When building a house, the first consideration is your basement. After all, a house without a solid foundation isn’t much of a house. But when it comes to your basement, you have options besides four block walls and a load of backfill. Lots of homeowners prefer a walkout basement. But what is a walkout basement?
A walkout basement is the basement of a house that features at least one wall entirely above grade. This allows homeowners to put a door in their foundation wall, allowing them access directly to the basement.
The advantages of a walkout basement are clear: easier access to the basement, more natural light, and the potential to add a basement apartment or in-law suite. But there are also cons, and we’ll also look at the cost of building a walkout basement versus a traditional basement in this article.
Contents (Jump to Topic)
- What is a Walkout Basement?
- Advantages of a Walkout Basement
- Disadvantages of Walkout Basement
- Walkout Basement vs Regular Basement
- What Is a Daylight Basement?
- Daylight Basement vs Walkout Basement
- What Is a Walk-up Basement?
- Can Any House Have a Walkout Basement?
- Does a Walkout Basement Count as Square Footage?
- How Much Value Does a Walkout Basement Add?
- How Much Does a Walkout Basement Cost?
What is a Walkout Basement?
A walkout basement allows someone to literally “walk out” of a basement. That means that some part of one or more basement walls is completely above grade. A walkout basement may be part of the original plan for the house or added after the fact.
Walkout basements are most commonly found where the property’s slope is great enough where one end of the structure sits completely above grade and the other end is mostly below. There are many other instances where a walkout basement is found, but a sloped yard is most common.
Homeowners can create a walkout basement as a renovation, although this is typically a very large undertaking, not to mention costly. Creating a walkout basement in an existing house is also only practical for a house on a slope. It doesn’t work as much for homes below grade, which would require a dug-out stairwell to “walk out”.
Advantages of a Walkout Basement
There are numerous advantages to having a walkout basement, with the main benefit being the increase in livable space. While a basement can also have liveable space, many people prefer a walkout because it makes at least part of a basement feel like the rest of the house due to increased light. Other benefits include:
- Increased natural light
- Option for Basement Apartment or Office
- Potential to Add a Space for Extra Income
- Increased Home Value
- More Desirable Living Area
- Additional Emergency Escapes
- Access to Basement for Moving Items In and Out
1. Increased Natural Light
The primary benefit of a walkout basement is the improved amount of light within the basement. A walkout allows for a door, but also added windows. The addition of added light allows for at least some of the basement to resemble the floors above in terms of light.
Depending on the layout of the house, a walkout basement may include more than one wall. In that case, there is the option for windows on multiple basement walls. Regardless of the windows, the basement must have a door to be considered a walkout basement. Many homeowners opt for a sliding glass door to increase the amount of light.
2. Option For Basement Apartment, Office, or In-Law Suite
A walkout basement allows for a separate entrance to your house. Having an alternate entrance to your home in your basement creates the possibility of having a basement apartment where people can come or go without having to exit and enter the main entrance.
If you have elderly parents, a walkout basement is a great option for an in-law suite. Similarly, you can have a basement apartment if you have a kitchen and bathroom. The walkout area can also make an excellent office, allowing you to work from home, coming and going as if you were at work.
3. Earn Extra Income with a Walkout Basement
With the addition of a walkout basement, the opportunity to have a basement apartment becomes an option. Of course, some municipalities will allow basement apartments in homes that do not have a walkout basement, but a walkout basement makes a basement apartment much for desirable.
Therefore, you would be able to charge more rent for a basement walkout apartment. The added benefit of a walkout apartment is that you could have a tenant without sharing a similar entrance.
4. Increased Home Value
A walkout basement increases the value of your home in several ways. While a walkout basement does not technically increase the square footage of your home, it does up the value when you sell it. A realtor will include the overall square footage of the house. Additionally, they will indicate the additional “liveable” space in the basement.
Generally, a walkout basement is simply more desirable as it adds to the liveable space of your home. You benefit from transforming the walkout area into a variety of different spaces that you wouldn’t be able to with a traditional basement.
5. More Desirable Living Areas
The increase in home value coincides with your ability to customize the walkout basement to suit your needs. For instance, the basement area can become a primary living space, with the upstairs being primarily bedrooms and eating. The option of walking out to the backyard, whether it is to a pool or deck area, makes having a living area nearby attractive.
Alternatively, a walkout basement makes having bedrooms downstairs more viable, too. Downstairs bedrooms require egress of some kind, whether it is a window or door. A walkout basement provides ample opportunity to have multiple windows and doors, which allows you multiple options when deciding on your walkout basement living area.
