If you decide you want to finish your basement there are lots of options to consider. Do you do it yourself? Do you contract it out? Maybe do a little in between? For me and my wife, we just aren't handy enough to try to finish a basement on our own. So we decided we'd contract the whole thing out.
Once you decide you're going to contract it out, then it's a matter of deciding what direction to take with it. Do you go with drywall? The problem with drywall is that it takes months to put in (how long do you want contractors going in and out of your house?). It makes a lot of mess (expects months if not years of drywall dust to be floating around your house), it's susceptible to damage from a wide range of sources (water, normal wear and tear due to it being in a basement). So we wanted our basement finished but drywall had a lot of negatives to it.
That's when we heard about the Owens Corning Basement System. After intense negotiations, we had it done. And below you can read about our experiences during the sales process, installation, and after effects. I hope you find it useful.
The Owens Corning Basement System has been in place now for our basement for about a month now so I've had time to get used to it.
The project went pretty smoothly except for a few hiccups that I'll talk about here. So what's the verdict? Here are the things I really liked about it:
- It's fast. In 2 weeks it's all done.
- It's clean. No dry wall dust all over.
- It's durable. It's virtually impossible to damage. Basements, unlike the rest of the house, are more prone to dings since that's where most people store things too.
- It's virtually sound proof. This was an unexpected benefit. But the kids can go and play down there without having to hear music, TV, yelling throughout the house.
- It looks pretty nice still (but not as nice as dry wall in my opinion).
- It is nice to know that in 20 years it'll look the same as today. Dry wall in basements tend to not look so good. At best you'll have to repaint larger areas. With this, you don't have to.
The big thing for us though was the speed of it. My first basement was done with dry wall and I have no regrets about that. It was nicely done. But it took months to do and over a year for the house to stop having more dust in it than before. The dry wall dust simply gets everywhere.
If you're as unhandy as me, then you likely want contractors to do pretty much all the building. It can be uncomfortable having strangers in your house for months. In contrast, the Owens Corning Basement System was installed in our roughly 1100 to 1200 square foot area in about 2 weeks (closer to 10 days).
In short, I was willing to pay a premium to not have to deal with a summer of construction. The fact that it looks nice and can't be damaged easily was a real bonus. My 3 year old already put that to the test by taking a permanent marker to one of the walls. In a few minutes we were able to wipe it off with some bleach and you can't even tell where it was. Contrast that to having to repaint that area with a dry wall basement. Not to mention all the nicks and gouges that would be there due to moving stuff down there.
That said, here are things that I ran into that I didn't like that you should be aware of:
I really didn't like the sales strategy of their sales people. High pressure combined with little specifics created a lot of headaches during the project.
First off, people who can afford to pay a premium for their basement being done aren't fools. Even so, they used the same tactic on us as they would on some gullible yokel. No offense, but the reason we can afford this stuff is because we have some financial savvy. So don't march into our houses with magazines showing that the "Average" basement costs over $50 per square foot to finish. Because that's nonsense and does more to harm your sale than anything else. Sure, if you're going to have bathrooms and kitchens and tiled areas and wet bars and such it will cost more, but the Owens Corning System doesn't take care of any of that. They just do the "walls", drop down ceiling, electrical, and a few other things. They're not going to build you a bar or tile your floor for you (unless you make a special deal with them). Just for reference, a typical basement done with dry wall with nothing too fancy done shouldn't cost much more than $20 per square foot. Our last dry wall basement cost around $17 per square foot.
The price you should try to get with the Owens Corning Basement System is somewhere between $25 and $35 per square foot. They may balk at $25 but $35 they should certainly take. I paid about $28 per square foot. $30 per square foot would be good. Anything much higher and you're paying too much. Which is why they do the high pressure tactic to get you to sign right there. To the sales guy's horror, I made him sit there while I had my laptop doing net searches on how much other people have paid. By the way, be aware that most states do have a law that allow you to back out of contracts within 72 hours. So if they did manage to get you to commit for $55 per square foot or something you aren't up the creek.
The second thing I didn't care for was the amount of vagueness to the agreement. Because of the high pressure sales tactics, the sales guy didn't write down a lot of our specific needs on his "agreement" (which was literally just a 1 page form he hand wrote notes on which I was pretty unhappy about). For instance, we said we wanted padded carpet so he suggested Home Depot. Which we did. But they didn't cut the doors so that they would fit on padded carpet so when we put in the carpeting, we had to take off the doors. It took us 3 weeks to get them to make good on this. They argued it wasn't their responsibility to fix the doors. Nonsense. We told them up front that we were going to get padded carpet. For us to fix would have meant bringing in another contractor. They agreed to fix it only after I made it clear that I would ensure that my experiences with the Owens Corning Basement System would show up high on google. It took the guy 30 minutes to fix it once he dropped by. So they made good but it did mar an otherwise fairly seamless experience.
So make sure that you are clear (and document) exactly what they do and what they expect you to do. The Owens Corning contractors don't tend to do as much as regular full service basement contractors. They weren't planning on putting in our phone and cable lines for example but luckily that was written into that agreement.
Thirdly, the only negative I've run into since putting it in is that it is, contrary to what they said, not that easy to hang things up on the walls. Since they're not drywall, you can't just put in a nail and put stuff up. You have to use special clipper thingies. These work nice on light things. But they didn't give us any samples or directions or order forms to get things for putting up heavier items (like a big white board for example). This has been a source of some ire since it's turning out not easy to find these "mending plates" in low quantities. Office Max and Staples don't seem to have them. None of the hardware stores we've looked at have them. I've looked on the net and I can buy them in quantity (like 1000 at a time) but I only need like 5. My suggestion is to insist that they provide you with 100 of the t-pins (small stuff) and 100 mending plates (big stuff) as part of the agreement.
Fourthly, this gets back to the "customers are suckers" sales pitch. The sales guy and his materials really went hard on the mold scare tactic. Mold is definitely something not to blow off. But it should not be your motivating factor to spend a third again as much on a basement. Would you pay $15000 more on your house for a "lightning strike resistant" design? The kinds of houses most people who would put this stuff in are usually newer and on the premium side. The basements, in short, don't get wet very easily. That isn't to say they shouldn't mention mold, but it should be more of a "bonus" feature rather than as the principle selling point.
Now that it's all done, I'm pretty happy with it. I like knowing that I won't have to mess around with painting or touching up the basement in a few years. I do wish it was easier to modify with other things. For instance, I can't just build out a bar from it. But that is no biggie really. The basement does what it was supposed to do. And even better, since I want to have a theatre down there eventually, it's got incredible acoustics. If you have the money and are more interested in having your basement be finished quickly and cleanly rather than having some incredible basement palace created, this is something you should seriously consider.
Completion date: September 2003.
Update: September 2005: I have created a second article for people who want to share their experiences (good and bad) with the Owens Corning Basement System. GO HERE to discuss.
update: 10/2003 - still pretty happy with the basement. thanks for all your emails. if you have any questions, ask them in the comments area or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
update: 5/1/2005 - still happy with how it's turned out. I get a lot of email on this stuff from people, I don't usually get to answer it. But I will say that we are happy with it still. It absorbs sound. But I maintain that the main reason to get it is that you want to save time. If you don't mind having people working on your basement for 6 to 10 weeks and the drywall dust and other dirt that is inevitable with dry-wall then get the dry-wall. But for me, having it all over in a week or so was the key and no mess afterwards.