Tuesday, April 23, 2019

What to Expect When Finishing a Basement: How to, Time Involved, and Cost

I will preface this blog post with a note that our home is near D.C.

Which is another way to say things are absurdly expensive where I live compared to almost anywhere else. Your mileage may vary when it comes to cost.

If you're not interested in the process, skip to the before and after pictures here.

Simple Cost Breakdown

When we purchased our home, we knew we wanted to finish most of the basement. When we bought it, the home had three bedrooms and two and a half baths. It's a traditional colonial with a formal living that opens into the dining room. The front doors lead past a hallway into an open kitchen-family room combo with an eat-in kitchen area as well.

We intended to add an additional living space as well as a bedroom and bathroom in the basement for guests. Our laundry is also in the basement so I didn't want to keep hauling our clothes down into a concrete hole. It was functional, but not inviting in the least.

To get started, I called in contractors for framing, plumbing, and electrical. The electrician is also a general contractor so he wrote me out a mock expense sheet for what it would cost for him to come in and manage the project from start to finish and deliver a turnkey result.

The ESTIMATED cost was $40,000

However, I always intended to act as the general contractor and keep track of projects and tasks myself. This resulted in significant cost savings.

Our FINAL cost for finishing approximately 570 square feet of the basement was $27,370.

When I relied on basic calculators available online for estimating costs, I consistently got $18,000 if I managed it myself. I bumped this number up to about $20,000 in my mind since I know I live in a more expensive area. Then I realized I forgot to include the price of insulation in my estimate, which bumped the DIY estimate to $21,000.

So where did the remaining $6370 go? $800 of it was the egress window. I knew the average was $2500-$4500. I was hoping for $3500. In my area, every contractor quoted me $4300 or higher. I also underestimated the trim labor costs and materials. I anticipated $1750, but the final cost was $2440. That's another $690 in overages.

I also didn't anticipate the city requiring me to produce engineered plans for the egress window. Despite already having support beams in place for the existing window, the city requested an engineer's stamp of approval, which cost $400. The permits themselves were an expense I didn't account for and came in at $449.

We also discovered three cracks in the wall, one of which actively leaked because it extended from a window. It cost $600 to repair it. Point of note: There are several different types of cracks. Ours were the straight up and down variety, which are normal to see in concrete walls. Pressure + time = cracks. Horizontal cracks or cracks that look like steps are a much bigger, much more expensive concern.

In addition, we did not have an existing stack for the toilet. All of the plumbing calculators I checked assumed the stack was already there. Jackhammering up the floor to lay the plumbing, backfilling, and pouring concrete added $1500.

The above accounts for $4439 of the overages. The remaining disparity in cost ($1931) related to certain services surpassing the estimate because of surprises no one could predict as well as choosing more expensive finishes.

Steps Involved to Finish a Basement

Our basement was a concrete hole when we started this project. In some ways, that's easier. There is no demo of existing structures. A family friend who works for a construction company in general contracting gave me the following outline of the proper order of things for finishing a basement. 
  • Obtain building, electrical, mechanical (HVAC), and plumbing permits
  • Framing
  • Plumbing
    • Groundworks inspection (checking the plumbing before covering with concrete)
  • HVAC (exhaust fan in the bathroom)
  • Electric
  • Concealment inspection (looks at plumbing, HVAC, and electric work before concealing it behind insulation and walls)
  • Insulation
  • Insulation inspection
  • Install drywall
  • Prime drywall
  • Lay tile in bathroom
  • Lay flooring
  • Trim and set doors and windows
  • Paint
  • Plumber returns to set vanity sink
  • Electrician returns to install outlets, switches, and fixtures (i.e. ceiling fan, bathroom vanity lights)
  • HVAC returns to set registers and intake vent
  • Install bathroom fixtures (i.e. towel bars, mirror, toilet paper holder, etc.)
That is a very basic outline and each of those steps involved several additional steps to move to the next phase.

Ways to Save When Finishing a Basement

Even though we went over what I had hoped to spend on the basement renovation, we still came in $12,630 under what the contractor quoted us if my husband and I decided to hand off the project to a general contractor. Some of it would have gone to overhead and profits ($5323), but that still leaves $7307 in savings. 

A lot of that savings came from our personal time and labor. Examples include drafting our own plan for permits, comparing numerous material vendors to find the best price, ordering materials and having them delivered, transferring materials from the garage to the basement (this is highly labor intensive as wood for framing, flooring materials, and drywall are extraordinarily heavy), opting for slower trades in favor of cost savings, laying the floors ourselves, performing some of the tiling ourselves, and sanding/staining the stairs ourselves.

