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What Is a Basement?: Everything You Need to Know

View of a basement with white walls.

More than 42 million homes in the U.S. have basements, especially in the Northeast and Midwest. Many homeowners prefer basements because they can be turned into extra living space, adding square footage without expanding the house.

While some basements are used for storage, they can also become entertainment areas, spare bedrooms, home gyms, or even bathrooms. Let’s explore different types of basements, why you might choose this type of foundation, and why you might want to waterproof yours.

What Is a Basement?

A basement is an area of the home that is partially or entirely underground. Originally, basements were used for storing food and water because they are cool and dark. However, they can also be susceptible to water damage.

Fortunately, modern waterproofing methods can turn a damp basement into a dry, cozy living area. Today, finished basements are common and serve as functional spaces for living and recreation.

Types of Basements

There are four main types of basements. Which one do you have?

Cellar

A cellar is located under part of the house, not the entire structure. It is mainly used for storing produce, wine, and preserved foods. Cellars have plenty of standing room and can be easily transformed into living spaces. Homeowners can even extend the basement across the rest of the house.

Daylight

A daylight basement is partly above ground and has windows. It usually covers the entire home, and when finished, it can double the living space.

Walkout

A walkout basement has a wall with a door and windows at ground level. It often features normal-sized windows that can open and close.

Subbasement

A subbasement is located below a walkout or daylight basement and is connected by stairs. It sits entirely underground and doesn’t have doors or windows to the outside. Subbasements are mostly used for storage.

Which Parts of the Country Have Basements?

Basements are common in colder parts of the country where foundations must be below the frost line to prevent damage from freezing and thawing cycles. They are prevalent in northern states like those in the Northeast and Midwest, providing additional living space where expanding outward is difficult.

Basements are also in some western and central states, such as Colorado and Utah, where hilly terrain makes walkout basements appealing. However, in southern states with high water tables or unsuitable soil conditions, basements are less common, with crawl spaces or slab-on-grade foundations being more typical. Still, in our service area (the Southeast United States) some homeowners do have basements.

Basement Construction Methods

There are three main ways to construct a basement:

Block walls in a basement.
  • Masonry Wall Basements: These basements have walls made of masonry blocks. Unfortunately, these walls have many joints and can be prone to water seepage, so waterproofing is essential.
  • Precast Panel Basements: Precast basement walls are built elsewhere and then brought to the site. This method is quick, easy, and cost-effective. The panels are made of high-strength, low-water concrete mix, making them more water-resistant than masonry walls.
  • Poured Concrete Wall Basements: Poured concrete walls are strong and dense, with no joints, making them more fire and water-resistant. Construction begins with pouring a footing, followed by the walls, which are held in forms until they cure completely.

Pros and Cons of Owning a Basement

Basements have their advantages and disadvantages:

Pros

  • Additional space: Basements add square footage to your home.
  • Easily convertible: Basements can become guest rooms, fan caves, home gyms, or entertainment areas.
  • Increases home value: A basement makes your home more attractive to potential buyers.
  • Seasonal comfort: Basements are cooler, providing a comfortable space during hot summer months.
  • Safe rooms: Basements offer shelter during tornadoes and hurricanes.

Cons

  • Additional construction costs: Basements are more expensive to build due to the extensive excavation required.
  • Dampness and moisture issues: Basements are more humid, making them prone to mold and mildew. Waterproofing is necessary to keep them dry.
  • Flooding risk: Basements can flood during storms or snowmelt, leading to standing water and mold growth.
  • Pest infestations: Dark, moist basements are ideal homes for pests.

Waterproofing the Basement

Perimeter drain in a basement.

Due to their location underground, basement are more likely to suffer from moisture problems. For example, many basements develop musty odors, efflorescence, or high humidity.

Generally, water gets in through cracks in the basement wall or floor. Other causes of basement water include leaky pipes, a faulty water heater, or hydrostatic pressure.

If you own a basement, waterproofing it may be worth the investment. With the proper tools, you can avoid serious damage to the basement, and by extension, your home

An Overview of Basement Waterproofing Tools

For best results, you should install a comprehensive waterproofing system to address all forms of moisture. At AFS Foundation Repair & Waterproofing Specialists, we install the following tools to waterproof your basement:

  • Wall Vapor Barrier: Prevents moisture from seeping through walls and keeps the basement dry.
  • Sump Pump: Removes accumulated water from the basement, preventing flooding.
  • Interior Perimeter Drain: Directs water to the sump pump, ensuring efficient drainage.
  • Dehumidifier: Reduces humidity levels to prevent mold and mildew growth.
  • Anti-Freeze Discharge Line: Ensures that the water expelled from the sump pump does not freeze, preventing water lines from bursting in freezing temperatures.

Will Weep Holes Keep My Basement Dry?

Some basements have weep holes to allow water behind the basement walls to flow directly into a drainage system. Weep holes are small openings in foundation walls that let trapped water escape, reducing hydrostatic pressure and preventing damage.

Keep in mind, weep holes can’t do all the work on their own. If your basement already has weep holes, or you decide to install some, make sure you have a comprehensive basement waterproofing system to support them.

Protect Your Basement With AFS

AFS crewman installing a basement wall vapor barrier.

If you want to waterproof your basement and protect it from water damage, contact professionals at AFS. We serve homeowners in Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama. Schedule a free home inspection today and get ready to keep your basement dry with our local expert team!

Basement FAQs

Wet basement walls pose significant risks including structural damage to your home’s foundation and increased growth of mold and mildew, which can harm health, particularly for those with allergies or respiratory problems. A persistently wet basement can also lower your home’s value and reduce the amount of usable space.

It’s a good idea to check your basement for signs of moisture or water damage at least every season, or four times a year. Pay special attention during heavy rainfalls or rapid snow melts, as these are times when your basement is most at risk for water intrusion.

Regular cleaning can help reduce musty smells, but if the source of moisture is not addressed, these smells will likely return. Cleaning should be part of a comprehensive approach to moisture control, including proper ventilation, dehumidification, and possibly the installation of waterproofing solutions like sump pumps or interior drainage systems.

Related Resources

Ted Dryce

Ted Dryce

Content Writer

Ted is an SEO Content Writer who has been with Groundworks since 2021. He’s covered home repair topics ranging from crawl space encapsulation to regional soil conditions. When he’s not working, Ted is performing improv comedy and working on his own creative projects.

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