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What is a Walk out Basement?

By Matthew F.
Updated May 16, 2024
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A walk out basement is an architectural feature of a house or town home that basically makes the basement space directly accessible from the outside. There are a lot of different names for this feature, and also many different variations. Most of the time, the space is attached to the main house through a stairwell, the same as most any basement would be; the biggest difference is that there is also a separate doorway or stairwell up that connects the space directly to the outside. As such, people can enter and exit the basement directly, without going through the main house. This can be desirable in rental or roommate situations, since it allows for a lot of privacy; it can also be helpful when it comes to moving or storing bulky or dirty items that owners might not want hauled through the direct interior of their living space. Many of these sorts of basements have windows, and often function more like lowered first floors than true basements. Having this feature often adds a lot of value to a home.

Basic Concept

In most homes, a basement is room that is essentially underground; it’s usually built into the foundation and can’t be seen from the outside. It doesn’t usually have windows, at least not big ones, and it’s typically designed to be a place for storage. So-called “finished” basements can also be used for entertainment or guest sleeping arrangements, but even these can usually only be accessed through the interior of the house, the same way any other rooms are.

The most distinctive and defining feature of a walk-out model is access to the outside. In most cases this access is “full,” which means that the doorway out is full sized and capable of locking; it’s usually designed to serve as a primary means of ingress and egress, which means that people can come and go without ever entering or cutting through the upstairs.

Access Options

There are a couple of different ways to structure outside access, and a lot of it depends on how, exactly, the larger structure has been built. Houses that are built into slopes or into the sides of hills or mountains often have full back doors. Daylight basements that are more fully underground often open into small sunken patio areas with stairways that can lead up to street level. These kinds of doors are common on split-level houses without a full floor below ground.

Light and Windows

Standard basements are often pretty cold year round, in part because of how far they’ve been sunk into the ground; hot air also has a tendency to rise, which often keeps it out of these lower spaces. Daylight basements and walk out basements are often much warmer because, in most cases, they’re at least partially above ground and usually have at least some access to direct sunlight. They sometimes also feature full sized windows and can be treated very much like a lower full sized floor, although the ceiling is generally not as high as a normal floor. Things also tend to feel musty and more damp, though opening the door or windows periodically can often alleviate this by promoting the circulation of fresh air.

Value Added and General Desirability

These sorts of basements are often referred to colloquially as mother-in-law basements, in part because of how much privacy they offer. The structures are often used to house roommates or renters without the need to share common areas or doors. Residents of the lower levels will be able to leave the house without ever going through a living room or entering the upper portion of the house. It can serve as a kind of attached, but separate living space.

The nature of a daylight basement can add significant value to a house, as many buyers prefer this type of extra space to a colder and darker basement. Houses are not the only structures that can feature this type of floor, either. Some garages also offer this feature, although these commonly forsake the ability to park a car in the structure or use much room for storage.

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Discussion Comments
By anon1006450 — On Mar 15, 2022

The home I’m referring to has a lower level that is completely above ground with full size windows on all four walls and an entrance door and slider on the south side. The ceilings are 8ft tall. Is this technically considered a basement?

By mobilian33 — On Aug 14, 2014

The biggest issue with a full basement without a door to the outside is that moisture builds up, and this can damage items you have stored there, or damage the structure of the basement. With a walk out basement moisture is able to escape through the door and moisture isn't a big worry.

By Drentel — On Aug 14, 2014

My basement isn't finished, but that's not a problem since we mostly use it for storage. It's a walk out basement and you enter it through a large garage door on one end of the house. This is perfect for me since I like to store all of my tools and my riding lawnmower in the basement. I can drive the mower through the door and that way it stays out of the weather.

I think the average person can get a lot more use out a basement when there is a separate entrance, and you don't have to go into the house and then down the steps every time you need to get to the basement for one reason or another. As the article says, a separate entrance can add value to your home.

By Sporkasia — On Aug 13, 2014

A basement that doesn't have direct access to the outside can still be a fun and warm space. Our basement is finished and there is so much room down there that we have divided the space in several sections. We have a workout room, a game room, a sitting room and we added a bathroom.

There is no natural light in our basement, but the rooms down there are well lit, and I love to go down in the sitting area and just get away from everything else in the house from time to time. Also, basement break-ins were happening often in our town at one time. Basements without an access door to the outside are more secure and less likely to be broken into.

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