Bringing Light into Basements

basement with lights and windows

A basement with good light is like a bonus room. If it's dark, though, you may be more inclined to use it for storage. If that's your inclination, we'd like to offer you some practical solutions on how to maximize your basement space. But if you're looking for some ideas to brighten up that little dungeon under your house, check out these ways to bring in the light and add more useable square footage for your home.

Use Light Colored Paint on Basement Walls

basement with light blue walls

White is the most obvious choice, until you head over to the paint store and realize there are 1,000 kinds of white available. You'll find blinding whites, soft whites, and everything in between.

To help you narrow it down, think about the overall look you're going for. Will you be sticking to the current lighting or revamping the entire light setup? Do you have windows in the basement? What's the clutter situation?

Beige, grays, pale blues and greens, and yellows can also give you the brightness you're looking for without the sterile look of an operating room.

When choosing a paint color for a dark space, look for one with a relatively high Light Reflective Value (LRV.) The LRV scale ranges from 0 to 100, with 0 the equivalent of a perfect black and 100 at the other end of the scale, a perfect white. The higher the value, the more light is reflected, and the brighter the room will appear.

Of course, when it's time to choose the paint, you'll also want to evaluate what you're painting. Do you have brick, concrete walls, wood paneling, or drywall? Are you painting shelves and cabinets? It's important to note since you'll need to decide on the sheen.

While we like flat and eggshell, they have their places, and those are definitely not down in the basement. They get dirty easily, and they aren't very moisture resistant. You'll likely be choosing among satin, semi-gloss, or glossy for their durability and resistance to mildew, but even these have their pros and cons:

Satin - Easy to clean. Mildew resistant.

Semi-gloss - Easy to clean, shiny, and holds up to moisture, but flaws are likely to show through.

Glossy - Easy to clean, very shiny and durable, but easily shows imperfections.

Choose Light Colored Flooring

basement wood floor

Light flooring working together with the light walls will brighten up a basement space immensely. Regardless of the type of flooring you choose, you'll have myriad options to suit your needs.

Carpets give the impression of added warmth which is especially welcome in colder climates. Unfortunately, carpets are harder to clean than other types of flooring. This is especially frustrating when you're going for lighter colors that are more likely to show dirt and grime.

While you can't eliminate dirt from your life, at least you can opt for synthetic carpets that incorporate patterns to disguise any spills or messes.

Generally, we have the tendency to choose natural fibers instead of synthetic, but in this case, synthetic is a much better choice since it resists dirt and isn't as moisture-retentive as natural fibers.

Look for carpets that have a synthetic backing, to reduce the likelihood of mold growing underneath. And choose one with low pile, since they stand up well to foot traffic.

Another consideration you may want to entertain is carpet tiles vs. wall-to-wall carpet. Perhaps it's something you've only seen in offices or public spaces, but there's a reason why carpet tiles may be of value in your own home, at least for the basement. Let us explain:

We've already mentioned moisture as an item of concern for basements. This is because the laws of nature are at work constantly transferring moisture from outside to inside via capillary suction, vapor diffusion, or air movement.

If standing water is an issue, it may be the result of another problem like a settling foundation or improperly sloped ground that doesn't lead water away from the house. Serious moisture problems should be addressed before any undertaking to brighten your downstairs space.

Still on the fence about carpet tiles? How about this: carpet tiles make it easier to replace if an incident occurs. Whether it be water damage, stains, or pet accidents, you'll only need to replace the affected areas. Wall-to-wall carpeting doesn't give you that luxury.

Other options are hardwood, engineered wood, laminate, or tiles made to look like wood. They all come in a variety of colors, but as with the carpet, it makes sense to stick with a lightly stained look, white-washed, or even gray, to give the impression of brightness in the basement.

Light it Up in Layers

basement with layered lights

Fluorescent shop lights can certainly brighten a dark room, but they don't do much for style. They also emit a harsh light that does little to make it feel like a comfy, welcoming place. If all you want to do is brighten things up, there you go. Job done. But if you're looking to make it look more like a bonus room rather than a shop class, please, read on.

You likely have ceiling lights in the basement. The covers come in many styles, but we'd like you to pay special attention to the bulbs. LED bulbs are money-saving and efficient, but like fluorescents, can give a harsh, unnatural glow.

Look for LEDs that provide a natural, daylight look. Packages will say something similar, but if you're unsure, some big box stores have displays that compare the differences between the types of bulbs.

While ceiling lights are nice, recessed lights are even better. They brighten the room without occupying headspace, and that's especially nice in basements with low ceilings. Depending on your skillset, installing recessed lighting could be right up your DIY alley. There's no shame if it's not because you've got too much on your to-do list anyway.

