Organizing the Basement

Martha Stewart Living, May 1997

The first step to organizing the basement is to take a rough inventory of what you have: Decide what you can give away or throw out, such as old bikes, children's toys, and broken tools.

Clean and Paint Walls and Floor
Painting the interior walls and floors will cut down on dust, mildew, and dampness, making the basement easier to keep clean. First, clean the walls and floor thoroughly with detergent and water (follow with a diluted bleach solution if mold is present); fill pores and gouges with grout or resin filler; then apply latex or oil-based paints or sealants.

Set Up Shelving
Wood or metal shelving units placed near the stairs can hold wine, paper towels, bottled water, cleaning supplies, and other bulk items where they will be most accessible. Stash a flashlight here, so it's handy for power outages. On long-term storage shelves, use waterproof plastic utility crates or steel storage trunks to hold sports equipment or other seasonal items, tools, hardware, and cans of paint. Be sure your shelves are adjustable, to accommodate outdoor furniture and large boxes.

Install Pegboard
To keep loose items from falling off the backs of freestanding shelves, tack pegboard behind the shelves. Install pegboard on the wall in places where you need to hang things: an ironing board and a few shelves for light objects in the laundry area, for example.

Use Ceiling Space
Hang garden hoses, chairs, and lighting fixtures from joists in the ceiling. Avoid hanging items from pipes -- the resulting stress on the pipes could damage them.

Fire
Never store highly combustible items in your basement unless they are in a closed cabinet. Keep a clutter-free zone at least 18 inches deep around your furnace. Have a fire extinguisher handy (CO2 extinguishers are best; they don't harm electrical systems). Install a smoke detector.

Gases
Check with your county extension agent to see if carcinogenic radon gases from uranium tailings in the soil are a problem in your area. If so, buy a tester; if you have elevated radon levels, hire an expert to vent the gases outside. Carbon monoxide is another gas that can be deadly, so install a carbon-monoxide detector.

Electricity
Install ground-fault-interrupting electrical outlets throughout the basement to prevent shock from improperly grounded equipment. Elevate the washer and dryer several inches off the floor to prevent electrical shock during flooding. Have a furnace shut-off switch installed at the top of the stairs.

Do You Know?
The earliest basements were shallow crawl spaces with stone walls that were meant to keep a house's wooden floors from rotting due to contact with the damp, cold earth.

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