6. Additional Emergency Escapes
When you have a walkout basement, the opportunity arises for additional entry and exits to your home. The added egress makes the basement more of a liveable space. Adding entries and exits gives you peace of mind when having children sleeping or playing in the basement in case of an emergency.
7. Increased Basement Access
An added benefit to having a walkout basement is having easy access to space for moving larger items into and out of the basement. For instance, if you want to move a refrigerator into the basement, it is much easier to do so through a door into the basement itself.
Disadvantages of Walkout Basement
While the advantages typically outweigh the cons of a walkout basement, there are disadvantages to having a walkout basement in certain instances. Let’s take a look.
1. Walkout Basements Can Be Expensive
Adding a walkout basement to a home extremely expensive if you are completing the construction as a renovation. It would involve excavating a significant amount of earth, then removing part of the home’s foundation wall to install a door, and more if you intend to add windows.
Additionally, many basement walkouts added to a home require significant earth grading, retaining walls, and added drainage to ensure the wall that has been excavated doesn’t leak into the walkout basement.
A walkout basement that is simply part of a new home build is not necessarily any more expensive than a full basement below grade. While there is the additional cost of a door and window on the side of the house, there is also less excavation.
2. Increased Property Taxes
Adding a walkout basement will increase your property taxes. Why? To add a walkout basement, you will need to get a permit from your municipality. When you do, the renovation will be noted with your municipal property tax assessors. The value of your home will increase, and so will your property tax.
Typically, when you get a building permit, it automatically activates a re-valuing of your home. The anticipated estimated value of the renovation is combined with your existing tax rate to determine your new, higher rate.
3. Potential for Leaks
A lesser-known but still common issue with basement walkouts can be leaks around the basement footing where the walkout exists. Part of the reason this can occur is if the ground is not graded enough away from the walkout. Water or melting snow can pool at the foot of the walkout, causing leaks.
This is most common in walkouts that are not sloped significantly, meaning the walkout basement was excavated significantly, and retaining walls exist on either side of the walkout wall. In these cases, moisture can pool in the area of the walkout. An exterior drain near the walkout entrance is often a solution to these issues.
4. Still Considered a Basement
Unfortunately, a walkout basement is still just that – a basement. It does not add to the total square footage of the house. A realtor cannot claim your house is 2000 square feet if your top floor is 1500 square feet and walkout basement area 500. Instead, it would be a 1500 square foot home with 500 square feet of basement living space.
Similarly, your municipality will not officially increase the square footage of your home. However, you will still see an increase in your property taxes if you add a walkout as a renovation.
Walkout Basement vs Regular Basement
A walkout basement features at least one basement wall that is above grade. A walkout basement wall will typically be framed instead of a concrete block or poured concrete. This allows for better aesthetics, as you can side your walkout basement wall the same as you would the rest of the house. It also makes it easier to add doors and windows.
A typical basement is completely below grade without exterior egress via a door. A standard basement can have windows or even a door, but the door would be in a door-well with stairs leading up to above grade. You would not be able to “walk out” on grade.
Walkouts will have, at minimum, a door that can allow the homeowner to walk out to ground level. Windows are not required in a walkout basement but are commonly found in a walkout basement. Walkouts can be up to three walls of a basement, with some walls partially exposed above grade.
What Is a Daylight Basement?
A daylight basement has more light and is typically partially above grade than a standard basement. Daylight basements do not have a walkout door but rather larger windows that make it seem like more “daylight” in the basement.
Where a standard basement may be 5’ or so below grade, a daylight basement may only be 4’ or less. This allows for larger windows. A daylight basement is highly dependent on geography, as more northern homes require deeper basements in many cases to account for frost heaving.
Daylight Basement vs Walkout Basement
A walkout basement and daylight basement are not the same. A walkout basement will have a door leading to the outside on the same grade as the footing. A daylight basement may be partially below grade, but no one wall is completely above grade. Daylight basements have full-sized windows to allow more light in.
A daylight basement may have a door; however, it would not be on grade and would have some sort of stairwell allowing the homeowner to walk up to ground level.
Daylight basements are meant to be sort of a middle ground between full basements and walkout basements. Part of a daylight basement may be more below grade than another part, allowing one part of the basement to have full-sized windows.
What Is a Walk-up Basement?
A walk-up basement is a basement with all walls below grade and an exterior entrance via a set of stairs leading up to ground level from the door in the basement.
Walk-up basements differ from walk-out basements in that none of the basement walls are on grade – all the walls are still below grade like a traditional basement. However, you can still “walk up” to the house and enter the basement, but you’ll be going down a flight of exterior stairs to access the walk-up basement door.
