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What Are the Different Options for Basement Access?

Gregory Hanson
Gregory Hanson

In the past, basements were often afterthoughts in home design, with limited entry points that restricted their use. However, as the American Society of Home Inspectors reports, modern advancements have transformed basements into valuable living spaces, with 30% of new homes featuring finished basements. Today, homeowners can enhance basement access in older homes through the installation of interior hatch and stairway systems, which not only improve entry but also expand functional space. Egress windows and external staircases are increasingly popular features. Walk-out basements, which merge indoor comfort with outdoor accessibility, are particularly sought after, offering a seamless transition to nature and inviting an abundance of natural light.

Many older homes had access to the basement only through exterior cellar doors or sometimes through floor hatches located within the home. Interior stairways can easily be added to older homes, allowing more convenient access to these basement spaces. Even if these older basements are left unfinished, this allows easy access to utility panels and systems, which can be a very desirable feature, particularly for homes located in colder climates.

Walkout basements have doors that open directly into a yard.
Walkout basements have doors that open directly into a yard.

Egress windows offer secondary access to modern basements. Such windows are large enough to serve as a door and is mounted below grade, inside an oversized window well containing an escape ladder. Although not intended as primary points of basement access, egress windows allow basements to be used as living and sleeping space by offering an additional exit point in case of fire.

Adding an interior stairway can increase basement access.
Adding an interior stairway can increase basement access.

External basement staircases can be added to either new or existing basements. They consist of a staircase, sometimes made of poured concrete and sometimes of wood or metal, located on the outside of a home and descending to the level of a door located at floor level in the basement. This is a general-purpose type of access and can be particularly handy when a basement serves as a workshop or mud room.

Egress windows are not meant as a primary access point to a basement, but can be used when necessary.
Egress windows are not meant as a primary access point to a basement, but can be used when necessary.

Walk-out basements, sometimes referred to as daylight basements, offer the most direct access to a basement space and are frequently finished and used as general living space. A home with a daylight basement is built into sloping earth so that only one side of the foundation is completely below grade. The grade on the opposite side is set at floor level for the basement. The daylight side of the basement is often constructed as a framed wall rather than a poured foundation. Ordinary patio or entrance doors are then installed to provide access.

New or existing basements can make use of external stairs.
New or existing basements can make use of external stairs.

In some cases, a home might be built with a partially exposed basement. This allows basement spaces to have large windows, making them suitable for living space. This type of basement offers emergency access through windows but generally relies on sunken exterior stairwells for direct access.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most common type of basement access?

Basements may be utilized as a mud room.
Basements may be utilized as a mud room.

The most common type of basement access is through a door located at ground level. This may be a bulkhead door dug into the ground outside the house or an outside door carved into the side of a basement wall. It eliminates the need for using stairs or a ladder whenever you need to enter or leave the basement.

Are there any other ways to access a basement?

Yes, there are several other ways to access a basement. An interior staircase is a popular option that provides access to the basement without having to go outside. A hatch or trap door in the floor of the main level can also provide access to the basement. There may be an emergency exit window in the basement wall of some houses.

Are there any safety considerations when installing basement access?

Yes, safety is an important consideration when installing basement access. A deadbolt lock and solid construction are necessities for any door that will be installed on the bottom floor. A sturdy handrail should also be installed on any indoor stairway, and all windows should have locks installed for security reasons.

What are the benefits of installing a bulkhead door for basement access?

Accessing the basement without leaving the house is made simple by installing a bulkhead door. It's usually made out of steel or aluminum and can have a locking mechanism built into the design for safety purposes. The basement can be kept dry and draft-free by installing weather-stripping on the bulkhead doors.

Can I install a bulkhead door in an existing basement?

Yes, it is possible to install a bulkhead door in an existing basement. However, due to the complexity of the required structural adjustments, this type of installation should be left to a licensed and specialized contractor. Any alterations should also be checked for code compliance before being implemented.

Discussion Comments


My deceased grandmother and grandfather's house was built close to 100 years ago. As kids, we visited them about once a year. Their basement was completely underground, like a lot of basement built in those days.

