Why Are Basements Important

Considering the recent weather in southeast Michigan this summer, basements have been important places of shelter to stay safe as well as cool. As the storms came through, more than 100,000 homes were out of power and as the temperatures rose, people needed to retreat to their basements to stay cool and avoid potentially fatal heat illnesses.

A basement is defined as one or more floors of a building that are either entirely or partly below the ground floor when approaching the front of a building.

For its early history, a basement took one of two forms. It was a cellar on the bottom floor and generally used as utility space for a building, containing the furnace, water heater, breaker panel/fuse box, and first-floor ductwork. It is also the junction where utilities such as electrical, natural gas, and cable television enter a building.  Basements are also a portion of a commercial building containing rooms and spaces the same as the rest of the structure. In cities featuring high property prices, basements are often remodeled to a high standard and used as functional space, such as flats and offices.  

Basement vs cellar

In North America, the term basement describes any level of a structure beneath the structure’s ground level. In British English, the word basement means underground floors of retail stores and offices. The Brits use the term to mean the place in structures when the space below the ground level is habitable, often with windows and its own entry. The term cellar applies to the entire underground level or any sizeable underground room used for storage or private activities. A subcellar is a cellar that lies even further underneath.

Starting with the development of larger, mid-priced suburban homes in post-World War II, the basement gradually took hold as a desirable space in its own right. Initially, it was typically an ample, concrete-floored space, accessed by indoor stairs, with exposed posts and, beams along the ceilings with poured concrete floors and cinder block walls.

Home remodelers now transform basements into varied practical spaces to meet each family’s specific needs. Many people use their basement as a leisure space for entertaining. Some homeowners construct glorious media rooms with comfortable seating and state-of-the-art electronics, rivaling first-run movie theaters. Lower-level bars and family rooms provide other families ample entertaining and gaming space on par with neighborhood restaurants and bars. Still, others improve their basements for use as additional living quarters to give family members privacy and space. Still, others choose several different possibilities; including home gyms, wood workshops, home offices, and in-home daycare centers.

Basements are much easier to build in developed countries with the industrialization of homebuilding. Large powered excavation machines such as backhoes and front-end loaders have significantly reduced the time and workforce needed to dig a basement dramatically compared to digging by hand with a spade.  

Why do American houses have basements?

The use of basements depends largely on factors specific to a particular geographical area, such as climate, soil, seismic activity, building technology, and real estate economics. Basements in small buildings such as single-family detached houses are rare in wet climates where flooding can be a problem, though using a basement may use them on larger structures. Basements are considered standard on all but the smallest of new buildings in places with temperate continental climates where a concrete foundation below the frost line is needed to prevent a building’s foundation from shifting during the freeze-thaw cycle.  In the Eastern and Central US, basements are generally the rule. Homeowners prefer them over structures that are built on concrete slabs. In several Southern and Western states, they are more the exception.  Fear from earthquakes and entrapment below ground are reasons for the lack of basements in homes in California and the Pacific coast. One state over, the main reason for Nevada’s lack of basements is caliche, an impermeable layer of sedimentary rock-like material that occurs in deserts and arid areas. Basements are therefore too expensive and difficult to dig in Las Vegas. North Carolina homes do not have basements because of the water table, the soil, and the climate. The South, and specifically North Carolina, is known for its humidity and moisture. With moisture comes mold and wet earth, making basements in North Carolina tricky to manage and maintain. Basements are also not as common in Texas because the frost line — the depth below the ground where the soil does not freeze in the winter — is much shallower in Texas than up north, preventing structural shifting.

What are the pros and cons of having a basement?

Before designing and remodeling this hidden oasis, prospective home buyers need to look in the basement to see if they are wasting valuable time, effort, and money without putting first, the necessary repairs in place. During a home inspection, have an inspector look for any of the following factors:

  • Basement wall or ceiling stains could signify past or current leaks in the basement. Thoroughly inspect these stains and all the systems in the basement to ensure that there are potentially no leak problems. Cracks currently in the foundation are typically the cause of future basement leaks. If the basement is unfinished, it is much easier to spot them. Fresh Paint on basement walls, especially limited to one area, could mean someone is trying to hide some visible or repaired damage.
  • Do-It-Yourself quality work to fix and install various solutions in their basements, such as sump pumps or even a drainage system, can be a concern. Check this work meticulously because it may not function properly. Then, consider hiring a professional to update these systems to ensure that everything runs properly.
  • Many basement problems are related to Poor Drainage and Grading systems.  Check the quality of the systems and ensure that they are running smoothly. Also, look out for puddles around the property’s exterior, overflowing gutters, and eaves troughs, resulting in cracks in the foundation.
  • Most basement ceilings under six feet are usually against the building code and may not qualify for remodeling. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure that the basement ceiling is up to code in any possible house of interest.

A finished basement can add to one’s home both value and enjoyment to their leisure time. Have a vision for the concept and a plan in place to complete any remodeling project fully. With forethought and pre-planning, the finished project will be a cherished space for years to come.

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