BETH W. ORENSTEIN, The Morning Call
Special to The Morning Call
Lori and Denis Esslinger waited until they had lived in their Salisbury Township ranch a few years and until the kids -- and their toy collection -- had grown some before they finished their home's basement.
"We were crowding out with the toys up here," Lori Esslinger recalled.
Now they have 1,400 square feet of finished space and 360 feet of storage space down under. "We even have a pretend grocery store down there for Kelly," who is 5-1/2, said her mother.
The Esslingers' story is typical of new-house builders. They spend all their money constructing the house, so they hold off finishing the basement until it becomes a necessity.
But while they may not do it immediately, many owners today are having their homes' basements finished as living space.
Tony Caciolo of Monogram Custom Homes in Emmaus offers his upscale buyers the option of a finished basement, and he's finding those who can afford it are going for it. "We've been doing a tremendous amount of finished basements in the homes we're building in Pointe West in Upper Macungie Township," he said.
He expects that at least 40 percent of his buyers will opt for a finished basement. The development has 50 homes, ranging in price from $330,000 to $600,000.
Builders believe that more owners are opting to finish their basements today because the houses are constructed better and basements aren't the musty, dank spaces they once were. When finished and decorated with white or light colors, the basement can be very attractive and comfortable living space. The darker wood paneling that everyone put in basements in the '60s and '70s is out of style, the contractors noted.
(Interestingly, basements in houses are a phenomenon of the Northeast and Midwest, said Brett Martin, a spokesman for the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, a trade-group based in Alexandria, Va. Dwellings in the South and West tend to be built on slabs, he said. That's why only about 37 percent of new homes across the country have basements.)
Another reason owners finish their basements is economics. Finishing a basement costs about a quarter of what an addition would. Figure about $100 a square foot for the house and the lot, Caciolo said. Finishing the basement to the same quality of the rest of the house would only be about $25 a square foot. Do the math: To expand the house by 1,000 square feet would cost $100,000, but to finish that much space in the basement would only be $25,000. "So it's a way to add a lot of square footage without adding a lot of cost," Caciolo said.
While finishing a basement is an economical way to add space, homeowners aren't skimping when it comes to the remodeling project.
Many people are adding multiple rooms and full bathrooms when remodeling their basements. "People are putting in extensive lighting, stereo systems, and more and more they want bathrooms in the basements," DiRomualdo said.
Denis Esslinger used a computer to design his basement, which includes a family room and a game room. There's also a large unfinished area that serves as a gym with tumbling mats and a treadmill. The basement also has a bath with a whirlpool tub, sink and toilet.
"Upstairs we have two showers, so we thought a tub would be fun," Lori Esslinger said.
When Joseph and Lisa Fiore finished the basement of their two- story colonial in Orefield about 16 months ago, they didn't include a bathroom, but they did include the plumbing for a wet bar. However, Lisa Fiore conceded, it doesn't have a bar in it yet.
Some owners also are converting their basements into home theaters. Michele Jones did that when she built a four-bedroom Colonial in Pointe West earlier this summer. She was inspired by Caciolo's model home, which features an incredible home theater.
Copyright The Morning Call. Reproduced with permission.