There was one dark bedroom where we slept on the visit. The rest of the basement was just a storage area. Even though it was dark and creepy, we liked to go exploring - we discovered a lot of very interesting things. The stairs were so narrow and steep, it was almost like going up and down a ladder.


I've lived in several houses with basements. One was a daylight basement that had windows on two sides and a completely wide open door to the outside, but very steep steps from upstairs. The part that was above ground, where I had a bedroom was light and cheery. But the part that was underground was extremely dark and damp. And it had all these spiders lurking in the corners - yuk!

For one summer during college, I lived in my grandmother's basement. This basement had a nice entrance from the outside; that way I could come and go easily, without bothering my grandparents. It had two big windows on two sides of the corner bedroom. It was quite pleasant.

My cousin's house was daylight on only one side, with no outside entrance. On the three sides that were underground, there were window wells. We kids had the best time playing in those wells. They were a great place for hide and seek and numerous imaginative games. But this all came to an end when one of my cousins jumped into a window well and his feet went straight through the glass window.


Having a sliding glass door that opens to the outside in a basement can be very convenient, and bring in more sunlight, but it also can be more dangerous. If you have an easily accessible sliding glass door, you should also invest in an alarm system. I know there is no way to burglarproof a home, but I would at least take all the possible safety measures you can.

Also, easy access to your basement from the outside can be dangerous if you have children still living at home. Small children could go out the door and wonder out of you yard, if there is not a high, locked fence. Older children could sneak in and out of the basement, and doing God knows what while they are away from you.

I think alarm systems are good so that you will know when someone is coming in and out of your house. Also, just having the stickers and signs from an alarm protection company would be better than nothing, at least it may scare off some people trying to break in.


I personally enjoy the kinds of basements that are built into the side of a hill. The reason is simple. A basement can be very depressing because it can have very little access to sunlight.

However, by building a home with a basement that is only partially underground, you can completely get past this problem.

Although I don’t have a basement right now, I’ve always dreamed of having one. (I used to have a cellar in my old home, but that really isn’t the same.)

Not only can one that is partially exposed allow for sunlight to come into typical workspaces through windows, but you could actually completely renovate it to be a living area.

Potentially, this could actually double the usable square footage of a home! That’s good for my family, and really good for my wallet if I ever decide to sell!


As children, my sisters and I loved to hang out in our partially exposed basement and watch the snow fall through the short windows. We got a lot of snowfall up in New York, and we would pretend to panic as the snow built up and soon covered the windows completely.

I had been in dank, scary basements before, and I hated the kind without windows. I loved feeling protected underground in our basement, because I could look up and see that I wasn’t entirely cut off from the world.

We have since brought our children to that same basement and showed them our fun tradition. I think they love it as much as we did.


I lived in my parents’ basement during college. This gave me privacy and the ability to come and go late or early without disturbing them.

Before they would let me live down there, they had to have an egress window installed. Since I was paying rent, they said that I needed to have my own separate exit.

It worked out great. They didn’t check up on me too much, and I didn’t worry about waking them up when I got home late.

Of course, I could get to the basement through the interior stairway of the house if I wanted. I only used the egress window when I didn’t feel like socializing.


When I was planning my new home, I knew that I wanted a basement. I didn’t want any part of it exposed to the elements, because I planned to use it for shelter from storms. So, a walk-out basement was out of the question.

I ended up going with an interior staircase and a roof hatch. This way, I could get down there quickly and easily, but I could shut it off from the rest of the house and not risk getting sucked out by a tornado if the house should blow away.

It may be kind of an antique design, but to me, it is the best option. I like feeling secure down there, and the only way to do that is to have it totally sealed off.


@Sara007 - You might consider installing an alarm system in your basement. That way, if anyone tries to break in, they will likely be scared off by the loud beeping. Also, it will alert you so that you can escape from your house out the front door.

I have a daylight basement, and this makes it vulnerable to break-ins. I didn’t want to take any chances, so I got a security system for the whole house, basement included.

The company put stickers on all the doors that states that the home is protected by their security system. I think this does well to deter robbers from entering the basement. Just knowing that we will be alerted to their presence is enough to keep some thieves from trying anything.


