How to Build a Basement

Even if you're not interested in learning how to build a basement yourself, the knowledge can still come in handy when it comes time to deal with contractors. A basement serves as the foundation for your home, so it is crucial that the job be down correctly.

How To Build A Basement That Lasts

A basement can provide plenty of extra space at only an incremental cost over a traditional foundation or slab. On an appropriately sloped lot, a basement can even have full-sized windows and doors on one or more sides. Although you may not want to tackle the entire job yourself, the following overview will help you get started:

  • Check first. You'll need to contact your local building inspector to find out what permits and inspections are required to build a basement in your area. You may also need to consult an engineer to find out if the water table is low enough to allow for this type of construction. Although it is possible to build a basement in a high water table area, the costs will be significantly higher.
  • Basement types. Although a vast majority of basements are built with concrete, there are a number of methods for creating a basement. Concrete block, poured concrete and pre-cast basement panels are the most common methods for basement construction.
  • Blockhead. Concrete block walls are built using pre-cast blocks that resemble oversized bricks. Although concrete block construction is least expensive, it is the most prone to future leaking due to the numerous joints and seams.
  • Solid construction. Poured concrete basements are constructed using forms, which are then filled with solid concrete. A poured concrete basement has superior water and fire resistance, but cost significantly more than concrete block construction.
  • A modular approach. Pre-cast basement panels are poured from concrete, transported to the site and lifted into place by crane. Pre-cast basement panels are built with insulation, wiring channels and concrete studs already in place, making basement finishing simple and cost effective. Although pre-cast panels are the most expensive building method, they have the best insulation and can be installed in just a few days.
  • A hole in the ground. Once you've decided on a basement type, you'll need to excavate the area where you'll be building. Earthmoving equipment can make short work of this job, but be sure the hole is deep enough to account for the footing, foundation and wall height of the basement you've designed.
  • Starting firm. Regardless of the type of basement you'll be building, you'll need to have a floor slab poured. This slab should be thick enough to withstand the weight of the walls and the finished house and should rest on a well-drained bed of gravel or crushed stone. For a concrete block basement, be sure to include reinforcement bar around the perimeter of the foundation to give the block an anchor point.
  • Water hazard. The area around your basement will have to be treated and graded to direct ground water away from the walls. Typically, this involves perforated plastic pipe and gravel trenches to direct ground water and runoff away from the basement.
  • Topping it off. Once the walls of your basement are in place, they'll need to be covered with a system that will allow your home's walls to be securely attached. For wood-frame homes, this means a sill-masonry homes will require metal ties to anchor bricks. The top of your basement walls should also have a sill for the first floor joists to rest on.
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