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The Owens Corning Finishing System

New Life For Your Basement

The Owens Corning finishing system is one way to turn a dingy unfinished basement into additional space that's attractive and comfortable. Owens Corning does this by applying their expertise in building science and system design to the standard below-grade basement.

So now you might be asking, "aren't they the insulation folks, the Pink Panther guys?" and you'd be correct in that assumption. But what does Owens Corning have to do with finished basements? Everything, if you're talking about the Owens Corning Basement Finishing System™ as it's officially named.

This 'system' is designed to turn your unfinished basement into a comfortable usable space in just a short amount of time. So let's take a closer look at what the Owens Corning basement is all about and what it could possibly do for you.

Just What Is This Basement 'System'?

A basement finishing "system" is really just a term that describes any means or process for finishing a basement. More recently however it's been used to describe finishing techniques that differ from traditional studs-and-sheetrock methods. One of those techniques is the Owens Corning finishing system.

The Owens Corning finishing system is one process that uses alternative methods to turn your basement into a livable space. It does this using a modular panel system that forms the walls of your basement, replacing the traditional sheetrock (drywall) method.

It also achieves the finished result in much less time than a drywall finish process. Sheetrock requires taping and mudding (the process of covering up the seams and screw holes with a plaster-like compound). Then it needs to be sanded smooth, primed and painted. The Owens Corning finishing system is cut and installed with none of the aforementioned muss and fuss.

The heart of the system is the modular pre-built wall panel. It's a stack up of 2 1/4" fiberglass insulation married to a poly-olefin, Teflon coated fabric covering. The panels fit between PVC "lineals" (stud-like anchors) affixed to the foundation walls. The seams between panels are finished with small trim pieces called "battens" which also lock the panels in place.

The fiberglass insulation provides both thermal and sound insulation.

The work is accomplished by local Owens Corning Basement Finishing System franchise operators. All work that they do, including the electrical, is done to your local building codes.

An Owens Corning basement also comes with a ceiling, additional walls (for instance, if you want to partition off part of your basement) and even flooring if you so choose. The cost is based on the scope of work that's determined up front during an initial design consultation.

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The Benefits & Drawbacks Of The Owens Corning Basement

Before delving into the pros and cons, it will help to understand a little bit about how your home "works" and the unique characteristics of a below-grade basement.

Think of your house as a big chimney, with cool, moist air infiltrating into the basement from normal gaps and leaks in and around the foundation walls. The air usually warms and rises to higher floors, ultimately leaking back out of the house. This process continues as the air in the house is continually exchanged.

The unique trait about the basement is that it's typically cooler and more prone to moisture than the other levels in your home because of its position below ground level. That makes it a bit trickier to finish than your main floor or a second story. If it's not done right, you could end up with mildew, moisture and mold problems.

Enter the Owens Corning finishing system. One of it's primary design goals is to avoid that moisture problem while offering a faster and more convenient way of finishing the basement.

So let's take a closer look at the upsides:

  • Resistance to moisture problems.
    The construction of the panels used in the Owens Corning finishing system are made to "breath" - that is, they allow the moisture (in vapor form) that naturally permeates your foundation walls to come through the wall panels, rather than condense into liquid water, and cause problems between the wall panels and the foundation. By the same token, they also allow the reverse to happen, depending on environment and the time of year.
  • Nothing for mold to feed on.
    When moisture is present, the risk of mold comes with it. But mold needs something to feed on, and that's where conventional finishing methods with sheetrock fall down. Sheetrock has a paper backing and wood studs contain cellulose - both are good sources of food for mold. The Owens Corning basement system is made from PVC and fiberglass. There are no organic materials present to give mold a free lunch.
  • Good sound control qualities.
    Not only is fiberglass batting a good thermal insulator, it's also a good sound insulator. The fabric-covered fiberglass panels absorb sound and do it better than a conventional drywall basement. Drywall is hard, and it's attached to rigid studs. All this rigidity transmits sound energy through the house (believe me; my own drywall basement does a great job of 'informing' me what my son is blasting down in our basement).

    The practical side of this? It makes a great place for a home theater, stereo room, or just a place to allow the kids to romp without broadcasting it to the rest of the house.

  • A place for electrical chords, speaker wires and the like.
    The Owens Corning system has built-in channels at the base of the walls panels that are a perfect place for routing electrical chords. They're out of the way but conveniently accessible when needed. A conventional drywall basement doesn't have this provision. You can have your basement wired during the remodel process but what if you need to access this wiring later?
  • A relatively quick way to get more usable space.
    Owens Corning touts this basement finishing system as taking about 2 weeks to complete. That may vary somewhat depending on the particulars of each basement. But it is faster and cleaner than going with a conventional sheetrock process.
  • Quick and convenient access to foundation walls
    With the modular wall system, you still have easy access to your foundation walls should you need to get to them for any reason. Let's say you just had a once-in-a-hundred-years rainstorm and want to be sure there's no water seeping through the foundation. You can just removed the wall panels and allay your fears.
  • A limited lifetime warranty.
    When was the last time you heard of a contractor providing a lifetime warranty on the work he/she did? Having a room remodeled and getting a lifetime warranty on the features is a nice benefit. The warranty is also transferable once - perhaps a helpful selling point for potential buyers.