In addition to lights from above, bring in spots of light via table lamps or standing lamps to create cozy nooks of light to surround yourself in. Spot lighting and shelf lighting don't do much to light the entire room, but they add to the ambiance of the entire space, and that's kind of what we're going for, isn't it?

If you have the floor space, add a lighted focal point, e.g. a frosted screen backlit with a light source, for a more artistic flair. This works twofold in providing lighting and also disguising anything unsightly that might still be in your basement.

Clean Up Outside

If you don't spend much time in your basement, you may not have given much thought to the windows and plantings around it. Time to take a walk. Any shrubs or plants in front of the window need to come down. They're decreasing the amount of light entering your basement.

Are the windows dirty? Probably, since it's not the type of place you want to hang out in—not yet anyway. In that case, you probably haven't noticed the accumulation of mud splatter and grime that has built up over the years.

Trim the hedge, weed whack the weeds, and clean the basement windows for better lighting during the day.

Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall...

basement with large mirror

Mirrors work wonders. They reflect light to give the impression of added brightness. Ever walked into a dance studio or gym and noticed how spacious and bright it is? Yeah, mirrors are like magic. But you don't have to install a whole wall of mirrors to reap the benefits.

In fact, we'd rather you didn't do that. We're just kind of superstitious that way, and a wall full of mirrors that could possibly break and add to our bad luck is just tempting Murphy's Law to do its worst.

In lieu of a giant mirror, how about choosing a standing floor mirror, or even one that hangs over part of the wall instead? Just be sure it's securely fastened to avoid any serious injuries. As a matter of fact, while you're here, why don't you just head over and read about how to install a heavy mirror.

Or you could forego the traditional mirror altogether and go for some simple accents like sofa pillows with whimsical mirrored embellishments that catch the light and cast it around the room, like a cozy throw with silver or gold threads woven through it for a cheery sparkle. Little things can make a big impact.

Add Metallic Accents

It's not just the mirror that can offer some shine to a dark place. Little metallic accents also catch and reflect light. Incorporate these by replacing the hardware on doorknobs, cabinets, and even furniture handles. Finishes like brushed nickel add occasional sparks around the room when caught by the light.

If changing the hardware is too big an endeavor, try gathering metallic pieces (statues, pretty boxes, etc.) together in a vignette to display on a table. If it shines, let it show! Crows aren't the only beings attracted to glittery things.

Bring in the Plants

Ok, we can feel your puzzlement, but hear us out. The experience of nature does so much for our mental health. Not only do plants help clean the air, they add a touch of the outside we so often miss during those long dark days of winter.

Bring them into the basement to brighten your spirits, which we know (through experience) could use some lifting when the winter blues hit. Unless you decide to set up grow lights, choose houseplants suited for low-light. Otherwise, those poor guys won't be able to do the job you were hoping they'd do.

Choose Art Wisely

Colors in a basement space make a huge difference in how it makes you feel, and artwork (or lack of it) makes a noticeable visual impact. Artwork with a light-hearted theme, with neutral or calm colors, can contribute to the brightness you're looking for.

Art with chaotic splashes of bright colors can make it feel like the room is closing in on you, or give you feelings of discomfort. Artwork with dark colors or a dark, brooding theme may just make you want to go upstairs, in which case, you may have missed the mark.

But art is subjective, so other than looking for pieces with lighter colors to highlight space on your walls, go with what you like, as long as it makes you happy.

Dispose of the Clutter

There are so many reasons why we should get rid of the excess stuff in our lives, and depending on who you ask, different reasons will take precedence.

You may want to focus less on material objects, or allow yourself to move on from another time in your life. Or maybe you'd just like an easier space to clean!

When a space is full of clutter, generally, you don't want to hang out there. And if you're struggling to bring light into your basement, we're going to guess you want to be able to spend some time enjoying the new space. Time to get things cleaned up.

Decluttering can be a cathartic process. It means so much to be able to divest yourself of "things," relieving yourself of matters of the material world. But don't take our word for it. Try it out; remove extraneous parts of your existence.

Delve into the black hole of clutter festering in your basement to start the process of brightening your world (or at least your basement). Maybe it'll inspire you to let go of other bits and pieces that are weighing you down.

An unfinished basement is like a diamond in the rough. All that extra room with so much potential! Sure, we could always use more storage, but it's got so much more to offer than just extra space. Brighten it up to create a welcoming area for you, your family, and others who could use a place to relax in the comfort of your home.