When it comes to vendors you can have good/bad, fast/slow, and expensive/inexpensive. Some of the combinations are fairly typical. Fast and good will often be more expensive. Slow and good will usually cost less. Which you choose will depend on your timeline and budget constraints. The one to be most wary of is fast and inexpensive as that is more likely to produce lower quality results.

Reusing trades can save money as well. Our egress window trade also specializes in waterproofing basements. He offers crack repairs as one of his services and gave us a break on the price because he'd worked with us before.

In fact, the egress window trade saved us a heap of money when he pointed out we could feed our drywall through the egress window hole, which allowed us to purchase bigger sheets. The more seams, the more labor costs. Bigger sheets mean fewer seams. Moving the drywall was the most labor intensive part of the project for my husband and me. He and his brother carried two sheets at a time (which weighed around 120 pounds), a middle man stood in the egress hole to help feed it through, and then I along with another of my husband's brothers carried the drywall over to where we were staging materials for the project. 

My father in law and yet another brother showed up halfway through to help as well. In total, we moved about a ton and a half of drywall that day. 

While 120 pounds may not seem like a lot, the drywall itself is flimsy and prone to snapping if you're not careful. You also have to carry it on your fingertips, which is incredibly awkward, 

Some jobs you can do yourself without concern. We purchased next-generation plank vinyl flooring because it's waterproof, durable, and a good option for basements. Vinyl has come a long, long way since the 90s so don't shudder in fear. It's also simple to install on your own. Other jobs, such as running electrical, you should leave to a professional. No cost-savings is worth risking your life. 

Something else to be aware of: Make sure to only use licensed and insured trades. This is easy to look up online. Otherwise, you may end up with shoddy work, work that won't pass inspection, or major safety concerns that can cost big money to fix.

Project Timeline

I had hoped to have the project completed in three months. In the end, it took 4.5. We lost one week to our family vacation so I don't begrudge that. We added three weeks to the project, however, with our choice in framing trade. Our framer worked his regular framing job during the week and could only come on Saturdays (some Sundays). His son usually helped him, but an unforeseen medical problem sidelined him. A three-week project became a six-week project. This is one of those scenarios where we opted to lengthen the project timetable in favor of saving money. 

Here is how our project unfolded:
  • 7/2: Obtain permits
  • 7/?: HVAC to install exhaust fan (registers already existed)
  • 7/10: Egress window & move drywall from the garage to the basement through the egress hole. 
  • 7/14: Framing
  • 7/20-21: Framing
  • 7/24-25: Plumbing (jackhammering up the floor and laying the groundworks)
  • 7/26: Plumbing groundworks inspection
  • 7/27: Plumbing (backfilling and pouring concrete)
  • 7/28: Framing
  • 7/30: Egress window inspection and crack repair
  • 8/4: Framing
  • 8/6: Drywall materials estimate from two sources
  • 8/8: Crack repair
  • 8/9: Electrical walkthrough with trade
  • 8/11: Framing
  • 8/12: Framing
  • 8/15: Plumbing rough-in
  • 8/16: Electrical rough-in
  • 8/20: Electrical rough-in
  • 8/22: Rough-in (concealment) inspection
  • 8/23: Insulation estimate (two vendors)
  • 8/24: Drywall hanging, mudding, and taping estimate from two trades
  • 8/29: Insulation installation
  • 8/30: Mechanical inspection; Insulation inspection
  • 9/11-13: Drywall installation
  • 9/18 & 20: Drywall finisher
  • 9/25-27: Priming and painting drywall
  • 9/28: Drywall fixes
  • 9/29: Painting, flooring
  • 9/30: Flooring
  • 10/1: Drywall finisher
  • 10/2: Trim estimate; tile estimate
  • 10/4: Drywall finisher
  • 10/18: Trim estimate
  • 10/19: Trim estimate (two vendors); tile estimate
  • 10/22: Tile bathroom floor
  • 10/23 & 26: Tile bathroom floor
  • 10/26, 11/1-2 & 5: Trim
  • 11/9: Sand stairs
  • 11/10 & 12: Tile trim along floors and shower edge
  • 11/15: Stain stairs
  • 11/16: Final plumbing
  • 11/27: Final electrical
Flooring definitely took more than two days, but I didn't make note of when it occurred. We didn't schedule the final inspection until early January because holidays happened and we still needed to install a closet system, but we were essentially done in late November.

Takeaway and Tips

I said it before, but it bears repeating. Fast and inexpensive is almost always bad or inferior in quality. 