Does anyone know if steel basement doors are the best idea when it comes to security?

In our home we have a walk-out basement and think that our home isn't safe enough. We've had some problems in our neighborhood with robberies and would like to make sure that our basement access door from the outside is just as secure as the rest of our doors.

We currently have a heavy wooden door that has been there forever, and though it has a secure deadbolt we're not sure if we should go the extra mile or not.


We actually put in some modern basement access doors to give us a better entrance to the area under our house. While it was originally unfinished, and had a somewhat rickety exterior door, it now has a solid security door with lights to showcase the area that has been converted into a wine celler for the family.

If you look on line you can find free wine cellar designs which you can use to renovate your partial basement, if it isn't good for much else.

We also added a pantry area which we use to store root vegetables and anything else that needs to be kept cold. Because the partial basement isn't insulated it keeps things really cold, even in the summer.


My house has kind of an unusual set up. There is a room below the ground that I guess qualifies as the basement but it is pretty small, much smaller than the perimeter of the house.

It is only accessible from an outside door and we really don't use it that much. It is mostly filled with stuff that we haven't gotten around to throwing away.

I have been thinking a lot about turning it into a wine cellar. I love wine and heave a pretty substantial collection but have never had a good place to store it all.

I think that for pretty cheap I can convert the space. But I would also like to build an interior stairway to the basement to make it easier to get to. This is what I'm worried about. How much would a project like this cost? If it is too much I might have to scrap the idea.


I live in an old farmhouse and the only way to access the basement is to open a set of laying down doors on the side of the house. The basement has a dirt floor and is pretty dingy so we don't use it for much.

I can remember that my grandparents house had a similar set up and as a little kid I was always so scared of what was down in the basement. me and my brother wouldn't even get close to the doors that led down there. In fact it was only after my grandparents had passed and we were cleaning out their house that I finally went down there. As an adult it wasn't that scary


@Mykol - We have a walk-out basement that our family uses all the time. This is especially nice once the kids are older.

We have a family room down there where they like to hang out, and they often enter and exit through the basement.

One whole side of the basement has big windows, so you don't really feel like you are in a basement when you are down there.

Having a finished basement like that is almost like having a separate living space. When we have company, they always stay in an extra room down there.

Since there is a bathroom and mini kitchen, they have everything they need and a lot of privacy as well.


I have often wondered if people who have a walk- out basement, use their basement more often than those who don't.

Our basement is very nice, and is completely finished, but it is not a walk-out. There are windows so you can see outside, and all of them are egress windows that are easy to open and close.

My problem is I just love spaces that have lots of light and are warm. Every time I go down to the basement I feel like I am entering a dark, cold place, so hardly spend any time down there at all.

I often think if I had a walk-out basement with large basement access doors that led outside, I would use my basement more often. I think if I had windows that were ground level, instead of looking up, I wouldn't feel so much like I was underground.


We have a large basement that you can access from an outside door, and from a staircase inside the house.

The main way we go in and out of our house is through the basement door as it leads directly to the garage. This also helps cuts down on all the clutter by the main entrance of the house.

Our basement is partially finished with 3 bedrooms. We cannot officially count these rooms as bedrooms because they do not have egress windows in them.

All rooms have windows in them, but it would be harder to escape through these windows in case of a fire.

Our basement insulation is made of styrofoam, and the temperature stays pretty constant down there all year long. It's cool in the summer but not too cold during the winter months.

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    • Walkout basements have doors that open directly into a yard.
      By: Kristen Wheatley
      Walkout basements have doors that open directly into a yard.
    • Adding an interior stairway can increase basement access.
      By: Elenathewise
      Adding an interior stairway can increase basement access.
    • Egress windows are not meant as a primary access point to a basement, but can be used when necessary.
      By: HomeSpot HQ
      Egress windows are not meant as a primary access point to a basement, but can be used when necessary.
    • New or existing basements can make use of external stairs.
      By: vbress
      New or existing basements can make use of external stairs.
    • Basements may be utilized as a mud room.
      By: Unskinny Boppy
      Basements may be utilized as a mud room.