Although homes once featured only limited access to basement spaces, modern construction offers a variety of options for basement access. Interior hatch and stairway systems can be added to older homes to improve access and gain usable space. Egress windows and external staircases can also provide ways in and out and are especially useful when adding living space to the basement of an existing structure. Walk-out basements offer easy access to both outside spaces and sunlight.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.