Convert Your Unfinished Basement Into a Lucrative Basement Apartment

beautiful finished basement apartment painted white, blue and grey

Turning your unfinished basement into a beautiful basement apartment rental can be a daunting task. You’ve probably asked yourself questions like, “where do I start?” or “it’s too expensive, so why bother?”. In truth, it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg to transform your basement into a comfortable and stylish living space. In this article, we’ll discuss starting points for renovating your unfinished basement, cost effective ways to upgrade your space, and basement design tips.

Basement Apartment Basics

When you look at your unfinished basement, I’m sure you see a thousand and one projects that you could work on, but never do because you don’t know where or how to start. First, let’s make sure the bare necessities are taken care of.

empty unfinished basement ready for construction

Plumbing & Electricity

Of course, a livable apartment has access to water and electricity. These two things can make your basement renovations pretty expensive, but the investment is well worth it. More livable space means that your home is now more valuable if you decide to sell. It is also convenient for your future tenants, so they don’t have to run up and down the stairs or invade your privacy.

We strongly suggest consulting with a plumber and electrician before starting work on your basement apartment. If you rent your property, you should always contact your landlord or property manager before starting a large project like this. When it comes to running water lines to your basement, you will most likely run into zoning ordinances and possible deed restrictions. These are important things to consider when moving forward with your renovation project. Try to set up your basement plumbing and electrical outlets as close to existing plumbing and electrical. This will save you money and time when it’s time to hook everything up.

Another thing to keep in mind is the bathroom area. Unless you want to share your main bathroom, the basement bathroom should have a shower, bathtub, or both. Whatever the case, make sure you add some ventilation to your bathroom since they tend to build up a lot of moisture. Since it’s already in the basement, it’s best to avoid as much additional moisture buildup as possible.

small basement bathroom

When it comes to plumbing, you need to plan for proper drainage. With above-ground plumbing, the pipes rely on gravity to drain any waste down. This may be difficult with a basement since you’re closer to the ground. When you’re consulting with your plumber, they will evaluate the depth and size of your pipes. If the sewer line is deep enough for the pipes to rely on gravity to drain downwards, then your basement bathroom and any other things that need water will be fairly simple to install.


Before renovating or decorating, we strongly suggest waterproofing your basement. If you want this to be a livable space, you need to make sure there are no leaks. A little water can go a long way toward damaging all your hard work. If you prefer to hire a professional, we recommend Bix Basement Systems in Peoria IL, but if you want to do it yourself, keep reading.

The first step to waterproofing is finding the source of any leaks. You can use polyurethane caulk for small areas and 2-part epoxy for larger areas. Once that has been done, you can waterproof either the interior or exterior walls of your basement. Waterproofing your exterior walls can be pretty costly, ranging from $15,000-$30,000. You can save a lot of money by using concrete waterproofing coatings to waterproof the interior walls instead. It is a thick, paint-like coating that works best on unpainted concrete and masonry. A 5-gallon bucket usually goes for $30 and covers 100 sq. feet.

Another option is to use a waterproof acrylic paint. These paints are not much different than your typical wall paint, it just goes on thicker. The good thing about waterproof paint is that it can go on previously painted surfaces and have paint applied on top as well. One gallon usually goes for $30 or so and covers about 75 sq. feet.

Bucket of turquoise paint on brick basement floor


If you’re able to paint, whether it be your walls, floors, or ceiling, you should. A fresh coat of paint can really change up the look and feel of a space. We recommend painting your walls a classic white. White will make a space that is usually pretty dark seem bright and open.

The floor of an unfinished basement is usually some sort of gray concrete. You can leave this alone, but if you are up for the task there are a ton of different things you can do. We suggest using a non-slip paint for concrete floors. You can leave it gray to just freshen up what was already there or you could paint it anywhere from dark gray to black.

If your ceiling is exposed, it’s best to leave it that way. It would be very expensive to make a ceiling for such a large area. Having an exposed ceiling can actually be better, believe it or not. By not covering up your ceiling, it gives the space a more open feeling, which can be hard to achieve in basements. We want to keep all the openness we can!

Usually when making a ceiling in a basement, people want to cover the pipes that run beneath the main part of the house. If you really don’t want to leave it that way, you can paint the ceiling joists black. By doing this, you are creating the illusion of depth which also makes the area where the ceiling recedes less noticeable.

Creating Rooms

Having such a large space can be very beneficial. Bigger spaces mean more space for activities, which is great for kids or office space. If you want your basement to resemble an actual living space or just to have for when the family stays over, we suggest dividing the space up. For a basement apartment, you’ll need a bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, laundry area, and some type of common area like a living room. Don’t worry, no building or drywall is necessary.

Orientated Strand Board (OSB) is an engineered wood similar to particle board. It is low-cost and is an innovative way to divide your living space. The key for making this work is to use it in large areas. OSB is perfect for making open communal spaces, like a sitting area or kitchen, and making “rooms” for private areas like a bedroom or bathroom. We suggest adding a pop of color to these new walls. Remember, light, cool colors are best for open spaces.

