Part 2: Mapping the Space

Categories: Storage

Last article we examined the first step in preparing for a basement renovation: understanding your basement’s function and materials.

This week, we’re moving on to the next step in any successful basement project.

Part 2: Mapping the Space

Benjamin Franklin once said, “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”  Though he isn’t well-known for his home renovation acumen, Ben is spot-on here. A detailed plan is important to any project, including a basement renovation. Anyone embarking on one would do well to heed old Ben’s words. 

For most of us, the inspiration to renovate takes form as a vision in your mind and not, unfortunately, as a neatly drawn floorplan. But moving your ideas from mind to paper is a crucial step in making your vision a reality. The more detailed you can make your plan, the better its outcome will be. Guaranteed. 

Before you start mixing and matching design elements, pricing fixtures or picking materials, you’ll need a map of your space, and there are three ways to get one: pay someone to do it for you, find one already prepared, or make one yourself.

Paying someone to do it for you is self-explanatory. Finding one already prepared can be a bit trickier – try contacting the previous owners or visit your municipality’s planning and building department.

The last one, doing it yourself, is where we’re going to focus our attention. You’ll need a tape measure, a ruler, some graph paper, and your trusty arithmetic.

Map it out

Start by measuring your walls. In most houses, these walls will be at right angles to one another. Trace these out on your graph paper, taking care to be very detailed about lengths.

A rough floor plan should start to take shape. But before you start imagining which rooms go where, know that your basement contains a number of features that can restrict your final design.  Take note of the following and draw them into your map.

Structural Posts

Unless your house has a miniscule footprint or was built with steel, you’re likely to find at least one weight-bearing post in your basement. These posts tend to run beneath a large beam that helps hold up the floor joists above, so if you have two or more, they’ll probably run in a straight line.

Note the location of these posts on your floorplan.

While you could remove these posts with the right help, the cost of doing so can be prohibitive. Any changes to your home’s weight-bearing elements will require the skills of an engineer and lots of specialized material, labour and permits. It’s much wiser to spend that money on other elements of the renovation.

And you have two really great options when it comes to designing around posts: you can hide ‘em, or you can decorate them.  If you feel the posts in your basements are unsightly obstructions, you can bury them inside a wall. If they’re going to fall smack-dab in the middle of your living area, you can paint them, clad them with wood or other materials, or find other creative ways to fit them neatly into your design.


If like many Canadians you enjoy central heating and cooling, you’re going to notice ductwork running along the ceiling of your basement. These ducts help funnel air from your furnace or air conditioner around your home.

Ductwork is large, bulky, and - unless you’re going for an industrial design scheme – ugly. What’s more, it takes up precious overhead space in an area where you may have little to spare.

You may be tempted to move this ductwork around. Be careful. Ductwork is laid-out in a specific way to maximize your home’s energy efficiency and reduce the strain it puts on your furnace and air-conditioner. Even slight modifications to ductwork can create imbalances in your homes climate-conditioning systems, leading to higher energy bills or even jeopardizing the repair of your furnace.

Sketch out your ductwork on your floor plan. While the space beneath it still useable, you’ll have to plan carefully to avoid having it run straight down the centre of your newly finished entertainment room or in-law suite. Try building it into walls or orienting rooms so that it runs flush to their walls.

If you do decide to move it, make sure you contact a HVAC specialist for advice.


Every home is going to need a utilities room. Your furnace, your water heater and likely your electrical panel require their own space in the basement. Many municipal building codes will have strict rules about how much space these utilities need, and what materials can be used around them. This is paramount to your health and safety.

If you’re lucky, your home’s utilities will all be located in the same area of your basement. If they are, simple enough! Check your local building code and mark-off an area on your floorplan that meets the code’s requirements. If you need a laundry room, you can also throw a washer and dryer in there and voila, you’ll hardly have lost any space at all.

If on the other hand your utilities are dispersed around your basement, you’ll have to decide: do I move them, or design around them? Like ductwork, there’s no straight answer here. Moving your electrical panel, furnace or water heater can be costly, requiring specialized labour.

Whatever the case, map them out on floor plan and you’ll be ready for the next phase.