For many buyers, a basement is an added bonus. While it does not figure into the living space by most calculations, a basement may expand square-footage, improve storage, extend living space, and be that final trump card in the homebuying process. Or, it could be the worst possible nightmare. If you hope to buy or build a home with a basement, here are some things to think about—both positive and negative.
Types of basements
- Cellar – a cellar is an old-fashioned word for an unfinished hole underneath a home’s foundation that may, or may not, be lined with concrete block, or concrete walls. In ancient houses, the cellar might be lined with hard-packed earth. Many times, cellars were used to store root vegetables and so earned the nickname “root cellar.” The underground temperature remains relatively constant throughout the year, so colder than outdoors in summer, but above freezing in winter, making it an ideal food storage place. After the advent of canning, added shelves created space for jars of canned goods and preserves.
- Partial – a partial basement is a foundational basement (part of the home’s foundation) that is under only a portion of the house. Sometimes partial basements are used because there is an impediment to a full basement such as an underground boulder or other obstruction to digging a full basement. Other times it is an added feature so that mechanical items reside there, leaving space in the living floors for more storage and open planning.
- Full – a full basement is one that is the complete foundation for a home. Full basements often have window wells (a window set below ground level with an enclosed “well” on the outside to hold the earth in place) for light, but not for egress. In a full basement, because of the lack of exit doors or windows, bedrooms are not up to code.
- Walk-out – a walk-out basement typically sits into the side of a slope so that a portion of the basement is entirely in the earth and a part of the basement has exterior egress (i.e., you can walk out the door). Rooms with windows or doors on the walk-out side may be used as bedrooms.
- Living height – some basements are not full height (less than 8 feet tall) and so typically are for storage and mechanical/plumbing items only. A living-height basement has a full 8-foot or higher ceiling and is suitable for finishing as living space.
- Unfinished – in new-builds, basements typically are not finished, and it is up to the homebuyer to frame in rooms and add walls, floors, and ceilings. An unfinished, living-height basement is the perfect blank slate for creating a man-cave, media or game room, or a crafting area. Often in older homes, laundry facilities sat in the basement as well.
- Finished – a finished basement means that the exterior walls have drywall or another wall finish, the floor joists for the floor above are covered by ceiling material (drywall, insulated ceiling panels, etc.), the concrete floor has tile, carpet, or other flooring and the area has ventilation (HVAC) lights and power outlets. If your basement is already finished, all you have to do is set it up the way you like.
Basements can be a blessing or a curse. If your basement needs some TLC, seek a professional basement contractor with experience on waterproofing and extending the HVAC to handle the extra space.