My wife and I are planning to move, so I am therefore shopping for a train room with house attached. I am focused on a basement for the train as few houses have viable attics and the garage will be a workshop. A spare bedroom is too small for my vision. Ideally looking at a large around the room multi-level type of layout, possibly with some peninsulas.
I have looked at hundreds of houses on Realtor web sites and have toured a few in person. I am seeing a mix of basements that are undeveloped and many that are developed and I am getting impressions.
All basements have water tanks, electrical boxes, furnaces, water softeners, etc.; often sump pumps. It’s a case-by-case situation, but many of these items interfere with a potential layout. The more these items are grouped together the better. When they are widely scattered around there are fewer layout options (can’t block service access).
While it would be nice to have a finished basement, often the way that people have finished off basements are not helpful for a big layout. There is usually a “rec room” but these are often irregularly shaped, limiting layout options. They often have a bar or kitchen, and often there are closets or doors to other rooms that are scattered about, thus blocking the potential of an around the wall layout. Electrical distribution often inadequate. Lighting often inadequate. Finish quality is very irregular.
People seem to chop up basements and make rooms that have no particular purpose, sometimes workout / weight rooms. Real estate agents call these bonus rooms. Sometimes there are bedrooms and bathrooms, usually storage (I will need some), often a utility room (good if utilities are clustered). It has come up to consider tearing down the walls creating “bonus Rooms” thereby making a bigger rec room, but this often creates an issue with whatever the floor is (often carpet) and whatever the ceiling is. Also, this does not usually overcome the scattered door / closet and bar issue.
I do hope for some windows for natural light, sometimes there are walkout door walls.
Seems like floors are often carpeted due to irregularities in the slab and a preference for carpet that I don’t share.
I am coming to the conclusion that I am better off with an unfinished basement so that I can optimize the space for the layout. I have enough construction skills to do this and I don’t need a high degree of finish for the train room. I could live with painted walls and floor. It will be dumb luck if a built-out rec room works.
One issue though is the ceiling. I see a lot of basements with open raw joists above, even if the room is otherwise finished. I find this look weird. Sometimes, the joists have been painted, usually black or gray. Not great, but I could live with it. Rarely drywall, because of the pipes and ducts below the joists. Drop ceiling is the other option, sometimes resulting in low ceiling height due to ducts and a lot of work.
I read somewhere on the forum that open joists above a layout allow dust to filter down from above and such layouts are dustier than others. Do open joists above really create a dust problem? I don’t find this hard to believe, but how severe? Is this a major or minor issue? Does painting the open joists help the dust situation? Seems like it would not, but don’t know. May consider such painting in lieu of drop ceiling.
I am interested in any general observations about my overview of basements for a layout and pros and cons about how to approach the various issues.