I had a lot of problems with our drywall hanger. The bathroom was done incorrectly and the drywall hung out over the shower liner, which is a big no-no. He also drywalled over a register and an entire window in the bedroom. None of these things were huge problems to correct, but he definitely tried to make me pay additional money for fixing his mistakes. I held my ground and the original agreed upon price held, but the experience was less than desirable. 

We've also had an infinite number of nails popping post-installation. This is pretty typical as time goes on and the nails used to hang the drywall pop out a millimeter or so. It's noticeable when you look for them, but there are usually only a few. Our basement is riddled with them. They're easy enough to fix, but it's time-consuming. You have to gently tap them back in, possible mud over them, then repaint. My dad fixed the bathroom pops for me because it's more noticeable in smaller rooms. 

While the experience was irritating, it did save us money. Drywall hanging is one of those trades that you can afford to go cheap on if you're prepared to encounter headaches along the way. Hanging drywall doesn't have to be pretty—it's the finisher that counts as that individual is responsible for concealing the seams.

Another thing to be aware of when wearing the general contractor hat is to stay on top of the schedule and double check supplies before purchasing. We had to return a lot of trim because they sent me double window trim instead of half window trim and half baseboards. Placing follow up calls a couple of days prior to trades arriving kept our project on track. More than once, I had a trade write down the wrong date. A lot of projects required certain trades to be done before the next could come in so the date was vital for moving forward.

Pictures—Before and During

Here are the pictures from before and during the renovation as well as our final plans I created and used to pull permits.

The blue tape was a rough layout of what we envisioned for the renovation. 

The egress window going in:

A ton and a half of drywall after moving it:

The egress window from inside:

Jackhammering, backfilling, and concrete for plumbing:

Framing and plumbing:

It started to feel more real once drywall went up:

Progress on flooring:


Here are the after pictures once the work was done:

We also did some painting on the above ground levels as well including most of the main floor, all three upstairs bedrooms, the main floor powder room, and the shutters. The red was the original color and now they are light blue.

Out of the entire renovation, the bathroom is my favorite part. I love the herringbone tile pattern and the paint color. While I'm glad we saved a huge amount of money taking on a lot of the management and projects outselves, I am not in any hurry to repeat the experience.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Low Calorie Spinach and Onion Cheesy Crustless Quiche

My mom used to make some variation of this when I was in high school. I've never been able to relocate the exact recipe, but I've tinkered with it enough to create a close approximation. I like these because they freeze and reheat well for when I need to eat breakfast on the go (which is always, because children).

It's low calorie, low carb, and high protein. It's also simple so it's likely you already have all of the ingredients.


This recipe will yield 12 quiches. 
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 egg whites
  • 4 cups spinach
  • 1.5 C mozzarella
  • 1/2 C parmesan
  • 1/4 of a Vidalia onion diced
You can also add salt, pepper, cayenne, etc. if so desired. I've also swapped out the Vidalia onion for green onions before and switched up the cheeses as well. If you use parmesan, be careful about adding salt. Parm is super salty on its own.

If I don't want it as salty, I decrease the parm by 1/4 of a cup and increase the mozzarella by 1/4 of a cup.

You can add in various other vegetables or ingredients if so desired. My mom used to include sliced mushrooms in hers. 


  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. Dice your onion then mix all ingredients in a large bowl
  3. Spray a muffin pan with non-stick spray then spoon the mixture into each cup in even amounts. 
  4. Bake for 25-30 minutes
  5. Let cool for 5-10 minutes
Seriously, the easiest breakfast prep ever. I do have to warn you, if you try to make these around toddlers, they will think you are making cupcakes. 

Nutrition Information

The information below applies to 3 muffins. 

238 14.4 6.7 22.4 523.9 2.2 0.6

Friday, September 28, 2018

September Once Again

September is always hard. It sneaks up on me, and I don't see it coming until it's already eaten half my body. It's busy and hectic, catching up on work from time off for family vacations, switching out wardrobes for the fall--life in general with two small children keeps me occupied.

And then September 24th rolls across my calendar and my heart skips a beat.

I can never understand why at the time. Something wriggles in my subconscious and comes to life. It plants a seed in the pit of my stomach and grows until it strangles my heart. I always remember then.

I have two children, but I've known of five that should be here. There is something more brutal about the first loss. They all hurt, but the first unraveled my heart the most.

13 months of trying, one round of Clomid, and one devastatingly empty ultrasound. Ectopic. Not viable. Emergency.

I remember my ultrasound tech the most. She had red hair and a kind face. She wasn't allowed to tell me what she was seeing on the screen. Some kind of protocol prohibited her from making medical interpretations. She knew, though. She reached through the chasm of grief that had boiled up and out of my crux and crushed me against her in a hug that left marks on my bones. There is a language to hugging. That hug expressed agony and heartbreak. It conveyed solidarity, too. That woman held me together at the moment I was most ready to shatter.

