How to Make Your Basement a DIY Utopia

How to Make Your Basement a DIY Utopia: POP Projects is a collection of new and classic projects from over a century of Popular Mechanics. Master skills, get tool recommendations, and most importantly, build something yourself.

When we moved into our 1854 farmhouse, there was, shall we say, work to be done. Faucets didn’t work, lights didn’t work. There were too many walls. The attic was inaccessible. There was no insulation. There wasn’t even a hutch for the rabbits we would eventually have. I needed — and wanted — what every homeowner needs and wants: a corner of the basement that I could turn into a workshop.

I had allotted a small (nine by eleven feet) room for my shop, but there was not much to recommend the space. It was dark, damp, and dusty. Wires were strung across its roof and walls. A bare 40-watt bulb protruded from a wall with a Rube Goldberg pull-string arrangement going up to the board and batten doorframe. Both wooden windows in the foundation were painted decades ago.

The place was hard to love, but it was mine. I could play music as loud as I wanted in there while I fixed one of the children’s wooden toys or repurposed an old lamp my parents had given me. But a workroom isn’t a workroom unless it has a workbench, so the first thing I did after closing on the house was to build one. I thought that once I had that, everything about renovating a 162-year-old structure built by farmers would be easy.

Plans come and go, each passing through the workroom in turn. The paint was shaken and stored there, cordless power tool batteries were charged, and leftover boxes of screws and nails were set aside for the next project.

But a slow change took place. The room fell silent. Along with the addition of hardware and new tools came less desirable. A thin film of dirt and dust settled on everything. A faint odor — some combination of mouse urine and colic — never left. Broken parts and things I never use are mixed with tools and hardware I constantly need. Also, it was clear that the walls needed to be waterproofed, to prevent further damage, and any mold and mildew build-up. The room began to swallow tools and hardware at a rate that belied its small size. My rolling husky tool chest was permanently stuck in a corner. I couldn’t even open the door to the beer fridge.

Here was the worst part: I stopped enjoying the time I spent there. It was time to give the room a makeover. So I asked my next-door neighbor and Popular Mechanics contributing editor Richard Romansky—whose work is a cathedral and organized as I’ve never seen—for advice. I needed shelves, I told him—five rows of shelves along twelve feet of an open brick wall. Of course, we can do that, and more said, Richard.

Clearing and decluttering the space will provide an opportunity to tackle a long-overdue renovation project — waterproofing the walls with DRYLOK Extreme Masonry Waterproofed (step-by-step instructions below).

Also, this project will teach me great lessons about controlling a random space, without a level plane, square corner, or straight line.

Getting started

We started by taking everything out of the room. Now at least we could see what we were doing. (Plus, I got my) An obvious problem was that a series of electricians or, more likely, handymen used the room as an emergency point to run wiring throughout the house. was, and the boxes were on our way. So our first task was to cut power to what we thought were the affected circuits and then test the wires we wanted to move with a non-contact voltage detector.

We had no electrical surprises and had a fairly straightforward time routing the wires where we needed to install the shelving.

With the cleared walls and space, there was an opportunity to waterproof the walls. A major basement remodel is a great time to add a waterproofer. This will prevent further damage, and reduce mold and mildew. I turned to contributing editor Joe Turney to show me how to do it.

How to Waterproof Your Basement in Three Easy Steps

Finishing a basement is one of the fastest, easiest, and most cost-effective ways to add extra storage and living space to your home. Unfortunately, many basements are too damp and deep to be of much use. Water and excess moisture can seep into foundation walls and can cause damage to household items, rusted metal, rotting wood, mold, and mildew.

The good news is that you can create a perfectly dry, functional basement in just one weekend by applying a waterproof coating to the walls, such as DRYLOK Extreme Masonry Waterproofed.

The proprietary formula can be applied to any bare masonry surface, including poured concrete, concrete block, brick, and stucco. And it applies as easily as paint. But don’t be fooled, it’s not painting, which sticks to the surface and can easily blister from water ingress. Durylic Extreme Masonry Waterproofed contains flexible encapsulated polymers that penetrate deep into the pores of foundation walls to form an impenetrable waterproof barrier. It is guaranteed to affect 15 pounds per square inch of hydrostatic pressure. This is equivalent to a 33-foot high wall of water.

Installing a DRYLOK Extreme Masonry Waterproofed when finishing your basement will also provide you with these benefits:

  • It will withstand Category 4 sea breezes to prevent wind-driven rain.
  • It reduces the vaporization of radon gas.
  • The formula contains a green biocide that inhibits fungal growth.
  • After 24 hours, it can be top coated with latex paint.

From start to finish, waterproofing the walls of an average-sized basement typically takes 10 to 12 hours, depending on their condition and the amount of prep work necessary. If it makes sense for your basement, here are three important steps to take when using DRYLOK Extreme Masonry Waterproofing:

Step 1: Prepare.

Brush off all dust, dirt, and loose bits of mortar and concrete. If there is a white, crusty powder called efflorescence on the walls, remove it with a wire brush then wash the area with DRYLOK Etch.

Step 2: Patch

Fill all holes, cracks, and divots with DRYLOK Fast Plug Hydraulic Cement, which dries hard in just five minutes. Force the cement into place with a stiff blade putty knife or trowel. Pay special attention to the seam where the foundation wall meets the floor. This is where water often enters the basement.

Step 3: Apply.

How to Make Your Basement a DIY Utopia

For best results, wait for a dry day when the air and wall surface temperatures are 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) or higher. Apply the first coat of DRYLOK Extreme Masonry Waterproofer with a ¾-inch nap roller or a 4-inch wide synthetic bristle brush. Be sure to fill all pinholes and hairline cracks. Wait two to three hours, then apply another coat using a roller, brush, or sprayer. That’s all there is to it. Now, you have a DRYLOK-ed basement ready to be finished.

