From the Field

Is a day­light base­ment right for your log home? We ex­am­ine the key fac­tors to con­sider.

Log Home Living - - CONTENTS - Dan Mitchell

Is a day­light base­ment right for your log home? We ex­am­ine the key fac­tors to con­sider.

It’s not un­com­mon for a log home to sit on a rolling, slop­ing piece of prop­erty. Though this kind of land typ­i­cally comes with spec­tac­u­lar views, it also can cre­ate some con­struc­tion chal­lenges — es­pe­cially when it comes to dig­ging and lay­ing the foun­da­tion. But one huge ad­van­tage this kind of to­pog­ra­phy has is that it of­ten af­fords hav­ing a day­light base­ment in the home.

If you find that a day­light base­ment is a pos­si­bil­ity for you, take ad­van­tage of it! Will ex­ca­va­tion cost you a lit­tle bit more? Yes. Will it cost more for your foun­da­tion ma­te­ri­als than a slab or a crawl space would? Yes. But the square footage and func­tion­al­ity that you gain can be far more valu­able than the price tag.

As an ex­am­ple, let’s use a stan­dard ap­praised value of $100 per square foot that a fin­ished day­light base­ment could give you. If you leave the base­ment un­fin­ished, the value would be ap­prox­i­mately $55 per square foot and it would drop to $35 per square foot for a crawl space with a slab. Of course this all de­pends on how elab­o­rately you fin­ish the space, but the point is that your value (and over­all en­joy­ment of your home) can in­crease tremen­dously for just a lit­tle ex­tra in­vest­ment.

So You Want a Day­light Base­ment … Now What?

First, you have to ex­am­ine your soil con­di­tions. For in­stance, if your site is very rocky or the bedrock is close to the sur­face, the cost of ex­ca­vat­ing (even blast­ing) that lot to cre­ate the base­ment could be far more ex­pen­sive than any dol­lar value you’d add to the house by cre­at­ing that ex­tra square footage (i.e., re­turn on in­vest­ment).

Next, take a look at the ac­tual slope of your land. The slope sweet spot for day­light base­ments is 6+ feet in grade el­e­va­tion from the front of the house to the back. This has to do with the ul­ti­mate height of the base­ment and how far down you’ll have to dig. For a fin­ished day­light base­ment, you’ll want a min­i­mum of an 8-foot fin­ished ceil­ing, so if your slope is less than 6 feet, you’ll ei­ther have to dig a much deeper foun­da­tion hole or it will be stick­ing out of the ground quite far, which could look un­ap­peal­ing. The more you have to dig, the more it will cost.

Ad­van­tages & Dis­ad­van­tages

Full-height, day­light base­ments have a num­ber of ad­van­tages over their slab and crawl-space cousins, but for all their good points, there are a hand­ful of dis­ad­van­tages to con­sider, too. Weigh the pros and cons:

PRO: The abil­ity to push guest bed­rooms down be­low, al­low­ing you to save money on a smaller over­all foot­print (just make sure each bed­room has a point of egress, like a door or win­dow well, as re­quired by code).

PRO: More space for game rooms, home the­aters, gyms and other en­ter­tain­ment ar­eas.

PRO: A prac­ti­cal place for a me­chan­i­cal room, so you don’t have to sac­ri­fice square footage on your main liv­ing area to a wa­ter heater or fur­nace. It also af­fords a “safe room” for nat­u­ral disas­ter emer­gen­cies.

PRO: Space to stash your stuff — and we all have stuff — that’s much more con­ve­nient to ac­cess than if it were stowed in a crawl space or an at­tic.

PRO: In­creased over­all square footage/ in­creased home value.

CON: Po­ten­tial prop­erty-tax in­creases.

CON: Risk of a leaky base­ment (de­pend­ing on ma­te­rial, proper con­struc­tion and wa­ter­proof­ing), which could lead to mold growth or wa­ter dam­age.

Ma­te­rial Op­tions

Con­crete is the stan­dard ma­te­rial for foun­da­tion/base­ment con­struc­tion, but there are sev­eral con­crete op­tions to con­sider.

Con­crete Block. Also called con­crete ma­sonry units (CMUs), this is the least ex­pen­sive ma­te­rial you can use for a day­light base­ment; how­ever, it takes the long­est to in­stall, which could drive up la­bor costs. Also, since each in­di­vid­ual block is held to­gether with mor­tar, CMUs have the great­est chance to shift and/or the mor­tar could be breached. It also will have to be wa­ter­proofed, in­su­lated and en­closed, and con­duit will be nec­es­sary to pre­vent elec­tri­cal haz­ards. It’s a very good value if you’re not plan­ning to fin­ish the base­ment as liv­able area.

Pour-in-Place Con­crete. This tech­nique in­volves in­stalling alu­minum forms into the ground, then pour­ing liq­uid con­crete into them, al­low­ing it to cure and re­mov­ing the forms. (Think of it as a side­walk that’s turned on its side.) Cost-wise, it’s a mid­dle-of-theroad op­tion, but once in­stalled, it will still have to be wa­ter­proofed inside and out. And, if you want to fin­ish it, like CMUs it will have to be in­su­lated and en­closed to be liv­able. This can drive up ex­pense. It also can be a slow process, re­quir­ing as much as 30 days to set the forms, pour the con­crete and al­low it to cure be­fore you can build on it.

Pre­cast Con­crete. In this sys­tem, con­crete is poured into re­us­able forms at an off­site lo­ca­tion, trucked to the job site and hoisted into the prepped ground with a crane. This can be a chal­lenge — even im­pos­si­ble — for some sites, as the crane may not have a place to op­er­ate safely. Pre­cast is sim­i­lar in cost to pour-in-place, but it’s by far the fastest in­stal­la­tion. No on­site cur­ing time is needed, so you can start lay­ing your sub­floor right away.

In­su­lated Con­crete Forms (ICFs). If your in­ten­tion is to have a fin­ished base­ment that’s com­fort­able and dry, give ICFs se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion. Com­prised of re­in­forced con­crete sand­wiched be­tween ther­mal in­su­la­tion that stays in place as part of the fin­ished wall sys­tem, they are the most ex­pen­sive op­tion up­front, but they also of­fer the best value, be­cause they save time on con­struc­tion and no ad­di­tional in­su­la­tion is re­quired, re­duc­ing fin­ish­ing costs dra­mat­i­cally. Plus, their in­su­la­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties and en­ergy-sav­ing prop­er­ties are ex­cep­tional, which could save you a con­sid­er­able amount money down the road.

So as you can see, not only can a day­light base­ment bring you years of en­joy­ment, it also can in­crease your prop­erty value. Weigh your op­tions care­fully, and you’ll see the light.

Dan Mitchell is a builder, Log & Tim­ber Home Univer­sity pro­fes­sor and the 2018 Pres­i­dent of the Greater Knoxville Home Builders As­so­ci­a­tion. He owns Ea­gle CDI in Ten­nessee.

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