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Basements 2.0

Basements 2.0
This daylit basement on a sloping lot has a family room that ope
Determining whether your new home will have a basement may be one of the biggest factors to influence the home design you purchase. Basements can add tons of very livable square footage to a home, if designed correctly. They can even become the best place in the house.

As editor of Builder magazine, I built several show homes that featured great basement spaces. In one high-end Las Vegas show home, "The Destinations House", we put in a large wine room with enough space for a tasting table and suspended a Harley in a window well to create appropriate ambience. Basements are a great place for wine storage because they stay cooler than the rest of the house. But the best, and most universal presentation may have been the "Homelink House" we built in an Atlanta suburb several years before. The architect on the project, Carson Looney, got excited when he visited the site – a sloping lot, dropping down to a virtual forested backyard. He decided instantly that the house must have a walk-in basement with a great back patio.

The benefit of the sloping lot, of course, is that you can enter the home on ground level and exit through the

basement at ground level, as happens in Plan 929-41, whose front is shown here; the rear, basement side is shown at the top of this post. And, with the addition of patio doors, you can flood the basement with natural light. It’s going to get used much more often when it’s naturally lit.  Some Midwestern developers incur the expense of grading dirt just to create basement walkouts.

We put a pool table and bar, along with a game table, in the basement of the Homelink House. We purposely left part of the basement unfinished for mechanical and other storage. Just for grins, we put a half pipe in

there for skateboard practice. Plan 56-604, shown here, goes a step farther and includes a sport court,

along with a kitchenette and a media room. As the father of two sons who were athletes, I’m always surprised that builders overlook opportunities to accommodate active sports at home.

Here's a design, Plan 454-14 by Sarah Susanka and Tina Govan that gives the basement star billing,
with two bedrooms, a master suite, and an office that all open to the site, as well as a TV room, 
rec room, and media room all situated along the inner wall.

Basements strongly influences the type of house plan you buy, though most designers customize plans to include one, whether it’s finished in-ground or walk out. Talk with local contractors to determine the appropriate foundation for your building lot. You need the information before you buy a plan. Besides basements, the most popular foundation options are slab on grade, crawl space, or pier. At under the Search button you will see that you can sort plans by foundation type from Crawlspace to Daylight Basement to Partial Basement Slab. In some locations where the water table is high or the soil very loose, you may not want to even build a basement.

Basements used to be relegated mostly to homes in cold climates. They were inexpensive to add because builders had to dig to put footings below the frost line anyway. It didn’t cost that much more to just excavate for a basement. But these days, you see them all over the country. New homeowners have decided that basements are extremely functional and worth the money. They stay cooler than the rest of the house during

hot weather. Plan 498-6 puts a rec room and two bedrooms on the daylit side opening to an entertaining

patio, and a laundry, bath, and mechanical room on the opposite, windowless side.

The big question is how to light the basement. You enter many of the older mid-century modern homes in my community by walking up a half flight of stairs. That enabled the builders to put windows in the basement that connect to a light well. You can still see out to the front yard. The basement rec room was a great place for the kids to blow off steam after dinner playing nerf soccer or having band practice.

Man caves sell the basement short. There’s much more that can be done in the basement than drink and watch the big game. If you are fortunate to have a walkout situation, and you intend to have a backyard garden, why not incorporate a garden prep station in the basement? If the basement has great views, it might be an ideal spot for an office, especially if you need to solitude to work. With a patio door connecting the office to the garden, you could take your work outside on nice days. This might be the ideal spot to do yoga

or practice meditation as well. A walkout basement may be an ideal spot for a rental apartment, 

as shown here in Plan 926-4, especially if cooking facilities are nearby, since renters can come and go without disturbing the rest of the household.

It’s important to plan for a basement upfront, even if you can’t afford to finish it before you move in. Many new homes are sold that way. The plan could be to finish the basement later when your kids reach their teenage years and you need some separation. It’s also important to remember that basements can also suffer from high humidity, which needs to be combated with dehumidifiers and waterproofing.
To browse a collection of plans with a variety of basement types, click here.

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