It's become less taboo to discuss miscarriages and loss. now. But not enough. It's as if I am only allowed to grieve the loss at the moment its happening--maybe in the few months after. How dare I be upset by the shadow of the children who live in the back of my mind and the center of my heart? How can I grieve them when I have two healthy daughters?

It's simple. There is enough room in my heart for every child I carried. Aching over the losses does not diminish my love for the living. My heart expands; it contorts.

September is hard. September requires a lot grace.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Utah Anecdotes: Beyond the Pale

My husband and I recently moved back to our hometown after 2.5 years of living in Utah for his job. His job is usually the reason we move, resulting in us living in five houses in three states over the course of six years.

Utah took us across the country and thrust us into an unfamiliar environment. For one, the people were much nicer than those in Northern Virginia. Unless, of course, they were behind the wheel of a car. Then they were exactly like NOVA drivers.

I was watching a video posted by one of my friends in Utah. It was by Sam Adams, who noted that Provo, Utah's African American population accounts for 0.0004% of the city. I thought, surely, this is hyperbole. It's not; not really anyway. In the 2010 census, Provo reported their black or African American population to be 0.7%.

Having lived about 45 minutes north of Provo, I cannot say I am surprised. One of the biggest things that shocked me about Utah was the vast amount of white people. It was unnerving coming from a much more diverse city. After seeing how nice everyone was, I was 100% convinced my husband had actually brought me to Stepford, CT and was going to turn me into a robot.

The Only Black Person in Utah

We lived down the street from a park, which was great for our young daughter. However, it was fall and one of those weird Utah days where 8:00am-11:00am and 3:00pm-6:00pm are too brisk to really enjoy being outdoors while all the time in between encompassed lunch and nap time. It was also likely way too hot during the middle of the day because fall in Utah is identical to a hot pocket. It has two temperatures: freezing cold or molten lava.

My husband and I decided to deal with the chill because our toddler was bursting with energy and doesn't mind chilly weather nearly as much as her parents do. So off we go, but, as we approach the playground, we notice a young man sitting in the center of the park's play system. Anytime a man is alone at a child's park, things can get weird fast. However, he looked distressed so we decided to see if he needed any help.

He looked really weird at first. Once we got closer, we realized he wasn't wearing a coat. Instead, he had pulled his arms inside of his button-down shirt to stay warm. The following is the most accurate memory I have of our conversation.

Me: Are you alright?
Young man: Yeah, I'm fine.
Husband: Are you sure?
YM: Well, no. My ride left me here.
H: Your ride?
YM: Yeah, how far is Provo from here?
H: At this time of day, probably an hour.
YM: Oh, that is not good. I'm from Ohio. I'm doing this program that lets me travel and sell educational books. They paid for my flight out here, but I have to work for them for six months before they will pay for my ticket back. I was working with a partner today and he left me here. My phone was in his car.
Me: Do you want to borrow my phone?
YM: I don't know his number.
H: Do you know where you were staying?
YM: Yes at [some hotel chain] in Provo.
H: *looks it up on phone* There is only one of them in Provo. Do you know your supervisor's name? You could call and ask the front desk to connect you.
YM: I do! I'll do that. *calls the hotel, asks to be connected to his supervisor's room* Hey [supervisor's name], it's [young man's name]. Your guy left me here in Riverton! *inaudible supervisor response* How was I supposed to call him? He has my phone in his car. He told me not to take it door to door. Then he left me! *supervisor talks some more* He saw me. He looked straight at me and drove away. *supervisor talks again* HE KNEW IT WAS ME. I AM THE ONLY BLACK MAN IN THIS ENTIRE STATE. HE WAS NOT CONFUSED.

They talked some more and then he hung up and handed us back the phone. He said someone was coming for him. I asked him if he was hungry or if he wanted a coat, but he declined both. I made my husband go back later to make sure he wasn't still waiting on a ride. He wasn't at the park anymore, so, hopefully, his supervisor came and picked him up.

I remember my first real opinion about Utah being, "This place is really white." Apparently, the young man concurred.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Honest Pinterest Tutorial: How to Do a Crown Braid

Read on to learn how you too can have a so-so crown braid
It's been a while since I've posted anything, mostly due to buying a house and moving across the country. Both of those things are absurdly stressful. I do not recommend house hunting when you cannot see the house in order to hunt it. It requires a lot of traveling on family members' parts and several FaceTime calls.

Fun fact: I have never met my realtor in real life. 