Household Appliances

Most basements have a water heater, radiator, furnace, and other large appliances that make the main house livable. This area should be left alone or sectioned off from your basement rental. Large household appliances need space with little to no objects in the way, so they can do their jobs properly without overheating. If you’re looking to hide this space so as to not disrupt the “feng shui” of your design, you can section it off with OSB or a screen room divider so it is easily accessible if need be.

household appliances behind framing in unfinished basement

Finished Basements Are Worth the Investment

We all like to save money when we can. We also like to have great quality products and experiences. You shouldn’t have to pick one or the other. You can have great quality and still save money on big projects, like converting your unfinished basement into a beautiful, comfortable, and livable apartment. A lot goes into renovating an unfinished space and some things are impossible to avoid or cheap out on. When things feel out of hand, it’s important to remember the high return on investment that comes from a finished basement.

On average, you can expect roughly a 70% return on investment. Which basically means that for every $1000 you spend, you can expect about $700 back. When you add the profit from your basement rental, it will easily pay for itself and then some.

If you happen to be putting up drywall, make sure things like plumbing and electrical are all done well. These are the basic necessities to turn your unfinished basement into a lucrative living space. Things like decorating and furnishings are opportunities to try to save money. DIY and thrifting leaves many options open, so there is no need to break the bank when sprucing up your basement apartment.

Basement Design Tips

If you’re stuck on coming up with ideas for your basement apartment, we’ve got you covered. We’ll give you some design and decor tips that you can use. Hopefully it will also inspire new ideas of your own!

Open Floor Plan

Not only is this a great way to make it feel less bleak and dreary, it is also a great way to save money. The less walls or dividers you put up, the better. It is also great for common areas like the kitchen, living room, and dining room. Keeping those spaces open makes them much more inviting and useful for entertaining guests. Rooms like the bedroom and bathroom can be closed off, but we suggest letting everything else flow.

finished basement apartment with open floor plan and vinyl flooring

Just the Essentials

How you choose to decorate your basement apartment is entirely up to you. However, if you are on a budget, we suggest only getting basic furniture and appliances. In rooms like a bathroom, you really only need a toilet, sink, and bathing area. Having a vanity or clawfoot tub isn’t required to make your bathroom functional or even attractive. Of course you want how you want it, but there is a way to do that without emptying your wallet. Just keeping it basic, so you can make sure you get the best quality out of those products. It’s a win-win!

Storage Solutions

We can all agree that we could also use more storage space, right? Well, that sure doesn’t stop here. Even if your basement is large, it probably isn’t quite the size of your home. If you have ever lived in an apartment, you know how cramped it can get. Our recommendation is to use as many multifunctional pieces of furniture as possible. By this, we mean furniture which serves as storage, but is also something you can use everyday.

For example, a sectional couch or coffee table with storage compartments for extra linens and blankets. Murphy Beds are also great if you don’t have a space large enough to make multiple rooms. A studio apartment can have a bed in it without it taking up any space.

Color in Small Doses

Basements are notorious for being dark and uninviting. We’ve mentioned earlier in this article that it’s best to stick with white and neutral colors. This keeps the space feeling more open and bright since there isn’t much natural light, if any at all. This doesn’t mean you have to swear off a pop of color here and there. By limiting your use of color, you are creating focal points in your space, but white space is important too.

white basement apartment with green accents

Having a place to rest the eye can make a space feel more comfortable without feeling boring. There are plenty of easy ways to achieve this, like hanging art on a white wall, putting accent pillows on the couch, or placing a colorful centerpiece for the dining room table.

Spice Up Boring Walls and Floors

We just mentioned using color in small amounts to make a space feel interesting, but not overwhelming. Let’s expand on that idea by focusing specifically on the floors and walls of your new apartment.

Sure, you can hang up art on the walls, but you should also consider hanging up some tapestries. The soft fabric and movement will make a basement apartment feel cozy and enjoyable. While they are great for decoration, tapestries can also insulate and even soundproof a room. For more soundproofing tips, check out our article on 6 Easy Ways to Soundproof Your Bedroom.

When it comes to flooring, there are quite a few options to consider.  If you’d rather stick to concrete floors, we suggest adding an area rug or runner. Earlier, we mentioned painting the floor. You are welcome to leave it at that, but if you want it to feel more like an actual apartment, then we suggest either tile or vinyl flooring.

Carpet and hardwood floors are two of the worst flooring options for a basement apartment. They can quickly be ruined by moisture, spills, pets, and many other accidents. There are ways to have wood flooring by either heating your floor or intense (and much more expensive) waterproofing. Besides, cheap vinyl plank flooring can look just like real wood.

Your Beautiful Basement Apartment Awaits

In this article, we have discussed where to start your transformation, debunked the myth that basement renovations aren’t worth the expense, and provided some helpful design tips. We know that making your unfinished basement into a beautiful basement apartment can be intimidating at first, but now you have the knowledge to move forward and create an incredible space. It’s also one the best investment opportunities under your own roof. Go turn that gloomy unfinished basement into an amazing living space!


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