Extend Your Living Space

Reader Contribution by Steve Maxwell
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When COVID lockdowns first appeared earlier this year, summer was on its way in, providing opportunities to get away outdoors. If lockdowns come again, some of us will face what amounts to another round of house arrest, except with the added burden of cold, wet, freezing winter weather outside. All this is why more and more people are scrambling to extend their indoor living space while they still can, and three approaches are popular.

Basic Basement Finishing

An unfinished basement offers the single most useful opportunity to do things to increase your household living area, and the work doesn’t need to take a long time or cost a lot of money if you follow what I call a “basic” approach.

Basic basement finishing is a simplified process that aims to deliver all the physical comforts of a fully finished basement, but without a finished appearance. Heat, paint and a comfortable subfloor are the main ingredients of basic basement finishing and you can make it all happen on your own for a few thousand dollars instead of the twenty or thirty thousand needed for full finishing.

Making It Happen: Lay down subfloor panels on all parts of the basement floor you intend to use. DRICORE is the most widely available, they’re the best I’ve seen, and they’re made right here in North America. You can leave these panels bare as they sit on the floor or paint them. Even urethane looks pretty good on them. While you’re at it, a fresh coat of paint on masonry basement walls makes them look so much better, and painting the exposed ceiling joists and underside of the subfloor makes a huge difference in how the space feels. Most furnaces have the capacity to heat the basement as well as upstairs rooms, but only if cold air return ducts are extended so they draw air up from the basement floor. This makes a huge difference.

Garage as Workout Space

One of the hardest parts of enforced isolation has been the way public gyms have either been closed or sufficiently restricted to make them unusable. This is why people are buying their own gym equipment in record numbers, but that’s not enough on its own. An indoor area to use that equipment is also essential, and this is where a garage upgrade can help. You don’t need much. A comfortable floor and a little heat during winter will do the job.

Game Plan: Lay down subfloor panels in a section of your garage to keep our feet warmer and more comfortable. Panels will also greatly reduce the shock on joints and tendons that would happen if you exercised directly on concrete – something you’re not supposed to do. The kind of plastic-bottomed subfloor panels I recommend for this application can handle more than 6,600 lbs per square foot, so they’re more than strong enough to work out on. A 5,000-watt electric construction heater costs about 75 cents per hour to operate, yet it’s large enough to take the chill off most garage spaces during workout sessions.

Tough Indoor Play Room

Got kids at home for longer than usual each day? You can reduce the damage they cause while playing with decent sized space as an indoor play room.

Game Plan: Take down and store pictures and wall hangings, then protect the current finished floor with subfloor panels. For temporary applications like this panels can even go down over carpet, too.

Alter your house a bit and it can go a long way towards extending the living space in your home. And by all accounts, it looks like some of us are in for a very interesting winter of 2020.

Steve Maxwell is a DIY expert and longtime contributor to MOTHER EARTH NEWS. “Canada’s handiest man,” Steve and his family homestead on Manitoulin Island, Canada, cultivating a little patch of farmland surrounded by a sea of forest. Connect with Steve at, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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