Devotees of old houses sometimes say, “They don’t build them like they used to.” While it’s easy to admire the knot-free framing lumber of a 100-year-old house, it’s harder to appreciate a 100-year-old basement. Simply put, new basements are better than old basements.
Old basements are usually damp, and some suffer from seasonal water entry. If you’re building a new house with a basement, these problems are easily avoided. The key to success is to get the details right during construction. These details are important; basement repairs tend to be tricky and expensive.
Basic design advice
Although most areas of the country have abandoned the practice of building basement walls out of concrete masonry units (concrete blocks), the practice persists in a few locations. You should insist that your basement walls be built out of poured concrete, not CMUs.
Most basements have ducts and plumbing pipes installed near the ceiling. Since these ducts and pipes are often installed below the joists, they effectively lower a basement’s usable headroom. If the homeowners ever decide to install a ceiling to hide the ducts and pipes, they’ll end up with a low ceiling.
So if you want your basement to be usable, plan ahead. It’s better to have 9-ft.-high concrete walls than 8-ft.-high concrete walls.
Water management details
Water entering a basement may be melting snow, rainwater, or rising groundwater, so preventing water entry requires a multi-pronged strategy.
In older homes, water often enters a basement after a heavy rainfall. One way to reduce the chance of this type of water entry event is to keep rain away from the foundation.
Ideally, this is accomplished by ensuring that the house has wide roof overhangs. In all but the snowiest climates, it makes sense to…