Ideas for remodeling unfinished living spaces


House remodel

Related Articles

Homeowners who want to add functional square footage to their home or property should look no further than their unfinished spaces. That dank basement, cluttered attic, or bird-poop pit of a pole barn may not seem like an ideal remodeling project, but with the right contractor team and vision, it can be reconfigured into a place that’s remarkable and useful for a family’s changing needs.

“It’s definitely a growing trend,” says Charlie Dieterich, owner of Precision Carpentry & Plumbing in Greenville, South Carolina. “People want to get the most square footage out of their homes, and it’s a big resale point."

Customizing an existing room can save the cost of building a new addition and provides a great return on investment, although some projects require expensive structural engineering or other fixes to get them up to code and livable.

Remodeling magazine’s 2015 “Cost vs. Value Report” shows an attic bedroom or basement remodel offers more than a 70-percent recoup on investment — one of the best returns for extensive home remodeling projects, topping the value of a bathroom addition or major kitchen renovation.

Chicago remodeler Guy Hincker, owner of G.C.M. Construction in Riverwood, Illinois, estimates the average basement remodel in his area costs between $20 and $35 per square foot.

“Most homeowners will gain an additional floor of living space at a fraction of the cost for what an addition would cost,” he says, adding that infrastructure is his first priority to make sure the area has enough electricity, heating and cooling capacity, and will stay dry and comfortable.

Envisioning a finished room’s potential is another tricky task.

“It can be very difficult for people to visualize,” says general contractor Mark Downing, owner of  Atelier LLC in Portland, Oregon. “As a designer, I almost prefer working on existing sites, because the bones of the original structure inspire the addition — kind of how some poets prefer rhyme and meter over free verse. The existing structure helps create something new.” 

These three Angie’s List member before-and-after transformations illustrate the common building challenges associated with renovating an unfinished living spaces, along with the creative amenities they included. 

Read about the details of each job below to ignite your remodeling imagination.


In-law suite perfectly suited for mom

Laurel Edgar utilized her experience as an interior designer to turn her raw basement into an in-law suite for her 79-year-old mother. The Simpsonville, South Carolina, member designed the 980-square-foot downstairs apartment, as well as painted and decorated. 

“I couldn’t be more pleased, and most importantly, my mother absolutely loves the space,” says Edgar, who hired a general contractor to bring her vision to life.  

Contractor: Precision Carpentry & Plumbing. Owner Charlie Dieterich has tackled everything from extensive remodels to minor home improvements for more than 100 Angie’s List members.

Services: Rework staircase for chair lift; build living spaces; install custom drop ceiling; add HVAC system and 100-amp electrical panel; add insulation, lighting, and sump pump.

Cost: $53,900

• Materials = $23,500

• Labor = $30,400

Time frame: 3 months


• Kitchenette and dining area with open floor plan

• Bedroom with walk-in closet

• Bathroom featuring shower with bench

• Two storage areas

• Laundry center

• Chair lift

• Custom coffered drop ceiling 


• Added HVAC unit and extra electrical panel

• Installed sump pump for drainage since space sits below sewer

• Attached architectural drop ceiling’s suspended frame to the wall with drywall to save Edgar money on border tiles and give it a more cohesive, custom look

• Reconfigured stairs to fit chair lift 

“Charlie and crew created an amazing in-law suite for my mom,” Edgar says. “The work was top-notch. The attention to detail was evident and the crew was patient, informative and professional.”

Edgar says the contractor went out of his way to accommodate minor changes — an inevitable part of any remodel, especially when dealing with the intricacies of an existing space. “The [building] inspector commented on the quality of both the rough inspection and the finished product.”

Dieterich shrugs off the compliments, saying it’s all part of his job. “We go out of our way to make people happy and meet deadlines,” he says.