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Community and Q&A

Basement Pros and Cons?

John Brooks | Posted in General Questions on

Basements are almost unheard of in Texas.
I always thought that basements were almost mandatory “up North” because of frost heaving problems.

I have recently noticed many cold climate examples that do not employ basements.

Most noteable….. German Passivhaus examples.
Almost all of the modern German examples do not include basements.

After seeing a video of Dan Morrison’s basement .. I can see why youz guys may be reluctant to give up your basements 😉
In Texas our Garages look much like your basements….. “Full of Stuff”

A basement is a deep crawl space…
Joe Lstiburek says “the Best Crawlspace is NO crawlspace”

Are basements STILL a good idea in a Cold Climate?
Are they really cost effective?

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Replies

  1. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #1

    Basement pros:
    1. Basements are a better place to put ducts than attics.
    2. If your house has a pressure tank for your water system, a water heater, a furnace or boiler, and possibly a fuel-oil tank, a basement is a good place to put them.
    3. Unlike garages — another place where mechanical equipment is sometimes located — basements usually don't freeze.
    4. Most people appreciate the storage space.
    5. If you have a basement, plumbing pipes are more accessible for repairs and remodeling than if you have a slab.

    Basement cons:
    1. Unless carefully detailed, they're damp.

  2. User avater
    Armando Cobo | | #2

    John,
    I've designed and built many houses with basements in the midwest (back in my days) and always found that the $/sf was lower than upstairs, great place for storm shelter, mechanical & storage, great place for Theater and Game Rooms and great place for family or teenager's rooms. However they must be done right. If you have a sloping land, its ideal to do walkouts, viewout, etc.
    You may want to contact North Texas Basements, Tom Werling, 817.770.2768, http://www.ntxbsmt.com and talk to them.

  3. John Semmelhack | | #3

    Here's a good one I heard the other day:

    "Basements - the cheapest space you'll never use"

  4. John Brooks | | #4

    I can see how in the past that Basement footage was considered cheap footage....
    It was mostly understood that in the cold climates you practically had to have it anyway.

    Now there seem to be alternate foundation methods for the Cold climates.

    As we improve the energy performance of our enclosures... does not the basement footage cost more and more?

    I guess I am just curious because the Germans seem to be moving away from basements.

    Of course I am learning that the Germans may not always have a good reason;-)

  5. jklingel | | #5

    There are plenty of basements in Fairbanks, AK, including mine (daylight). We have two bedrooms down there, it is AWW and has been dry as a bone for 30 years. Main bedroom has had fake wood floor for 10 yrs; doing fine. Rug elsewhere. We do not hear neighborhood dogs barking, kids running around on snow machines, etc, at night, Damp basements can occur, as pointed out above, but it also depends on your availability of water in the ground, no? Ours is pretty dry in my particular area. Basements are cheaper to heat than an upstairs, because of the warmer outside temps, as far as I know. Basements mean stairs, which is why we are now building a ranch; old joints. That's my take on basements.

  6. User avater
    Michael Maines | | #6

    Eliminating the basement may be good from a building science point of view, and properly constructed slabs-on-grade can be an efficient way to build, BUT--

    If you want the house to last for generations it needs to be able to be modified. Each owner will want to customize it, or the current owner will want to add on or renovate at some point. A well-built basement makes for more flexibility over time. You can run new pipes and wires or move existing utilities with relative ease if you have a basement. Cutting into a slab containing radiant tubes is not condusive to remodeling. Thus, if you need more or different space, you expand outward. Probably not a big deal in Texas, but on the congested coasts, footprint matters.

    Basement temperatures are generally cooler than main floors, making for great exercise or workshop space. Also good for storing less-used kitchen equipment, chest freezer, beer brewing equipment, sports gear, and other stuff that you use but not frequently enough to give up prime living space.

    If you grow and store your own vegetables, a properly built cold cellar will keep your food fresh all winter.

    Some care does need to be taken to build a good basement or fix a bad one, but it's not that difficult to do it right from the start.

  7. Doug McEvers | | #7

    Here in MSP we call the basement the "lower level", sounds a bit more livable. It is rare to find a single family detached home in MN without a basement.

