What is a Yankee Basement?

by Charlie
Yankee Basement

If you’re thinking of adding a basement to your home, you aren’t alone; a lot of people want the convenience and storage space offered by an additional room below the level of the house. Basements stay cooler in the summer and have a number of benefits, but there are quite a few different kinds, and you might feel unsure about which kind would work well for you.

You may have heard of Yankee basements, and if so, you might be wondering what these are and how they differ from standard basements. It won’t surprise you to learn that there are many types of basements, but how do you know whether a Yankee basement would be right for you?

What is a yankee basement? A Yankee basement is a room below the house that is dug within the house’s perimeter by a few feet. The walls to this basement will not line up with the house’s exterior walls. They will sit inside them, usually by about 2 or 3 feet in each direction. This means that Yankee basements are smaller than the house.

What are Yankee Basements?

Yankee basements are essentially cellars or basements that are smaller than the house they sit under. They are also known as root cellars, and they sit within the house’s external walls, so the house is still supported by the soil that its walls sit on. Yankee basements don’t interfere with your home’s foundations, which some people prefer.

Yankee basements are not particularly common in many parts of the world, but some people like them because they don’t require you to change the foundations of your home, so they can be a cheaper option in some cases.

It’s likely that these kinds of basements originate from a time when households needed cold storage inside the home (before fridges and freezers were common) and so dug down under the home to create this cold storage. Root vegetables could then be stored down there, and would keep for many months – hence the name root cellar.

At this time, there likely wouldn’t have been sufficient know-how to shore up the home’s foundations and dig under them, so the basement was restricted to a space within the home’s exterior walls, and wasn’t dug close enough to them to weaken their foundations. This solved the family’s need for cold food storage.

Where Does the Term “Yankee Basement” Come From?

It’s not clear where the term “Yankee basement” comes from. It’s likely that this refers to an area where these cellars were particularly common at one time (Connecticut, New Hampshire, etc.), but there’s no clear evidence to support this, and there’s little information about how the term came about.

In many parts of the world, these basements are just referred to as root cellars, but a lot of people like the phrase “Yankee basement.”

Can You Dig a Yankee Basement Yourself?

You might be thinking that this is a great opportunity to dig your own basement, thanks to the section above about individuals doing this. However, you should not dig a Yankee basement yourself. There is too much risk that you will compromise your home’s structural integrity.

Leaving a perimeter of around 3 feet should mean that you don’t weaken your home’s foundations, but this is not guaranteed. If your soil is loose and loamy, there’s far more risk than if you are operating on tough, compacted soil. You need to be really careful, because if you do compromise your home’s structure, you could make the whole building unsafe.

Remember that removing soil from beneath your home leaves a cavity, and the remaining soil could crumble into this, bringing the building down with it. This is not a risk that you should take under any circumstances, so if you want a Yankee basement, you must talk to professional contracting firms.

It might be tempting to just hire a small digger and create the space yourself if you are working on a budget, but you shouldn’t do this. You could cause major structural issues, and you may not comply with local building codes. The walls will need to be reinforced, and other safety measures will need to be taken.

If you are budgeting for a Yankee basement, remember to take into account costs such as concreting the floor and insulating the walls. Damp-proofing and drainage may also be necessary. Bear in mind that you might also have to contend with rerouting pipes and cables that run under your home.

Are Yankee Basements as Useful as Other Basements?

Yankee basements are not generally considered preferable to full-size basements, for a number of reasons. One is that they are constrained in terms of their size, and don’t make full use of the space that’s available. Another is that they cannot have access to light, nor any entry/exit external to the house.

Because they must fall within the house’s perimeter, they are necessarily fully enclosed in earth, and won’t have an exit. That means you can’t convert them into a bedroom or living space safely or legally.

Yankee basements certainly do offer some benefits in terms of storage, but they are less useful than full basements. However, they might be preferable to things like crawlspaces and other narrow basement cavities. If you want to store fruit and vegetables, they could be a major advantage.

If you can’t afford to get a full basement built, a Yankee basement may be a cheaper alternative that will give you additional storage space. It isn’t as useful or flexible as a proper basement with external access, but it is still valuable and worth considering if you need to expand your home on a tight budget.

Final Thoughts

Yankee basements are essentially small basements that sit entirely under your home, and within the external walls. They can be generous in terms of size, but must leave a perimeter so that the foundations of your home stay secure. Do not try to dig a Yankee basement yourself; hire professional contractors who will ensure your home stays stable and safe.

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