In many new home designs, basements are viewed as living spaces that add square footage and value.
Once considered only suitable for storage, laundry, and heating and cooling equipment, basements are no longer an afterthought in new home design. In many new homes, these spaces feature standard ceilings, natural light and upgraded flooring. In an effort to shed the musty image associated with the term "basement," many builders and developers are using a more suitable term — lower level — and these areas are viewed as primary living space that can add square footage and value to a home.
The key to lower level design is adaptability. Today's lower levels must accommodate a variety of uses: recreation room, office space, media room, a second living room or an extra bedroom. Full baths and kitchens are also becoming increasingly popular. The trend is to design the lower level with a large open space that could be used as a recreation room, and two or three smaller spaces that could be used as bedrooms, offices, or a media room, depending on the homeowner's needs. Home theaters with TV and surround sound are also popular.
Basements in older homes are notorious for being poorly lit. Windows are normally very small and half buried under the ground. The increased use of natural light is a key to raising the basement to the lower level status. Building locations with a gentle slope, once thought of as poor sites, are ideal for creating lower levels with walk-out doors and larger windows that let in streams of natural light, which helps create a lower level that feels warm and comfortable.
Ceiling height is a key factor in re-creating the lower level as a living space. Finished ceilings and ease of movement are essential. Gone are the days of exposed rafters, furnace ducts and pipes. If the rest of the house has an 8-foot ceiling, then a lower-level living space should have an 8-foot ceiling as well. In fact, higher ceilings of 9 or 10 feet are in demand. High ceilings are perfect for creating entertainment centers and recreational spaces.
Quality finishes for the ceiling are also in demand. Suspended acoustic tile common in older refinished basements doesn't quite make the grade. Today's lower level requires the same kind of quality drywall ceilings that grace the rest of the house.
The basement may have moved up to the lower level, but it is still under the ground. Underground basements are well-known for their high humidity, cold temperatures, mold and mildew, and water leaks. These problems must be controlled to create an acceptable lower-level living space. The following are the essential building blocks in creating a comfortable lower level:
As the lower level becomes part of the overall living space, the staircase becomes more important in creating a seamless transition with the rest of the house. In many cases, the stairway to the lower level is part of a single element with the staircase to the second and third floors.
Some designs call for an open staircase with a u-shape or winding pattern. Built-in bookshelves or an open wall for pictures and decorations are also common. As with the other design elements, the goal is to create a comfortable, safe and adaptable living space.