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What is a Partial Basement?

By Susan Grindstaff
Updated May 16, 2024
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A basement is an excavated area underneath a dwelling. A full basement refers to a basement that has the same dimensions of width and length as the dwelling above it, while a partial basement is typically smaller. This type of basement usually refers to excavation that only extends to half the length or width of the above ground structure.

Some partial basements are entirely underground, while others are excavated as “daylight” basements. This is a popular type of basement excavation for home building because it allows for one or more sides of the basement to be partially or completely above ground. This type of basement can have windows to let in sunlight, and generally makes the basement area more adaptable. For instance, basements that are completely underground may not be as suitable for living areas or bedrooms, as most homeowners prefer windows in these types of spaces. A partial basement with windows, however, can often be converted into rooms that are indistinguishable from above-ground living areas.

Converting a partial basement into a living area may not be a viable option if the basement is not constructed of stone or concrete. Sometimes basements are earthen, which means the area beneath the structure has been excavated, but not enclosed or reinforced. This type of basement is the equivalent of a big dug out hole underneath the dwelling, and finishing this type of basement after the structure above it is already complete is usually a very costly undertaking.

Earthen partial basements are more often found in very old structures, before the use of poured concrete was common. This type of basement was often referred to as a root cellar. In those days, homeowners frequently used these areas as places to store their plants during winter months. In addition, the root cellar generally offered an ideal environment for the storage of vegetables such as potatoes, which require darkness for extended periods of storage.

Homes or other structures offering a full or partial basement are generally preferable for a variety of reasons. Not only can the basement be converted into living space, it can be also be used for storage or recreation. In addition, a basement can sometimes provide safety during severe storms. In areas where tornadoes are common, having a basement can sometimes be the difference between life and death. Basement excavation is an especially good idea for people planning to purchase a modular or mobile home, because they are not usually as structurally sound as other types of structures.

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Discussion Comments
By Tomislav — On Nov 23, 2011

If you live in a place where bad weather is a given, it seems like having a basement would be lifesaving and would also save your family a lot of worrying.

I grew up in a state where tornadoes were common, so it was nice and comforting to know that we had a partial basement to go to if we needed to. We got very lucky though, I don't think we ever had to use the partial basement as a place of shelter though, as tornadoes would hit surrounding counties instead of our county.

Growing up with three other siblings, the partial basement came in handy to give us a little more space, and probably gave our parents some sanity!

There wasn't a time that the partial basement wasn't used as something. First it was a family room/entertainment room and my parents put a piano and a television and their record player in their.

As we got older, we started using the partial basement as a room. I think I had it as my room the longest, and it was pretty nice, besides that it didn't have a door, and it had water bugs. I am a afraid of most bugs, so they frightened me.

Other than that, it was a nice, spacious room, which even had it's own bathroom. Having my own bathroom was awesome because before that I had to share one bathroom with three other siblings!

By Domido — On Nov 22, 2011

I stayed in a partial basement one summer during my college years, and I’ve got to tell you, I was not a fan.

That could be due to the setup of it, though, more than anything else. I’m not sure why the homeowners designed it like they did. They had built a garage on the side where all of the sunlight would come in (without any windows) and then a large bedroom and utility area on the interior sides.

I hated it because smells seemed to get trapped down there, and there was no way to get away from it. Add to that the lack of sunlight, and it was very depressing.

Perhaps it would have been better if the people had thought of a wiser way to use the spaces they had, but as it was, it was very uncomfortable. However, it was also very affordable, so at least I wasn’t homeless that summer!

By aLFredo — On Nov 22, 2011

Until reading this article, I would have thought given the choices between a full and partial basement that a full basement would be a no-brain-er, as it would have more space. Now that I have read this, it seems like a partial basement is the best investment.

Partial basement's seem to offer a good amount of space, while also providing a good amount of natural light. It seems like a partial basement would be more like an extra room for most homeowners.

Most full basements seems most likely only to be meant for storage and/or shelter, as most of them do not have windows and are stuffy, even musty, making them not only difficult to live in but also hazardous to one's health.

By wavy58 — On Nov 21, 2011

My grandparents have a partial basement, and I can’t stand it. I get claustrophobic, so it’s hard for me to go down there.

It is only half as tall as the rest of the rooms in the house, so I can barely stand up straight in it. My grandmother is short, so she doesn’t mind.

They store their canned fruit and vegetables in the basement. They also keep their Christmas decorations down there.

They know that I hate it, and I think they send me to retrieve things from it just to mess with me. I get in and out as quickly as possible, trying to avoid a panic attack.

By cloudel — On Nov 20, 2011

I loved the partial basement at my parents’ house when I was little. It was just big enough for me to use as a playroom.

I liked close spaces, because they made me feel more comfortable. I often hid in closets just to get that cozy feeling. The partial basement gave me this sense of security.

I filled it with big toys, like my kitchen set and dollhouse. They took up so much space that I didn’t have a lot of empty areas.

I think maybe I thought that if I didn’t fill up spaces, then ghosts or monsters might decide to dwell in them. I made sure none of those were allowed to live in the partial basement.

By Perdido — On Nov 20, 2011

@lighth0se33 - I also have a partial basement, but mine is all the way underground, and it has no windows. I don’t like not being able to see out, but I bought the home already built, and I don’t have the money to remodel it.