With the waterproofing done, next came preparation for storage. I envisioned a two-by-four system with pine shelving as support, but Richard had a better idea: epoxy-coated wall standards and brackets. Now, I’ve always thought that metal bracket shelves looked cheap and bolted under something heavier than a pencil case, but this one at our local lumber yard, Ridgefield Supply Co., in Connecticut, made a nice, sturdy steel one.

The standard and bracket system of. We will mount them on 5/8 inch AC fir plywood. At $45 a sheet, this is an expensive material. On the other hand, I only needed three sheets and it was dead flat. We will use every square inch of it, so nothing is wasted.

For the shelf itself, we will use 7/8 inch thick knotty white pine. It’s a beautiful thing.

We began by noting the position of the Lally column that supports the central beam of the house. Lally columns are a wonderful way to handle a home, but there always seems to be one in the way of a basement remodeling job. In mapping the shelf, we made sure that the seams between the plywood pieces would not fall behind the column.

We even used this thing to our advantage, turning it into a divider between a stack of deep shelves for heavier items and shallow shelves for smaller items. We were also mindful that standards don’t fall on shelf ends. Rather, the standard will be met by the ends of the shelves, giving each shelf a pleasing cantilever about six inches long.

We began by noting the position of the Lally column that supports the central beam of the house. Lally columns are a wonderful way to handle a home, but there always seems to be one in the way of a basement remodeling job. In mapping the shelf, we made sure that the seams between the plywood pieces would not fall behind the column.

We even used this thing to our advantage, turning it into a divider between a stack of deep shelves for heavier items and shallow shelves for smaller items. We were also mindful that standards don’t fall on shelf ends. Rather, the standard will be met by the ends of the shelves, giving each shelf a pleasing cantilever about six inches long.

So with the wiring neatly out of the way, we began measuring the joint spaces against the length of the plywood. “Never assume that roots are sixteen inches apart, even if they look like it,” declared Richard. Our investigation into the stud wall yielded results. It was found that the end of the plywood sheet would not fall over the center of the stud.

When faced with this, it is usually easier to add blocking to fit the root location than to cross-cut the plywood. The factory edge on AC plywood is very fine, which means it will split cleanly through to the next sheet. So we applied to block where necessary, positioned the first full sheet of plywood, leveled it with the floor, and nailed it to the wall with a handful of 1 ½-inch finish nails from a cordless Sanco nail gun. were fired from We crossed the next sheet lengthwise and butted its factory edge to the factory edge at the end of the first sheet.

Next, we tore off the partial sheets. Again, we planned the trip to allow the factory edge of these partial sheets to meet the factory edge of the bottom sheets. We offset the sheets like bricks to avoid four-corner bush leg joints.

With all the sheets carefully moved into position, we nailed them to the house with Senko. The result was a nice, clean installation with smooth, flat surfaces and tightly curved edges. The room was changing before our eyes.

Read More:How to Build Garage Shelves on Your Own

Building shelves

Everyone has seen metal wall shelving that is poorly installed with quality not parallel and wavy shelves. This should not happen. Careful layout and installation—plus a sturdy product to begin with—makes for a superior storage wall. You stand in front of it, and you want to stand there for hours, thinking about how to stack the boxes of nails. this is fun.

First, work on your spacing. The light-duty standards we used should never be more than three feet apart, otherwise heavy items could cause the shelves to tilt. Depending on the position of the Lally column and the weight of the stuff I wanted to store, we spaced the standards a good, even twenty-seven and a quarter inches apart.

We began by setting a reference standard that would determine the position of subsequent standards. Using a sharp No. 2 pencil, we lightly marked a plumb line to determine its position, then we took a level and carefully marked a horizontal line across the plywood that Each standard on the wall will be near the top.

How to Hang Metal Shelves on an Open Stud Wall

How To Hang Metal Shelves on an Open-Stud Wall

Because we went to the extra trouble to install the plywood cleanly, we had a reliably flat reference surface that would speed up our standards and shelving installation.

We first positioned the reference standard against the plumb line and poked a steady pencil through the mounting hole above it. We removed the standard, drilled a pilot hole at that mark, repositioned the standard, and attached it to the plywood with a single wafer-head screw.

If you haven’t tried these fasteners, please do. Made from heat-treated carbon steel, they are incredibly strong and easy to operate, thanks to the Phillips’s head. The underside of the wafer head is lightly embossed with a tire-like grip surface. When you run one of these dogs, it stays put.

With a single screw in the top hole, we tested the quality of the plumb. Finding that it was, we drove the remaining screws, using one fastener in each hole in the standard, more than enough to secure it to the plywood.

A simple trick to ensure proper installation of the next standard: Insert a shelf bracket into the first standard and the new standard you’re hanging. Then place the next standard on its mark while a helper uses a level to extend it from one shelf bracket to another. Careful installation of the next standard ensures that it is not only stable but that the shelf will sit correctly on it.

Finishing up

The rest of the shop work was straightforward. We put a small piece of pegboard over the workbench, painted the ceiling, and hung two fluorescent shop lights over it. Richard built a simple plywood work surface above the beer fridge and husky cart.

Taking a break from our work and enjoying a beer from the fridge, Richard and I noticed a breeze that found its way through one of the leaning windows in the stone wall. It was a battle to get that window open, so tightly painted, was it. But it was worth it. The fresh air felt good, and the glow of real daylight washed over the space.

I could even see a small square of blue sky through the opening.

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