Back to the point of the blog post (I will post about the house later once renovations are complete), I decided to follow a Pinterest tutorial on how to do a crown braid. As is the case with most Pinterest tutorials, things Did Not Go According To Plan (I need this on a rubber stamp so I can label any aspect of my day that goes awry--spoiler alert: it's all of them). 

Since my Pinterest hairstyle was neither success nor fail, I decided to blog about the experience. I have a suspicious feeling that my experience is much like everyone else's experience. However, the internet seems to have only chronicled the immense fails or spectacular successes. I wish to document the mediocre meh. 

Without further ado, let's begin. 

1. The catalyst. Like every good attempt at a Pinterest tutorial, I had a catalyst. A fellow mommy blogger posted her tutorial on boxer braids. While I look ridiculous in boxer braids, she looked cute. She always looks put together. Which is why I hate her. Not really (just a little). But seriously, I have zero idea how she does it. I've decided it's sorcery. 

Anyway, her video inspired me to attempt a different kind of braid: a crown braid. Because I am a pretty princess and need a crown. A hair crown. We could unpack all of the crazy going on in those previous sentences, but then this blog post would be far too long and much less entertaining. So. Onward. 

2. The tutorial. I went on the hunt through my long-forgotten Hair and Beauty Pinterest board to locate the desired pin. After being sidetracked by pictures of food I can't cook and house renovation ideas I can't afford, I found the tutorial and got to work. 

It seemed simple enough given that I've been braiding hair for the vast majority of my life. However, it quickly became apparent to me that Pinterest picture tutorials leave much to be desired. For example, how are you supposed to see around the waterfall of hair you section off in the beginning? Oh. that's right. The tutorial left out the step where you hire a hair stylist to do it for you.

After much grumbling, I continued on with the tutorial. Once you begin to mimic the second picture in the tutorial, your face will likely look something like this:

Accept the fact that you look 100% ridiculous and continue onto step three.

3. Grow an extra arm. While it may seem impossible without massive amounts of radiation, you will find an extra limb to be useful here. This braid will require you to switch directions with your hands halfway through the braid. Tutorials usually try to explain how this process works, but they are liars. You just grow an extra limb. That's all. The extra limb is also useful for when your arms start to burn like fire and you need some support to make it through the rest of the braid. Fire arms usually begin 9.8 seconds after starting the braid.

4. Self-doubt. This step is a vital part of the mediocre hairstyle process. You will follow the instructions exactly but have the sneaking suspicion that the model is, in fact, a unicorn and that your hair may as well be the bristles that protrude from moles in comparison.

I had my doubts well before I got to the end of the braiding process, yet I still found myself baffled. Thus far, it looked nothing like the tutorial:

As I stared in perplexed wonder at the frizzy rat tail protruding from the side of my head, I was not yet ready to admit defeat. This was in large part because I was distracted by the odd tendril sticking straight out by my ear.

While many beauty bloggers recommend pulling this tendril down and curling it, mine has this magic ability to defy gravity. Even if I take a curling iron to it, I have the unfortunate luck of looking 100% like an Orthodox Jewish male. Not saying it's a bad look, but I am neither Jewish nor am I a male. So, there is that. It kind of ends up like this:

The tendril thing never works out for me because I have naturally curly hair. It has a weird texture and it's own pattern so it doesn't care much for when I try to make it curl in a different way than it decided it wanted to be that day.

5. Tug on the braid. For whatever reason, all braiding woes can be solved by tugging on them. Some people refer to this process as pancaking. I prefer to call it tugging because that is a more accurate description of what you will be doing. Also, pancaking tutorials lead you to believe you can just lightly tug and you will have a fuller braid. Lies. You have to grab the outer half of each individual plait and pull until you feel it give. Otherwise, it will suck right back inside that braid and all the tugging will be for naught (and your arms will reach their melting point and fall off your body from having been held up for so long).

The final result was a glorious, mediocre braid. Nothing to brag about on social media, but not so hideous that you have to go take a shower to wash away your hair shame undo the damage. If you're anything like me, the tutorial will produce the following:

6. Reward your efforts. My braid may be of eh quality, but I put a lot of effort into it. My arms burn and it took up way too much of the girls' nap time, so I required sustenance. I opted for a Dorito and turkey sandwich. If you've never put Doritos directly onto your sandwich, there is something wrong with you and we can't be friends.

If your attempts at Pinterest hair tutorials don't work out very often, don't fret. Neither does anyone else's unless they buy hair extensions, grow another arm, and/or hire a hair stylist to do it for them.

In summary: there is a braid on my head, I ate a sandwich, and Pinterest is full of lies.