The gripping history of basements is associated with different cultures across the world. Cellars and basements were a frequent component in nearly all of the 19th century’s townhouses. While the purpose of designing a basement was to provide much-needed storage space, in wealthy houses they were utilized as living quarters or servants’ quarters. Presently, these spaces, that are promptly being renovated, converted, or extended, are highly prized. Adding a basement is considered a simple and wise idea to increase space that can be used in numerous ways, such as a guest room, living room, kitchen, or perhaps a gaming area or home gym. 

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The Old Kitchen in the White House Basement, c. 1891_©

1. Consider Potential Uses | Designing a Basement

Taking some time to think about the ways the basement could be used will help choose a layout and design style that fuses form and function at its best. Although the basement’s function is not predetermined, having a few potential ideas allows one to narrow down the options. For instance, if part of the basement is intended to be used as a music room or a gaming room, built-in soundproofing or extra insulation should be added around that area. By the same token, if a basement bar, a laundry room, or a bathroom are to be added, then appropriate pipes and lines should be included to ensure that these spaces are fully functional.

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Music studio in a finished basement with sound-proof walls _©

2. Build storage into the Plans 

Building storage into the basement plan is one of the most useful design tips. As previously mentioned, knowing how the basement will be used helps plan better for storage. Storage can be incorporated into the basement plans, even without specifying the use beforehand, to ensure there is enough.

To cite an instance, if there will be a walk-out entry in the basement, it is reasonable to add a closet within reach to store boots, coats, and more. A basement is also a favored place for a laundry room, overflow pantry storage, or bulk storage.

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Supremely organized basement storage ©

3. Light | Designing a Basement

Light is an elemental aspect in creating a basement that is both enjoyable and functional. Habitable spaces, such as living rooms and bedrooms should get priority of daylight and outdoor access; whereas space near the center of the plan or on elevations without lightwells can be used for circulation, bathrooms, utility rooms, or storage space that does not require natural light. An artificial light source shall be added to interior stairways to illuminate the landings and treads. 

There are multiple solutions and tips to bring natural light into a basement. Solar tubes, for example, feed natural light directly into the basement. They are usually placed on exterior walls, and hold a set of mirrors that help the light illuminate dark spaces. 

Switching to glass glazing indoors is another way to enhance the light in the basement. Whether it be glass doors, glass partitions, or glass balustrades, their reflective properties not only maximize natural light but also make the basement look more modern and open.

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Structural frameless glass floor lights are an amazing way to bring natural light into basements_©morelightglass
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Daylighting Systems: Natural light collected at roof level is piped through highly reflective tubes to a diffuser in the ceiling that delivers natural light into the room below_©

4. Energy-efficiency 

Basements are ill-famed for being dark, damp, and musty. Ergo, it is crucial to take appropriate steps to make these spaces inviting and safe. Focusing on creating an energy-efficient basement not only enhances the living space but also contributes considerably to the overall energy savings, and lowers utility bills.

Design tips include installing energy-efficient windows, choosing the right lighting and prioritizing natural light, insulating properly, installing warm flooring, and favoring Energy Star appliances. 

The use of ICF (Insulating Concrete Formwork) walls, which keep the space comfortable in both winter and summer and help reduce energy use by 20 to 50 percent compared to other wall options such as poured concrete, is an example of an energy-efficient solution.

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Insulating concrete formwork is the structural walling system for a basement_©

5. Consider the layout | Designing a Basement

In general, the basement’s overall shape follows the rest of the house. Nevertheless, partition walls or additional structures can be added to enhance the layout or create separate rooms. In this regard, having prior ideas about the basement’s function helps plan the layout more effectively. To illustrate, there should be enough space in the layout around the perimeter of a bedroom so it has access to a window. Likewise, viewing parties are best suited in darker spaces, which helps reduce glare and enhance the clarity of what is displayed on the TV, hence creating a home theater atmosphere.

Basement Home Theater_©
Basement Home Theater_©

6. Ventilation and Air flow 

Ventilation has to be designed to take into consideration air quality in the basement and moisture content in the structure. Basements with poor ventilation and mold issues cause respiratory issues, allergic reactions, sinus problems, and more. However, there are multiple ways to ensure a basement’s ventilation. The best and most cost-effective methods are natural ventilation, portable ventilation, and mechanical ventilation.

The openable area to the outside should not be less than 4% of the ventilated floor area.

Egress windows are a good way to elucidate natural ventilation solutions. These are windows that are big enough to exit through in case of emergencies. Notably, it is better to choose frames with ventilators fitted in them. This allows fresh air to pass through the basement even when the windows are closed.

Egress terraced window provides natural ventilation and outdoor access_©
Egress terraced window provides natural ventilation and outdoor access_©

7. Fire Protection 

If the basement is going to house bedrooms or other living spaces, there will be a need for an external door or window to provide an emergency escape. Another alternative to escape in the case of a fire or flooding is a protected stairway that leads from the basement to a final exit. Each sleeping room and each additional story of the dwelling should be equipped with smoke alarms. Smoke alarms must be installed not less than 914 mm (3 feet) horizontally from the opening or door of a bathroom with a bathtub or shower.

Besides, egress windows must be large enough for occupants to safely escape and for a firefighter to get in.

An example of an aesthetic fire safety solution is concealed fire sprinklers that operate automatically and release water directly over the source of the fire. A concealed fire sprinkler can go unnoticed. It is discreet, slim, and modern in design, and it becomes part of the decor.

Concealed fire sprinkler Heads_©
Concealed fire sprinkler Heads_©

8. Insulation | Designing a Basement

For the basement space to be habitable, external walls and floors should be properly insulated. Basement insulation can be an effective solution for heat loss and noise issues in below-ground spaces. Walls, ceilings, and floors can be insulated to tackle the possibility of dampness, enhance thermal performance, and improve overall indoor comfort. The insulation should be compatible with the tanking material and have an appropriate thickness. Moreover, all openings must adhere to Part L with a U-value of 2.0W/m2K or less. Besides, the insulation of basement walls that enclose conditioned space should be of an R-value of 15/19.

Made from stone wool, Rockwool products are an example of ideal insulation systems for basement renovations or conversions. They have strong acoustic absorption and sound insulation capabilities. Rockwool repels water while allowing water vapor to pass through its structure. Consequently, it is not affected by moisture. 

Rockwool exterior wall Insulation_©
Rockwool exterior wall Insulation_©

9. Waterproofing 

Waterproofing a basement is an essential part of the design process. Generally, a cavity membrane system is used. It is a textured, breathable membrane circling the entire basement behind which dampness is channeled down the outside of the walls, under the floor, and into a sump from where it is pumped away harmlessly.

For instance, the drained protection incorporates a drained cavity in the basement and manages water that enters the structure. The drainage channels should be properly formed and positioned, free from obstructions, and free-flowing. 

Waterproofing protection_©
Waterproofing protection_©

10. Bring the Upstairs Interior Design Downstairs | Designing a Basement 

The basement can be as alluring as the upstairs. One of the relevant design tips is to incorporate the same interior design approach from the upstairs into the basement. Bringing the overall theme of the rest of the building into the basement gives it a complete look and makes it a delightful and inviting area to spend time in.

By way of illustration, adding cozy furnishings and warm lighting can help boost the comfort level, the mood, and the general atmosphere. 

Basement family lounge design: A spacious family room that also accommodates young kids_©
Basement family lounge design: A spacious family room that also accommodates young kids_©


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Najlaa believes that writing, art, and architecture enunciate one’s inner voice. Through a process of research carried out with scrupulous attention to detail, she seeks to ease curiosity with a pen, and tame the incessant questions of Why and How.