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What Is a Walkout Basement? (2024 Guide)

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Default Author Icon Written by Angela Bunt Updated 04/01/2024

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

We’ll discuss 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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What Are the Property Requirements for a Walkout Basement?

The site where you want your walkout basement should meet a few basic requirements:

  • Lot slope: Contractors typically build walkout basements on a sloped lot to allow for a walkout and ensure proper drainage away from the foundation. You can create the necessary slope through excavation, adding to the project’s total cost.
  • Drainage: Good drainage systems are essential to prevent water from pooling around the basement, even with a sloped lot. These systems include the right gutters and proper grading.
  • Soil composition: The type of soil on your lot matters. Dense, clay-heavy soil can be more difficult and expensive to excavate than loose, well-draining soil.
  • Orientation: Consider which direction the walkout door will face, as this influences the amount of natural light that enters the space.
  • Foundation strength: Your home’s foundation must be strong enough to support the additional weight of the basement.
  • Egress: Each jurisdiction has its own egress requirements. In standard basements, homeowners usually accomplish this with an egress window. A walkout door also fits the bill if it’s the proper size.
  • Zoning and setback: Be aware of local zoning regulations and property setback requirements. These may dictate how close to property lines you can build and can limit the space’s usability.

Consult with a builder, architect, or engineer to assess the site’s suitability. The right contractor can guide you through the design and permitting process while ensuring your project complies with all local building codes.

Check out the video below for more information about selecting and working with a contractor. General contractor Tom Silva and other experts discuss factors that affect the project cost and timeline to demystify the process:

What Are the Benefits of a Walkout Basement?

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 help you sell your home more quickly—or at a higher price—if you decide to put it on the market.

Natural Light

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. This lighting creates a bright, welcoming atmosphere perfect for a home gym or art studio. Keeping an open floor plan in your walkout basement is also a smart way to utilize natural light.

Additional Living Space

Turning your walkout basement into a finished basement is an easy way to expand your home’s square footage. A walkout basement can be a cozy family room, a private in-law suite with its own bedroom and bathroom, or a dedicated home office. Get creative with your basement designs to 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 than building an addition. 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 can turn it into a living space that’s fully independent from the main level. It can be a long-term or vacation rental and help you earn extra income.

Outdoor Accessibility

Walkout basements eliminate the hassle of navigating narrow stairways and doorways with bulky items. French or sliding glass doors allow for easy movement of furniture, sports equipment, gardening tools, or anything else you need to bring in or out.

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.

What Are the Disadvantages of a Walkout Basement?

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

Construction Costs

Building a walkout basement is generally more expensive than a traditional basement. It requires excavation (if your lot isn’t sloped), additional foundation work, windows, doors, and potential utility modifications. Adding an existing basement entrance can require excavation, retaining walls, and foundation reinforcement.

Increased Property Taxes

A home with a walkout basement typically has higher property taxes than a home without one. Property tax also depends on whether you have a finished basement. 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.

Moisture Considerations

Proper drainage and waterproofing are crucial for walkout basements. 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.

Any of these features will require additional time and money to construct your walkout basement properly. However, neglecting these aspects can lead to water intrusion, mold growth, and structural damage.

Temperature Control

Walkout basements can be more challenging to heat and cool. 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. PP, double-glazed windows, and supplemental heating systems may be necessary to maintain a comfortable temperature, adding to the cost and construction time. Keep in mind that these upgrades will take extra time and money.

If a walkout basement isn’t feasible on your property, here are a few alternatives that allow you to expand your home’s living space.

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 square footage.

This type of basement differs from an underground crawl space in that you should be able to stand upright 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 brightness boost makes it easier to create a finished living area that feels inviting. You can potentially turn a daylight basement into a bedroom or a small guest apartment.

A basement window is great for lighting but 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 up to ground level. There’s typically no interior access to the home’s main level, keeping a distinct level of separation between the two living spaces. This separation is an ideal setup if you want to turn your basement into a private rental unit, guest room, or in-law suite.

A walk-up basement provides extra safety in case of fire, thanks to the exterior exit, compared to a closed basement. However, access is not as convenient as a walkout basement.

How Can You Use a Walkout Basement?

Walkout basements are incredibly versatile because of their natural light and easy outdoor access. Here are some exciting ways to take advantage of this space:

  • Family/Second living room: Create a comfy space for relaxation, movie nights, and entertaining.
  • Home office: Carve out a dedicated workspace away from the distractions of your main living areas.
  • Guest suite: Set up a bedroom, bathroom, and small kitchenette for family or friends to use when they visit
  • Playroom: Use your walkout basement for kids’ toys and activities.
  • Apartment: Create a fully independent apartment with a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom(s), and separate entrance for long-term rental income.
  • In-law suite: Design a separate living space where extended family members can enjoy privacy and independence while being close.
  • Vacation rental: List your walkout basement as a short-term rental on platforms like Airbnb, especially if you live in a desirable tourist area.
  • Workshop: If you are passionate about woodworking, crafts, or DIY projects, set up a spacious and well-organized workshop.
  • Music room: Dedicate your walkout basement to music practice or jam sessions, potentially with some sound dampening if needed.
  • Art studio: Use the ample space and natural light for painting, sculpting, or other artistic endeavors.
  • Mudroom: Set up a landing area by the walkout door to organize coats, shoes, and outdoor gear before entering the main house.
  • Storage: Even if you don’t fully finish your walkout basement, it can serve as a valuable storage space for seasonal items.
  • Home theater: Create a dedicated media room with a big screen and surround sound for the ultimate movie-watching experience.

Note that local building codes and zoning laws may impact how you utilize your walkout basement, especially regarding rental units. Always consult with the relevant authorities before major renovations.

How Much Does It Cost to Construct 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 around $20,000,* with most homeowners paying between $5,000–$35,000.

Just adding a basement door can cost $2,500–$10,000. Adding a walkout basement involves:

  • Excavating to expose at least one foundation wall
  • Cutting into and reinforcing the foundation wall
  • Building retaining walls around the excavated area
  • Framing and installing the new basement door

If you’re planning a new construction home, you should factor in the cost of a basement foundation, which can range anywhere from $20–$37 per square foot. For a finished basement, you’ll pay another $20–$120 per square foot—plus the cost of installing a walkout basement door.

*Cost data in this article sourced from contractor estimates used by Angi and 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 an additional story because it has a separate entrance and basement windows. However, it must be 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 design is where you’ll find a door and sometimes windows. The other side of the basement is underground.

Does a basement count as a living space?

A finished basement counts as a living space when it includes 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 sale price if you want to get home equity financing or sell the property.

Can a walkout basement be built in any soil?

No, you can’t build a walkout basement in any soil—especially if you live in an area with a high water table near a wetland, swamp, or coastline. Clay soil can cause foundation problems as it expands and contracts, while shallow soil with bedrock just beneath makes excavation difficult and expensive.

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