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What Is a Basement Really?

basement with vapor barrier

Basements are pretty popular across the United States. Alongside their lower-grade counterparts – crawl spaces – these substructures can come in handy for storage or even serve as additional living space. 

The Census Bureau estimates that around 42 million homeowners in America have basements in their homes. Here’s all you need to know about them.

What Is a Basement?

Essentially, a basement is an underground room, or a part of a room, that’s partially or completely beneath the ground level. Before refrigeration, homeowners would store their food and drinks (wine, beer, and even water) in basements to keep them fresh and usable. 

The most common disadvantage of basements is that they’re prone to water-related damage and pest problems. Water causes mold, mildew, and floods which, in turn, lead to serious structural issues for the whole home as a whole. Still, you can avoid and prevent these damages before they occur with professional help.

Types of Basements

The following are some of the most common types of basements:

1. Cellars

Homeowners use cellars mostly for storage. They lie under a small portion of the home. In most cases, you’ll find food and drinks like wine and craft beer under there. Cellars have plenty of room for you to stand up in, which makes them easily accessible, unlike crawl spaces. The height also gives you an option to renovate them into a living space. And if you feel like it, you can expand these basements to cover the whole space under your home.

2. Daylight Basements

Not all basements are fully underground, as we’ve said. Daylight ones are half under and half above the ground, meaning you can have windows in the latter part. This is great because it allows sunlight to come in and make your basement perfect as a living space. Just like cellars, you can expand them to cover the whole area of your home.

3. Walkout Basements

Most basements will have stairs that allow you to walk into them from inside your home. However, walkout basements have doors to your yard. This is, of course, if they’re partially underground. They’re similar to daylight basements as they usually have windows. They’re also suitable for living space renovation.

4. Sub-Basements

In some cases, homeowners can have units under walkout or daylight basements. These subbasements are completely below the ground with no doors or windows. They simply have stairs that allow you to come into them from above.

Basement Construction Materials

You can build a basement using all sorts of materials. Here are some of them:

  • Masonry block wall basements: There are numerous homes across the country that have masonry block wall basements. With joints where concrete blocks intertwine, these types are, unfortunately, prone to water-related damage. Still, with professional help, you can prevent floods from happening. You can do this by installing waterproofing elements in them.
  • Precast panel basements: These basements are pretty budget friendly. This makes them a perfect choice for anyone who’s looking to save some money for other areas of their home. Construction crews build them off-site and lift them into place with a crane. They’re usually made from high-strength, low-water concrete that helps prevent water-related damage.
  • Basements with poured concrete walls: Aside from the previous two types, poured concrete wall basements are the most popular in America. By pouring concrete into wooden forms, construction crews build them in no time. The curing process takes longer than the construction. These basements are great against fires, and they allow for the construction of heavy walls above them.

Benefits and Disadvantages of Having a Basement

The pros:

  • Basements allow for extra space. As such, they maximize the square footage of your home.
  • These home units are easily convertible. Moreover, you don’t need to be a civil engineer to turn them into a new living space, a hobby room, or a place for your guests to sleep. To do however, need to be up to code.
  • Homes with basements have a higher retail value. So, if you’re looking to sell, you’ll be better off if you have some type of substructure.
  • During a heatwave, you can always find cool comfort underground in your basement.
  • A proper basement can offer you safety during a storm or some other dangerous situation.

The cons:

  • Unfortunately, even the cheapest of basements require deeper foundations, which can be costly.
  • Another problem is that basements are perfect for mold and mildew. Since they’re underground, they’re damp and humid.
  • Floods are a common problem many basements face. Without proper drainage and waterproofing, your home will be a sitting duck for excess water and damage that comes with it.

Common Basement Problems

stair-step basement wall crack

1. Basement Wall Cracking, Bowing, and Shearing

Basement wall cracks are the first sign that your basement has a major structural problem. Depending on the type of materials of your basement walls, you might see cracks running horizontally, vertically, or in a stair-step pattern (most common with block foundation walls.

If cracks are left unaddressed, you might see that basement walls are starting to bow inward. This usually happens when the wall is being pushed in by the surrounding soil and hydrostatic pressure, coming to a compromised angle in the middle of the wall along a larger-than-average crack. Shearing is a similar phenomenon when the wall is pushed in from either the top or bottom as the wall comes unhinged from it’s connection to the first floor above it or the basement floor below it.

water puddles in basement

2. Leaking

Once a crack forms, water gets into your basement. If the crack is large enough, you might see pools of water or even a decent-sized flood on the floor. If it’s small, even undetectably small, you might just notice that higher humidity and some musty smells.

basement black mold in corner near floor

3. Mold

Water and a cool, dark environment are all mold need to survive. Once water gets into your basement, mold and mildew (not be confused for efflorescence) are sure to follow.

Once mold forms in your home, your air quality will drastically deteriorate, causing allergic reactions and even much more serious health issues if exposed for longer periods.

What Is Basement Repair/Waterproofing?

Basement repair and waterproofing is the process of reinforcing your basement walls against cracking, leaking, and mold growth. Once the structure of the basement is secured, waterproofing measure can be installed to mitigate moisture issues and send water away from your foundation. When conducted by a professional, basement repair and waterproofing can permanently protect your basement (and the rest of your home) from the consequences of damage.

Waterproofing your basement is key if you want to keep it safe and secure. This is now pretty much a standard across the country. Since lots of families use their basements as a space for workouts, guest rooms, and hobbies, it’s important to keep them dry. 

Seeing Issues in Your Basement? Get Help Today!

If you’re looking to make your basement and home safer and more comfortable, you can always contact professionals at FSM. Our team provides services to residents in Grand Rapids, Traverse City, the Detroit area, and throughout Michigan. With our help, you have a waterproof basement in no time. Schedule a free estimate today and be proactive by acting before any water-related problems arise.

Basement FAQs

Yes, addressing moisture issues as soon as possible prevents further damage, mold growth, and potential structural issues.

Rainwater can increase hydrostatic pressure on basement walls and floors, seeping through existing cracks or imperfections.

Look for a company with certified professionals, good reviews, a solid track record, transparency in pricing, and warranties on their work. Always ask for references and verify their credentials.

Leah Leitow

Leah Leitow

Content Writer

Leah is a Content Writer for Groundworks with nearly ten years of experience working in the foundation repair industry. Her experience ranges from working with homeowners to find the right solution to training inspectors and staff. In her background as a Michigan journalist, she gained invaluable insight into people's lives throughout our state. Leah lives in metro Detroit with her husband and two sons.

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