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What Is a Walkout Basement? (2024 Guide)

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Author Icon By Angela Bunt Updated 01/14/2024

Walkout basements are partially underground and have at least one opening to a home’s exterior. Many homeowners use them as additional living spaces or separate living quarters because they provide natural light and separate home access. 

This article discusses the pros, cons, and considerations of creating a walkout basement to help you decide if it’s right for your home.

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Property Requirements for a Walkout Basement

The site where you want your walkout basement should meet some basic requirements. Contractors typically build walkout basements on a sloped lot. It’s possible for your builder to create the necessary outdoor space through excavation, but that can add to the project’s total cost.

Each local jurisdiction also has its own basement egress requirements. In standard basements, homeowners usually accomplish this with an egress window. In a walkout or even walk-up basement, the exterior door should fit the egress requirement as long as it’s the proper size. Finally, the home’s foundation must be strong enough to withstand the basement’s weight.

Walkout Basement Pros

Homeowners with walkout basement space enjoy many benefits that traditional basements don’t offer. These advantages help you make the most of your living area and can aid your home in selling quickly if you decide to put it on the market.

Natural Light

A walkout basement offers multiple opportunities to maximize natural light in a very dark home area. French doors and full-sized windows on exterior walls can transform your extra space into a “daylight” basement, meaning there is plenty of light to enjoy. Keeping an open floor plan in your walkout basement is also a smart way to utilize the natural light streaming in.

Additional Living Space

Turning your walkout basement into a finished basement is an easy way to max out your home’s square footage. A walkout basement can serve as a living room, in-law suite, or home office. Get creative with your basement designs so you can find the best use for your space in the short and long term.

Increased Home Value

A finished walkout basement can add significant value to your home. Unlike unfinished closed basements, a walkout basement usually counts as finished square footage, automatically increasing your property value. If you add any extra bedrooms in that space, it increases your home’s total bedroom count. Finishing a walkout basement can be a much more cost-effective way to expand your home’s living area without adding a costly addition to the exterior. Remember that you usually still need a permit when finishing walls and making other major basement changes.

Private Entrance

Having a separate entrance gives you more flexibility in your basement use. For instance, you could turn it into a separate living space from the main level. It could serve as a long-term or vacation rental and help you earn some extra income.

Outdoor Accessibility

Exterior access to your walkout basement allows you to bring things in and out without worrying about narrow staircases and doorways. This is especially true if you have sliding doors since you can maximize the width of items you want to store in your basement. Outdoor access is also a beneficial safety feature. In case of fire or other emergencies, you and your family can quickly exit without going upstairs, which may be unsafe.

Walkout Basement Cons

There are some financial and practical drawbacks to having a walkout basement. You should factor these in if you’re thinking about purchasing a home with a walkout basement or adding one to a new construction plan.

Increased Property Taxes

A home with a walkout basement typically has higher property taxes compared to a home without one. This also depends on how finished the area is. For instance, drywall and interior-grade basement floors will trigger a higher tax assessment if you need to pull a permit to complete the work. The permit process signals to your local tax assessor that they need to revalue your home. This could lead to a jump in property taxes.

Needs Drainage

Having a walkout basement requires ensuring the area has proper drainage. Usually, this entails having a drain near the entry to avoid water accumulation, plus a slope that continues to lead away from the door and the basement. Installing exterior drain tiles around the foundation can help divert groundwater from seeping inside, but it will mean additional time and money spent on properly constructing your walkout basement.

Requires Additional Steps for Temperature Control

Temperatures can be cold in a walkout basement. Not only does heat rise to the floors above (while cold air sinks), but being even partially below grade causes colder air to enter the space. To help control temperatures, opt for double-glazed doors and windows during construction. Also, take other insulation measures, including in the walls and floors. Keep in mind that these temperature control measures will take extra time and money.

There are alternative types of basements with their own set of pros and cons. Learn more about them in the sections below.

Traditional/Closed Basement

A closed basement is almost entirely underground and features an interior entrance from the level above. This lower level usually has the same footprint as the main floor and can be either finished or unfinished. However, a traditional basement doesn’t usually count toward your home’s overall square footage.

This type of basement differs from an underground crawl space in that you should be able to stand straight up with plenty of clearance above your head. Full basements typically require an egress window as a safety feature. They can be prone to dampness and flooding, so waterproofing steps may be necessary.

Daylight Basement

A daylight basement has at least one full-sized window that lets in natural light from the outside and can even bring in some fresh air. This type of basement makes it easier to create a finished living area that feels inviting thanks to its brightness boost. You could potentially turn a daylight basement into a bedroom or a small guest apartment. A basement window is great for the lighting, but it can cause colder temperatures. Go for the upgrade and get a double-glazed window that helps moderate temperatures, especially in colder climates.

Walk-Up Basement

A walk-up basement has an exterior exit, but it leads to stairs that take you outside instead of inside. This is an ideal setup if you want to turn your basement into a private living space. There’s typically no interior access to the home’s main level, keeping a distinct level of separation between the two living spaces. Compared to closed basements, a walk-up basement provides extra safety in case of fire, thanks to the exterior exit.

Cost of Constructing a Walkout Basement

Turning an existing basement into a walkout is a project that can improve your home’s living space and functionality. While estimates vary, the average walkout basement costs between $2,500 and $10,000.* The project involves:

  • Cutting into the foundation
  • Exterior excavation around the new entrance
  • Framing the door

If you’re planning a new construction home, you should factor in the cost of a traditional basement, which can range anywhere from $20–$120 per square foot. The higher end of that price range is for a finished basement. Add the walkout entranceway costs for a total estimate.

*Cost data via HomeAdvisor.

Our Conclusion

A walkout basement is an excellent addition to any home if you want to maximize lighting and fresh air in a finished family room. It’s also a good choice if you want to turn your basement into a separate living area for temporary guests, aging parents, or paying tenants. It’s important to ensure proper drainage and direct water away from the exterior door so you don’t have to worry about moisture damage or dampness inside. You should take extra measures to insulate your walkout basement so you can enjoy the space all year without getting too cold in winter.

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FAQ About Walkout Basements

Is a walkout basement considered an additional story?

A walkout basement is considered an additional story because it has a separate entrance and basement windows. It must be completely finished and designed as a living space to count as an extra story. A real estate agent or appraiser can help determine whether your walkout basement meets the typical standards.

What is a partial walkout basement?

A partial walkout basement is usually built into a hillside, with one exterior side. This is where you’ll find a door and sometimes windows. The other side of the basement is underground. A partial walkout basement could be a finished or unfinished living space used for storage or other practical purposes. This impacts whether it counts as a separate story from the rest of the home.

Does a basement count as a living space?

A basement counts as living space when finished (including walls and floors), has heating installed in some way, and has a door to access the outside. These details are important because they influence whether the basement counts as square footage. That number impacts your home’s value and potential sales price if you ever want to get home equity financing or sell the property.

Can a walkout basement be built in any soil?

You can’t build a walkout basement in any soil, and you especially can’t build one if you live in an area with a high water table near a wetland, swamp, or coastline. Clay soil is problematic because it easily expands and contracts throughout the year, causing foundation problems. Shallow soil with bedrock just beneath it can make excavation difficult, limiting your ability to build a basement (unless you’re willing to pay extra construction costs).

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