And now for the drawbacks:

  • There's only one color.
    Unfortunately, the Owens basement system comes in only one color. Sure, it's a pleasing neutral color, but what if you don't like the beige-y, off-white, neutral gray look?
  • Panel seams are covered by battens.
    The wall panels are joined together by narrow battens which project out slightly and run from floor to ceiling. They aren't that obtrusive and offer a finished look to what would otherwise be a naked seam between wall panels but they're definitely noticeable.
  • Overall look is somewhat pre-manufactured
    Given the nature of how the Owens basement system is designed (modular, easily removable panels, breathable wall materials), the overall appearance tends to have a somewhat 'corporate-cubicle' look to it.
  • Despite their soft texture, panels can still be damaged.
    These panels have some give and can be forgiving of occasional bumps but that doesn't mean they can't be permanently damaged with dents and/or tears. Then again, drywall damage is tedious to repair whereas a modular wall system can be more easily removed and replaced (so I'll let you decide whether this is a pro or con).

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Alternative Basement Finishing Systems

If this sort of basement finishing system sounds good but you're still not sure, there are some alternatives.

Obviously the route of using conventional building materials like wood studs and drywall is one way to go. Just because this system can be prone to problems associated with moisture doesn't mean it will be. Good contractors and builders with experience in finished basements can achieve a design that works with the typical basement environment. Just keep in mind that it will probably take longer and it will be messy for a little while.

Another alternative more along the lines of the Owens basement finishing system is The Basement Tuxedo from Advanced Basement Products. The Basement Tuxedo is a system reportedly designed by professionals in the waterproofing industry. It's another modular wall system except it comes in several colors and it can also be painted. Panels use a dense closed-cell foam for insulation instead of fiberglass batting. A removable taping system is used to join the panels rather than a batten used with the Owens Corning system. In the company's words, it's intended to better mimic the look and feel of the rest of your home. Information can be found at www.advancedbasementproducts.com.

Yet another product is from Basement Systems Inc. Called Total Basement Finishing, it too uses a wall panel design that's made from closed-cell foam insulation. The Total Basement Finishing system offers floor and ceiling tiles as well for a full basement remodel package. You can see more information at www.totalbasementfinishing.com.

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Publisher's Comments -
Some Firsthand Observations & Opinions

I don't have the Owens Corning finishing system in my own basement but I've had the opportunity to see it in several homes. From that perspective I can give my personal review based on my observations and discussion with the installers.

Both basements that I observed were admittedly attractive spaces. Even though there were the thin battens evenly spaced along the walls, my guess is that they would ultimately fade into the background once you live in the space for a while. It's one thing to obsess and nitpick when you're actually inspecting a product but I find that those small details (or annoyances as the case may be) tend to be forgotten over time.

Although it's hard to describe, the basements seemed "quiet", for lack of a better descriptor. That's despite the fact that one basement had a wall-sized theater screen with a movie playing when I observed it. There was no indication of an echo or the "brightness" of sound that you typically hear in rooms appointed with hard surfaces. I should point out that both basement examples had carpeting on the floor, which would also help absorb some sound.

One of the features I particularly like is the channel that's formed inside the baseboard of the wall panels where electrical chords and wires can be housed. My own finished basement doesn't have anything like this feature and I'm limited to trying to tuck things like the cable TV line and other electrical chords in the little crevice where the carpet meets the wall.

It was evident that if the panels in the Owens Corning finishing system get whacked hard enough, they will dent and ripple. One example I saw had some damage from furniture movers along the wall leading up the stairs. The Owens Corning rep indicated that the panel would need to be replaced since there's no fix available.

Though I can't speak to the actual installation process, my opinion of the end result is generally positive. Would I install it in my own home (all things like cost being equal)? From a functional and convenience perspective, I'd say yes. However the single-color decor and the batten system are style options that personally aren't my favorite. I like being able to change the color of the walls every now and then.

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The Most Important Point To Remember

You can get more information about the Owens Corning Basement Finishing System at their website.

However, regardless of which basement finishing system you like, you need to first determine if your basement is appropriate for finishing. If you have water drainage problems, leaks or other chronic moisture issues, those need to be fixed before your basement is finished. No "system" will cure a problem that's caused by improper drainage of water away from your house or faulty/damaged foundations. If anyone tells you their basement interior finishing system will correct these problems, you should run away from them...quickly.

Here's More Related Info That Might Be Helpful...

Home Design Help - Whether it's remodeling the basement or putting on an addition, all your effort falls into the "home design" bucket in one way or another. Find out how to get the process started and where to go for help.

A Real Life Home Remodel Adventure - Remodeling your house is very academic when you're just starting to plan. See what it's like in reality when the Publisher shares his home remodel experience in the first of this series of real life remodeling articles.

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