Finishing Your Toronto Basement - What to Expect

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An unfinished basement is full of potential.

A finished basement can be a family space, or an office - maybe even a rental space. Just remember that when you are getting started with your basement renovation in or around Toronto that the freezing and then humid weather can wreak havoc on your new investment.

When you get started on your basement finishing journey, be sure to use this guide as a starting point for what to expect when undergoing this major basement renovation.

Basement Height

The first question to ask is the ceiling height adequate for what you want to do? Most people want a ceiling height of at least seven feet, eight is better. In the older parts of the city houses were built without any thought of using them as living spaces. In most cases a basement can be underpinned which extends the foundation deeper allowing for a higher ceiling.

Prevent Leaks and Moisture in Your Basement

The bane of all basement problems is the dreaded leak or patch of mould. Before any work begins on a basement, issues causing any moisture or leaks in the basement need to be addressed. If underpinning is being done it may have address the moisture issues.

The process starts outside. The ground should be sloped away from the foundation and the downspouts extended far away from the base of the home. You also need to ensure your downspouts are cleared regularly. To help remove excess moisture from the soil around your home confirm that the foundation drainage system is working properly.  If it is not keeping moisture out of your basement the system can be redone or a new one can be added at the base of the footings on the inside of the foundation. A sump pump may be part of that solution.

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The basement walls need to be properly waterproofed to keep moisture out, this will be done when the drainage system is done. There should be no need for a humidifier when the moisture is properly dealt with.

Maybe you didn’t have water leaks before, but Toronto’s spring thaw can cause small cracks to grow into big ones. Any and all cracks should be identified and properly sealed to prevent them from becoming a problem.

Basement Finishing - Basic Considerations

Once you have all your water damage considerations out of the way, then work begins on the various basic utility elements and fixtures you chose for your design.

Walls and Insulation

Generally, an unfinished basement’s walls will be made of cement, block or brick. Proper moisture barriers will be applied before finishing the walls. The critical thing here is to create a wall where any moisture in the wall assembly will dry to the inside and moist warm basement air is prevented from reaching the cold masonry wall. Rigid insulation and a drainage plane against the masonry is often part of this equation. You don’t want to end up with a vapour barrier on the warm side of the basement insulation where dampness can enter through the masonry and be trapped in the wall.

Wood or steel studs will be built for the walls on which drywall or panelling will be attached.

You may also choose to put up additional walls to partition the space. Walls allow for the easy running of electrical wires and provide more temperature control.


Like the walls, a layer of moisture protection must be applied before finishing the floor. A vapor barrier works here if it is under a grid of sleepers (2x4’s on their side) that hold a plywood subfloor.  Rigid insulation can go between the sleepers. You may also choose a water-resistant 2’x2’ subfloor panel system like Dricore to keep your floor dry.

Once the protection is down, you can choose one of the many different types of flooring recommended for basements such as ceramic or vinyl tile, sheet flooring, or engineered wood flooring.


Your ceiling options will depend on the existing structure of the basement ceiling and how high you want your rooms to be. For example, in many older homes, the plumbing may be below the joists, necessitating a drop ceiling covered in tiles or drywall.

In newer homes, you can attach the ceiling directly to the joists. You can choose simple drywall or wood panelling, or even keep some of the beams and pipes exposed and paint them for a modernist look.

Heating and Cooling

If your basement is freezing, nobody will want to spend any time in it. You will need a qualified HVAC professional to assess if your current HVAC solution has the capacity to service the basement space as well. If it does, the ductwork can then be extended in the basement.

If the HVAC system is inaccessible or installing a new system is out of the question, you have other options. Electric heaters can be installed at floor level to protect against chilly Canadian winters. You may also choose to add several mini-split air conditioners to the space that can both heat and cool.


Having a proper lighting system in place can make or break the livability of a basement. Windows are great where you can build them, and also provide a legally required emergency alternate exit.

Given space and wiring considerations you may be limited in the type of lighting you can use. Pot lighting, low profile LED ceiling fixtures and track lighting are easy to install in basements, and the lighting should be distributed to keep the entire space well lit.

How Much Does it Cost to Finish a Basement?

Finishing a basement can be a costly project. On average it can cost anywhere between $50 per square foot for a DIY, and around $125 per square foot with a contractor. Unless you have plenty of experience with construction and building codes, the DIY method is not recommended.

Working with an experienced contractor in Toronto will ensure you get the project you envisioned within your budget.

At Bryant Renovations, we have years of experience in Toronto basement renovations and finishing. Our unique service provides you with designers and contractors who work together throughout the entire project to make sure everything comes together.

Click here to learn more about our process and see if our team is a good fit for you.