Sunday, June 10, 2012

Considering Basements

It isn't always an option depending upon the area, the water table, or even your finances, but a basement of almost any kind is of incredible benefit.   In the course of doing this blog I have collected many pictures of many things, and I noticed that my collection of basement interiors shows a lot of different types of basements. Some basements were built with high ceilings and with the intention of perhaps completing them as living space someday. Some have windows. When a basement is properly finished as living space, it often is a way of obtaining extra square footage , which can be cheaper than adding an addition later.
        It is particularly important that a basement be dry enough to prevent mold growth, to prevent damage to mechanical house systems which are stored there, and to allow the storage of food, furniture, and sometimes even off season clothing.   When we built our last two homes, we selected the location on the acreage to permit a basement, and then we paid particular attention to its height and its design so that it would be very dry.   Sometimes, if you have a basement in a house already, B-Dry or a similar company can make changes to the exterior foundation and to the drainage from the house which can make a damp basement much dryer.  This makes storage there, or completion much more possible.

This is an example of a low ceilinged basement which was never intended to be finished as anythng other than storage. It allows access to essential systems, the potential use of a freezer and bookcases for emergency food.

The other side of this basement is heated in winter, and could be used as a hobby room or a place for a game room.  I could imagine a pool table or table tennis table here too.

This basement also has lower ceilings, and support poles.  Some basements are built so that support poles are unnecessary.  (They were built using walls in the basement as supports.) Many basements do have poles.

This is a basement that was finished as an informal Family Room and with couches that can pull out when guests come to stay.  If this is your intent, make sure you build your basement with sufficient courses of block to complete the ceiling without its being too low, and that you give some thought to the location of support poles, and where mechanical items such a tanks from the well, electrical boxes, furnaces, plumbing,  and security system control boxes, when planning your project.

This smart homeowner picked a cool section of the basement, installed lighting, and then placed lots of different sizes and heights of shelving which is well secured.  To the left there are shelves built to help in the chore of can rotation, as they can be loaded from the back, and cans taken from the front.   Todays nailguns can complete a task such as this, after planning, very very quickly.

Some basements are truly below ground, and are hidden, but most are below ground perhaps in the front of the house, and the rear has a portion above ground to accomodate windows.  The house above has an entire house below ground which could be used during tornado warnings or some other emergencies.

This is very similar to one corner of my own house when it was first built. The basement walls in this house are made of concrete and were installed by Superior Walls.   Superior Walls create a very solid secure system for tornadoes and for earthquakes, but do require some special tools, strategy and care when the basement is finished.
              If you are building a home, I urge you to look into the possibility of adding a basement.  Even a small one makes your home safer, more liveable, more spacious, and provides a place to hide during certain emergencies.  However, places with high water tables may not permit basements or they may be wetter than would be constructive.  Basements also may enhance a radon problem, although this can generally fairly easily be solved using todays technologies.  If you are buying a home, then consider one with a basement. The storage alone can be very valuable.

Basements fashioned to be a workshop can not only be valuable in terms of having a place to store and protect tools, but from a standpoint of winter repairs.  A basement need not be huge to be utilitarian.


Utilitarian basements can be useful also from the standpoint of providing locations for battery banks, solar modifications and other technologies which can help to make your home more efficient in future.


Another picture of a high tech, organized basement.

Plenty of storage in this  basement.


Gorges Smythe said...

I wish I had a basement under the whole house. I've only got a basement under the back third, and it AIN'T big enough!

JaneofVirginia said...

Some basement is always better than no basement ! My first house had a basement in the back third of the house for an electrical box and the hot water heater, and some piping. It took me almost two years but each day after work before my husband came home, I dug out more and more dirt underneath the area, intending to make it a cellar for storage. I thought someone could put concrete down when I completed it. You can imagine my dismay when the builder putting an addition on the house a couple of years later expressed extreme dismay that I had dug out so much without having added supports at certain junctures. He took care of that for me while building the addition.
Our new house now has one, which is useful with all the tornado warnings, but our daughter's new house does not. She is putting together a tornado plan even now. Right now it consists of a pillow and a blanket over her head while hiding in one of the windowless bathrooms in the tub.

russell1200 said...

Basements are usually necessitated by the need to dig deep footings. Once you have to create a footing of 5' plus, you might as well go ahead with the bother and create the added sell value of the basement.

That at least is the developer/builders take on them.

Up North it is the frost line that necissitates most basements. As you get further south the slope of the building site (thus the backside basements).

The biggest single advantage of the basement is that they are at least partially within the zone of earth that is a constant mid-50s temperature. So even in areas where a basement was not required, they would often build small root cellars.

Basements are expensive, and depending not only on the water table, but also the runoff topography can be huge water traps. Living in different houses as a child, all of which had basements, the majority had some sort of major flooding at least once in extreme weather conditions. And it is just about impossible to permanently seal a basement against water under even light (gravity) pressure.

JaneofVirginia said...

Thanks so much for a more complete and builders perspective on basements. I have been very lucky in that the two homes I have had as an adult, which have had basements, have each been cut into a hill, and are as dry as a bone, and were finished as living space. Of course, it helps that we have the tendency to drought here, rather than the tendency to flooding. You are absolutely correct about the constant temperature there. We heat and cool ours to vent even small amounts of radon, but the temperature is constant in the sixties whether it's 105F out or below 0 F outside. The "Superior Wall" brand helps a great deal.