The 4 Types of Basements and How to Identify Them

updated Aug 10, 2022
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Having a basement in your home is a huge benefit for a lot of different reasons. A basement makes a natural storage space, of course, but it’s also a good place to house things like your water heater, a fireplace and even a washer and dryer. 

Depending on the type of home you own, there are a few different types of basements you might have. Here, we’ll walk you through the four most popular types and show you how to tell the different types apart.

Crawlspace

A crawlspace is by far the smallest type of basement. Most serve only to allow access to different systems, like plumbing, HVAC or sewage piping, while others allow air to flow beneath a home. In general, a crawlspace, true to its name, will only be big enough to crawl in, rather than walk around. “You go down to the basement to get there, and at maybe chest or waist level is the bottom of the crawlspace,” says Jeff Benach, principal at Lexington Homes. “It’s usually used for storing things.”

Below, some common characteristics of a crawlspace. 

  • They often have exposed pipes that go to your home’s systems. Aside from storage, homeowners can often access utility fixtures in the crawlspace, like air conditioners and heating units, plumbing, and wires.
  • They often have dirt floors.
  • While they may or may not have windows, they are not suitable as a separate living space (unless you’re this guy). 
Credit: Jessica Ingui

Cellar

Depending on what part of the world you’re from, a cellar and a basement could mean the same thing. In New York City, for example, if a basement is more than halfway underground, it’s considered a cellar (and disallows garden apartments). But in Indiana, where my family had our summer house, locals often called the full basement in their homes a cellar, regardless of where it hit ground level. 

Below are some features of a cellar: 

  • Cellars are typically fully underground and used for storage. 
  • A cellar can often be finished to allow for an extra level of living space. 
  • A cellar can be full, covering the entire footprint of the house, or partial, covering only a portion of the home. 
  • A standard cellar is different from a wine cellar or a root cellar. Those are something you add to an existing space, or more often, are a separate space of their own. “Often built underground, into a side of a hill or the ground, a root cellar uses natural cooling and insulation to act like a refrigerator,” Melcher says. “Homeowners use their root cellars to store food or drink—such as a recent farmer’s market haul.”

Daylight or lookout basement

A daylight basement is similar to a cellar with one distinction—it’s not completely underground. Only about half the space is below ground level. Many of today’s newer homes boast this type of basement as an attractive feature since they almost always provide ample living space that’s finished and livable. 

Below, some characteristics of a daylight basement: 

  • They are also called lookout basements. 
  • They generally have windows that come down to about your chest, and the space is the same height as a standard floor in the home. 
  • These basements are regularly finished to provide extra living space.
Credit: littlenySTOCK/Shutterstock.com

Walkout basement

Walkout basements are almost always finished. They generally have a separate entrance, so a door that heads right outside from the space, and are common in homes built on a slope.

“A walk-out basement adds square footage to a home, providing additional space for bedrooms, bathrooms, living areas, or even a mother-in-law suite,” Melcher says.