  8. Riversong | | #8

    New England basements used to be cellars, often damp and chilly and sometimes very leaky. They were good for storing potatoes as long as you could keep the mice away from them.

    Nowadays basements are largely finished conditioned space, adding to construction cost and heat load and increasing the stack effect pressures at the ceiling of what now amounts to the third floor.

    They also generally require literally tons of concrete, which we know to be a major contributor to global warming, and thousands of board feet of petrochemical foam board.

  9. Kevin Scott | | #9

    your comment "....concrete, which we know to be a major contributor to global warming...."

    REALLY?? !! Who is "we" that thinks 'concrete' adds to 'global warming''?
    What expert, what study, what facts??
    We have massive greed and foolishness of our economy that have driven us from stone and concrete homes to 'balloon framing' of 2x4's and stucco homes for heaven's sake. They are totally unstable over long periods of time, they are inferior, fire hazards, totally incapable to withstand flooding, earthquake or serious storms. And you want through your comment dissuade, diminish or destroy confidence in materials science that is the basis of our skyscrapers, the basis of cantilevered floors overhangs and building block of current commercial buildings?? Really? Please for the sake of truth and reason STOP
    We must deal in both reality and science. The entire 'global warming' is a lie of monstrous proportions.
    Men and their activities on this planet DO NOT change the temperature of this planet. PERIOD
    The science that only matters that is from actual scientists using facts and not lies, distorted statistics and actual measurements prove that this is only a political fraud foisting itself as 'junk science'

    After 20 years in the legal field and fighting medical frauds in litigation -- with the ever expanding efforts of charlatans, fraudulent experts (often called 'whores' by attorneys), and lawsuits based on the spirit of runaway litigious attitudes, ambulance chasing attorneys who are the shame of the profession; and spiteful, fraudulent and entirely greedy plaintiffs who neither have compassion, common sense or too often adequate intelligence to recognize the myth of their claims-- IT IS BEYOND THE PALE--
    To suffer with imbecilic comments in an area of science & construction to deal with the leftists/socialists that spout this awful scam of 'global warming' or its newer iteration of 'climate change' (when they found the earth recently is in a cooling phase- and could not suffer the shame of the minuscule portion of truth that finally was crushing their myth)
    Please -- concrete does not create 'extra' heat. It does have physical properties relative to the temperature variations as does any medium from air / water / soil / or rock -- or the quasi solid man-made substances of concrete or asphalt.
    Please don't post to these sites your theories of madness born of very very dangerous politicians that seek to create slavery of regulation and dominating government through 'junk science' and fear mongering. Please. We are adults with families and lives that are seeking truths, techniques and expertise to prosper these both. We simply don't have the time for the Quatsch (nonsense in German)
    from those that won't learn or accept truth when it is so easy to find.

  10. User avater
    Stephen Sheehy | | #10

    Kevin-Chill out, will ya? It'll help with the global warming thing:-)

  11. Jin Kazama | | #11

    In QC almost every home has a basement which is called either " la cave " or " le sous-sol "
    ( the Cave or sub-soil level literally )
    I would have hard time to live in a house without it, but it may only be because i've always lived in one with it .

    Sous-sol used to be half finished before the 70's ..now are mostly all finished and heated,
    or at least on gypsum boards as the codes require the insulation and the gypsum for fire protection.

    As Martin pointed out, they facilitate the installation and maintenance of the house plumbing , HAVC and electricity .
    Heaitng and cooling is easier because of the lower wall and slab delta-T .

    Most hometheaters and tennager bedrooms are downstairs, used to have the laundry room which has recently moved upstairs .

    As Bruce Lee said , ( not in these exact words ) " Excercise keeps the body working"
    So using the " getting old " or " stiff joints " excuses to change house to a single level without any stairs is exactly what will bring your joints to a demise.
    Same as parking your car as close as possible to the store .

    Stairs are good for joints, not bad.

    Kevin : Are you venting or trying to derive this thread from the topic ??
    ( not that i agree with the current global warming blabbla )
    Start a new thread if you wish to discuss only GW or the impact of concrete on co2 levels.
    ( i love concrete :p )

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