Can Any House Have a Walkout Basement?
No – it depends on the grade of your property. If your house is on a slope, then yes. But for homes on level ground that have basements at least 5’ or more below grade, then it does not make sense because you couldn’t “walk out” anywhere – you would have to walk out, then up the stairs to get to ground level.
Homes not on a sloped lot could perhaps excavate to the extent that would allow for a walkout. That would require a tremendous amount of earth removal and hauling away, in most cases, and be extremely expensive. If there is no slope nearby, then a walkout basement is not possible in any circumstance.
How Much Slope is Required for a Walkout Basement?
With traditional 8’ foundation walls, a slope of at least 7’ from the long end of the house to the other is ideal for drainage and wouldn’t require retaining walls. The slope between 3’ and 6’ is fine, too, as the house can be raised on end with a higher grade.
Walkout basements in northern climates that experience frosts that penetrate many feet below ground level require more excavation for deeper footings. Therefore, walkout basement homes in those areas will cost more as the walkout part of the basement will need deeper footings.
Are Walkout Basements Safe?
Walkout basements are completely safe and commonly built by any home builder. While a walkout basement wall will not be concrete, they are framed to withstand loads of one or more floors above. A building engineer will not sign off on plans for a walkout basement renovation until the walls are designed properly.
In terms of your property, adding a walkout does add extra entry and exit. This could potentially be a security issue for your family, as it is another door to remember to lock or watch if you have small children.
Does a Walkout Basement Count as Square Footage?
No, a walkout basement does not count as the official square footage of your house. Square footage only accounts for liveable parts of your house, not in your basement. Realtors may add a walkout basement space to the total square footage in a real estate ad, but that wouldn’t be accurate according to any municipality.
Your local building department will tell you that square footage never includes any type of basement due to the wide-ranging variations in residential basements. Including only all above-grade floors provides a uniform measure stick for property value assessment.
How Much Value Does a Walkout Basement Add?
The value of the square footage of a walkout basement is 50-70% of the amount of the main level square footage. Your real estate market will determine the exact percentage, as well as the amount of the basement that is finished.
If you renovate your home to add a walkout basement, the value of the renovation will be added to your existing tax rate to determine your new tax rate. That, in turn, will give you an idea of the value of your house with the new renovation. In fact, you will see this new valuation on your annual property tax assessment.
Let’s say the median cost per square foot in your area is $150. If you have a 1000 square foot home, then your home is worth $150,000. This home also has a walkout basement with 500 square feet of liveable space. If that walkout space is valued at 50% of the upstairs square footage, then it is $75 per square foot. $75 x 500 square feet is $37,500.
That means that a walkout basement in this example adds nearly $40,000 in value to your home and brings that home value closer to $200,000. This is a drastic increase in price versus the same home without a walkout basement.
How Much Does a Walkout Basement Cost?
In terms of new construction, a walkout basement would only be marginally more expensive than a traditional basement, particularly if the home is already built on a slope. There would be additional charges for doors or windows added to the foundation walls and for a retaining wall if needed.
A walkout basement in northern climates would cost more on a new build because the foundation under the walkout portion would need to be deep enough to account for the frost line in that specific area. If you live in, say, Northern Michigan, you may have to excavate 6’ or more below the walkout, drastically increasing the price of the home.
Cost to Add a Walkout Basement to an Existing House
Adding a walkout basement to your house is expensive. If you already have a nearly exposed basement wall, with little excavation required, you could probably do a walkout basement for around $15,000. However, that would be the minimum cost. The price could potentially go higher than 6 figures for very large jobs.
If your home has very little grade but a slope exists nearby, you could potentially excavate out from the basement wall to the point where the slope occurs. This would require tons of earthmoving, which is costly.
Alternatively, if you wanted a walkout on multiple walls, this would require lots of excavation and removal of portions of the foundation wall to install doors and windows, plus more if you choose to cover the foundation walls with masonry or siding. A common price would be at least $50,000 or much more for a renovation of this magnitude.
A walkout basement is a fantastic way to get more liveable space out of your house. Existing homeowners, however, should be aware that integrating a walk-out into a house isn’t possible for every home. Only consider adding on a walkout if your home is already on a slope.
If you cannot add a walkout, consider adding more windows. If your basement is significantly below grade, windows can still be added as long as you add window wells on the outside.
Regardless of how your home is situated, there is always an option to make your basement more liveable. If you opt to add on a walkout basement, make sure to get several quotes and check references, as this renovation is a job that will change the entire character of your home – for the better!