeowners don’t have to finish these basements in order to make them serviceable, he says. Every house, every owner and every situation is different, and there’s a wide range of solutions to meet their needs. Some residents opt to just clean up an unfinished basement and use it as storage; others might waterproof it and add a bathroom.

Nevertheless, Amirisefat says, finishing a basement will add versatility and resale value to your home and turn an underutilized space into one that brings you more satisfaction.

One thing to note with under-the-home spots is that they can be poorly lit and depressing — a quality exacerbated by our region’s frequently cloudy, rainy weather.

“We don’t have that much natural light,” Amirisefat says. “In general, the basement has much more moisture; it’s much more cold.”

To make a basement warmer and cheerier, Amirisefat recommends adding windows, using lots of lighting and bright colors, and putting cozy carpeting underfoot.

Regardless of what you choose to do with a basement, one area where Amirisefat does not recommend cutting corners is with waterproofing.

“Here in Seattle, we have lots of rainy days,” he says, and our wet weather means we often end up with soggy, waterlogged soil.

Options for keeping that water out of your basement include projects inside or outside the home. Amirisefat particularly likes French drainage systems, which use a trench filled with gravel or rock and a perforated pipe to redirect water away from a home.

“That’s one thing that I would recommend to all my customers in Seattle,” Amirisefat says.

Seattle’s hilly neighborhoods leave many homes with unusual-sized spaces underneath. With proper precautions, these crawlspaces can be made safe for storage. (iStock)

Using a crawl space for storage

Basement remodels are notoriously expensive, Amirisefat says. If you’re looking to add value to your home for a lower price point, consider your crawlspace.

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Seattle’s hilly topography means houses are often built on slopes and slants, leaving extra spaces underneath them that come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes.

These spaces often aren’t insulated or sealed. Many have no floor and open onto bare ground. This has implications for the entire house, according to Amirisefat.

Just as homeowners often insulate the attic to regulate their home’s temperature, insulating a crawl space can have the same benefit. Even if you do nothing else to a crawl space, adding insulation “can help you to save money on your bills later,” Amirisefat says.

Many people like to go further and turn their crawl spaces into secure areas for storage. If you do, you’ll likely need the help of a specialist: “You have to clean it. You have to make sure there are no bugs, no rats or something like that,” Amirisefat says.

Fortunately, this type of project typically requires much less of an investment of time and money than a remodel, and Amirisefat says it can generally be completed in around 10 days.

Tuvache Betton converted his Renton garage into a workout space by applying a coat of epoxy to the floor and adding a heavy bag and other equipment. (Courtesy of Tuvache Betton)

Getting the garage in shape

When Tuvache Betton bought his 1962 Renton home earlier this year, he chose to live in the bottom level himself and rent out the bedrooms in the upper portion of the house. The house had been recently redesigned, so he didn’t have to do much with the living spaces. But the pandemic was in full swing, and gyms were closed — so Betton turned the garage into an exercise room.

The garage is about 150 square feet — “big enough to fit a nice-size Mini Cooper,” he says — and he kept the project fairly simple.

Betton started by coating the floor with epoxy to create a hard surface. “It helps protect the concrete, in case I drop a weight.”

Betton adds that the light-colored coating helps with the aesthetic.

“It makes it a little less dreary. It’s a garage,” he says with a chuckle.

One feature Betton wanted to include in his gym was a heavy bag for boxing, but he was reluctant to simply hang it from the rafters. “I didn’t want that energy transfer” that would result from punching a bag hanging from the ceiling, he says.

The solution turned out to be an easy one: He bolted the bag’s bottom end to the floor, which spread out the energy from his punches sufficiently to make it work.

With just the addition of the epoxy coating and the bolting of the bag to the floor, plus a smattering of exercise equipment, Betton’s garage has become a light, bright place where he can stay in shape throughout the pandemic and beyond. “I have pretty much everything I could possibly use,” he says.

Consider your needs before you begin

Like Goode, Sonja Groset and her husband, Gavin Waller, decided to do a full remodel of their basement.

“It was semifinished when we moved in, but we never really made the most of it,” Groset says.

When the couple purchased their Lake Forest Park home from Waller’s mother 22 years ago, the 1954 house had a basement with one big room, one smaller storage room, a laundry area and a dark bathroom. It had old linoleum, and the part of the basement with windows was closed off from the larger part of the basement.

“We joked that it was the pit of despair, because it was so dark,” Groset says. “We wanted to open up some walls while letting in as much daylight as possible.”

Sonja Groset and her husband, Gavin Waller, added a large wet bar as part of a full remodel of their unfinished basement. (Courtesy of Sonja Groset)

After pondering the possibilities for a long time, they finally began their project a few years ago — a delay that Groset thinks was beneficial.

“Taking the time to be thoughtful with it” helped them figure out what they really needed and wanted, what was missing and what they wanted their project to accomplish, Groset says.  

The basement now has its own entrance and two bedrooms — one functioning as Sonja’s home office, the other as a guest bedroom with lots of storage. There’s also a bathroom with a gray-tiled walk-in shower; a kitchenette; and a rec room with a fireplace, a big television and a wet bar that occupies most of one wall.

“I love to make cocktails, so we built in a home cocktail bar,” Groset says. “This has been the hero of the pandemic.”

Although she and Waller benefited from taking plenty of time to think about what they wanted in their basement, Groset also cautions against taking too much time before altering the space below your home to your liking.

Some of the couple’s friends recently fixed up their own basement — just before they moved to a new home. Now, Groset says, they wish they had remodeled long ago, so they could have enjoyed it themselves.

“Why didn’t we do this earlier?” Groset says they thought afterward. “It’s so nice down here!”

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