Deciding whether to add a bathroom in the basement

In many homes, basements can be something of a blank slate. This area often has enough space to make it into a rec room, man cave, or other useful getaway. You may even be able to convert the entire area into living space by putting in new flooring, walls, and other features.

You may also consider whether a bathroom is a useful feature for the basement. After all, there's easy access to the plumbing and a lower level bathroom saves a trip upstairs. It can also help improve the value of your home.

Basement bathrooms can be very convenient, but they can also be tricky to install. You'll want to consider the different options available for this installation before committing to it.

Establish a budget for yourself and decide whether you'll want a basement bathroom to be part of a larger remodel. A bathroom might not make as much sense in an unfinished basement, but it can still be useful if the basement is commonly used as a place for family members to congregate.

Decide what kind of bathroom you would like in the space. Half bathrooms, containing only a toilet and sink, are usually the best choice since they won't take up much room. A full bathroom might be suitable if you are adding a bedroom to the lower level, however.

The plumbing setup is a key factor when considering how to set up a bathroom in the basement. Rich Binsacca, writing for the National Association of Realtors' home improvement site HouseLogic, says bathrooms are designed to have enough of a gravity-fed force, or "fall," for wastewater to drain properly. Bathrooms located higher up in the home will have enough of a fall to function properly, while those in the basement may need some extra help.

Examining your current plumbing will let you determine if wastewater can drain easily from the basement level. Black Diamond Plumbing & Mechanical, a company in McHenry, Ill., says the sewer or septic line might be deep enough to provide a sufficient fall. A plumber will also need to determine if the pipes are large enough and have a strong enough flow rate to dispel wastewater.

If the fall is not strong enough in the basement, you may need to do some excavation. Binsacca says digging into the basement slab and surrounding ground can sometimes provide enough of a fall for wastewater to drain properly. Unfortunately, it can also be a loud and expensive process.

Another option is to install a specialized toilet that can connect to the existing plumbing. Angie's List says these will come with their own added expense, but will also avoid the hassle of digging into your basement slab.

There are numerous options for toilets that will work well in basements. Pressure-assisted toilets use air pressure to help force waste through the pipes and avoid clogs. Black Diamond Plumbing & Mechanical says upflushing toilets pump waste up to the plumbing lines at the ceiling level, which will have sufficient fall when draining to a sewer or septic tank.

Sewage ejector pump systems have tanks that temporarily store waste, then pump it to a main sewage line when the waste in the tank reaches a certain level. These systems can be freestanding or have a tank located underground, which will naturally require excavation.

Another option is to install a composting toilet, which allows waste to decompose with little or no water. Although this is an environmentally friendly option that will help you save money on your water bills, it needs to be properly ventilated to prevent unpleasant odors. It is also unable to take care of wastewater from a sink or shower.

If you plan to add a bathtub or shower, consider how much space is available. The home improvement site HomeAdvisor says basement bathrooms can be claustrophobic, so a corner shower might be the best way to make use of the room. You'll also want to make sure there is proper ventilation so steam from a shower does not lead to mildew or mold.

It is easiest to place a bathroom against a wall where existing plumbing and electrical lines are located. One convenient option is to locate the bathroom beneath an existing bathroom on the first floor.

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