Does a Basement Have to Be Underground?

by Charlie
Does a Basement Have to Be Underground

Have you ever wondered whether a basement absolutely has to be underneath the house? After all, digging underground can present all sorts of problems, and often results in a dark, poky, spider-filled space that most people feel nervous about using. Basements can be damp and unpleasant.

With that in mind, you might be wondering if a basement always has to be below the surface of the ground, or if some basements are at ground level. Basements have lots of benefits as well as drawbacks, but do you need to have a basement beneath the house, or can you have them at ground level?

Does a basement have to be underground? The term basement pretty much always applies to a room that is underground. Basements can vary in terms of their form, but at least some part of the basement will be underground for it to have this name. If the space is not underground, it is very rare for it to be referred to as a basement.

Can Basements Be Above Ground?

In general, basements cannot be above ground. However, some basements are partially above ground, or have an entryway that is at ground level, meaning that the space can be accessed from outside, without entering the house. This isn’t enormously common, but it is seen in some parts of the world.

Most people use the term “basement” to mean a room that is completely below the level of the house, and that is accessed by internal stairs leading down from the main house, or sometimes from an external stairwell. Basements are almost always underground, and can be dark, cold spaces as a result.

However, there are instances in which basements are above ground, or partially above ground. There are a couple of different kinds, including walkout basements and daylight basements (sometimes known as lookout basements).

A daylight/lookout basement is usually partially above ground, which ensures that some natural light can be let into the space. The windows of these basements are usually around chest-height. Daylight basements are as tall as a standard room in most cases, and they are often used to extend the living space.

Walkout basements have an entryway at ground level, although the rest of the basement may be below ground level. These basements are often found in bungalow homes, and they don’t prevent the home from being classed as a bungalow. They can be a good way to extend the living space, but they might be gloomy if the rest of the basement is below the ground.

Why are Basements Underground?

There are a few advantages to having a basement underground, plus some obvious drawbacks. One of the biggest reasons to have a basement underground is that it lets you increase the size of your home without taking up more of the available plot. Another benefit is that basements stay cool in the summer, and retain heat reasonably well in the winter.

In the past, building basements underground made a lot of sense from the perspective of storing food. Before fridges and freezers were invented and became commonplace, people often used basements to keep food cool, and even today, many people store vegetables down there because the cold, dark, and slightly damp conditions help them to last.

Basements are also an option for expanding the home if it is too small and there isn’t room for ground-level extensions. However, being underground is a drawback here, as it means basements tend to be chilly and gloomy. If you’re going to expand your home in this way, you might want to look at building a daylight basement or a walkout basement.

Basements can also provide a safe space in bad weather or other crises. Many people utilize their basements if they need to retreat from the surface, because basements enjoy the shelter of the ground, and are generally pretty safe in the case of hurricanes and storms. Of course, they are vulnerable to flooding, so bear this in mind.

A lot of people use their basements to store bulky household items, such as water heaters, air conditioning units, etc. These can be noisy, and they are not attractive, so tucking them into the basement is a neat solution in many cases. These things don’t need to be above ground, so a basement tends to be the perfect position for them.

Is it Legal to Have a Basement Above the Ground?

In most cases, to legally count as a basement, the room must be at least partially below ground level. If you’ve got permission to build a basement, you can’t generally add a room to your first story. You have to go underground. How far above ground a basement is allowed to protrude varies from state to state.

If you want to build a basement that is partially above ground, you will need to contact the relevant authorities in your area. Some states will permit basements that are halfway above ground, while others may ban them. Before you start building, you must know that you are complying with local and state laws.

You don’t want to start a project and then find that your plans don’t comply, especially once you’ve started spending money on them. Always familiarize yourself with local laws and standards first.

Is a Crawlspace a Basement?

Many people count crawlspaces as basements, because they tend to be below ground level. They may be part of a larger overall basement, or on their own. Crawlspaces don’t usually have windows, and tend to be used for storage only, but they are still essentially a basement, provided they are below the level of the ground.

Crawlspaces are frequently used to store the house’s pipework, and they are normally too low to stand up in.

Final Thoughts

Basements are almost always underground, but some may be partially above ground level. Basements may have windows, although most are dark and fully underground. It’s important to understand how your local laws define basements if you are thinking of trying to extend your home at ground level.

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