When I was younger, I was at a friend’s house during a tornado. We went to her basement, which also had no windows. The top two levels of her house were completely destroyed, and the rubble lay on top of the basement.

We could not see out. We couldn’t open the door to the next level, because it was blocked.

If the basement had any windows, we could have crawled out. Instead, we had to wait for help to arrive.

By wander — On Nov 19, 2011

One of the best basement remodeling ideas in my opinion is turning a partial basement into a recreation room. We have a living room upstairs, and den, so why not make the basement into something fun and functional?

We had a friend of ours draw up some simple finished basement floor plans and were able to get some good deals on labor, which made our dream of having a good recreation room come true.

We now have a home theater, pool table and our own small bar with seating area for our home. We love the fact that we have such a neat space dedicated to entertaining.

By lighth0se33 — On Nov 19, 2011

My partial basement is only partly exposed. The top twelve inches of it is above ground, and that is where I installed the windows.

I live in tornado alley, and as a child, I had always had an outdoor storm shelter. I hated having to run out through the hail and lightning to seek shelter, and I vowed that when I got my own house, I would have a basement.

I hide down there with my family on stormy days or nights. We have a television and a bed in the basement, so we can either keep track of the storms or rest peacefully with the knowledge that we are safe underground.

Once, a tornado did hit our neighborhood. Because we had a window, we were able to see the funnel cloud in the distance. It was fascinating to watch it without fear.

By letshearit — On Nov 18, 2011

When we purchased our home we made sure that the basement floor plans were available so that we would have a good idea of what to do for our basement remodeling plans. We invested in a fixer home so that we could afford more land and really have something to work on.

My wife loves to redecorate and I am rather handy, so the idea of being able to turn even a partial basement into an apartment seemed like a good income generating investment. We had watched a show where couples were getting their mortgages paid off just from their rental income. Be warned though, we learned the hard way that extending a partial basement and supplying the necessary exits for renters can be ridiculously expensive.

By golf07 — On Nov 18, 2011

@myharley - You are fortunate that you had that space to finish off. We live in an old house that has been remodeled very nicely, but the basement is a pretty scary place.

It does have concrete floors, but is a dark, damp, musty place that I try to avoid at all costs.

The lady who lived there previously kept all kinds of home canned goods down there, and it would be perfect for something like that.

Basements that were built for old homes like mine, were certainly for a different purpose than the nice, finished basements in many of the newer homes today.

I have a friend who needed some extra income, so she has her basement for rent. This works out perfectly for her, as there is a separate entrance and her renter has the whole finished basement for her living space.

By myharley — On Nov 17, 2011

As our kids got older and wanted more room and space of their own, our only option was to finish our partial basement.

At first the kids had a hard time imagining our unfinished basement being a place they wanted to spend any time.

The older girls were excited about having their own rooms though, so they started coming up with all kinds of basement decorating ideas.

Even though the partial basement was not a huge space, it was big enough to put a couple of small bedrooms and a small living area.

For us, this was the only way we could make extra room without a huge expense. I am glad the area was available and was not too hard to make into a nice living space.

By SarahSon — On Nov 16, 2011

@alisha - I have heard of people converting partial basements into a full basement, but have no idea how much something like this would cost.

I wonder if having an addition put on the outside of your home might be just as cost effective. That would all depend on if you had the room to do this or not.

When our family was growing, and we needed extra space, this is what we ended up doing. We figured in the long run, it would be better to have the extra space upstairs than to expand the basement.

We did look at different basement plans as well, but had the room to add on, so went that route instead. I really love having the extra space on the same level instead of going up and down stairs to the basement all the time.

By discographer — On Nov 16, 2011

Can a partial basement be made into a full basement?

We have a partial basement that we're using as a storage room right now. The house itself is not very big, so the partial basement is even smaller. We're going to have another baby in May and I'm thinking about expanding the partial basement into a full one and using it as a room.

How difficult do you think that would be? Will it cost us a lot?

I've heard people converting the crawl space in their houses into a partial or full basement. So I think if that could be done, a partial basement can be made into a full one as well, right?

By burcidi — On Nov 15, 2011

I've been hearing about how problematic it can be to renovate and remodel a basement.

I just purchased a beautiful home that was built around the 1930s. It has a partial basement which is not earthen thankfully, it has been enclosed but is missing any kind of strong material structure. It's basically all wood and no concrete.

I don't want to build a basement from scratch, so I think I might just reinforce what's already there with new walls and flooring. I think this is a better way to go about it, since breaking down what's there would put the foundation of the house at risk too.

The rest of the house is in pretty good condition, so hopefully it will be ready for us to move in once the partial basement is finished.

By ddljohn — On Nov 14, 2011

I also prefer partial basement designs which is partly above ground and which has windows. I think windows make a big difference, not only with sunlight but also with moisture.

Some of my friends have homes with basements that are fully underground and they are not able to use it as a room because of humidity and moisture. The humidity and lack of sunlight makes the growth of mold easier in these basements. And some people can develop allergies to mold.

I'm so happy that our home has a partial basement with plenty of sunlight. We use it as a living room and spend most of our time there when we don't have guests over. It would be a waste of space if we couldn't use the basement for anything other than storage.

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