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Difference Between Daylight and Walkout Basement

Daylight basements have at least one wall that is partially above-grade but not enough to allow the installation of a door leading from the basement to the exterior. Walkout basements have at least one wall that is fully above-grade and in which an external door is installed.

Difference Between Daylight and Walkout Basements: Overview

Both daylight and walkout basements provide better ventilation and more natural light than a regular full basement. They are only partially under the ground, and there must always be at least some portion of the construction above the ground level to qualify as either a walkout or daylight basement.

The most distinguishing difference between these basements is that the walkout basement must have a door on the main level that leads to the outside. In contrast, the daylight basement’s entrance is inside the house, and there is no door leading directly outside.

Another distinction is the terrain that is required for the building of each basement. While the walkout needs a steep slope for its construction, the daylight basement can be built not only on sloping but also on more flat terrains.

What is a Daylight Basement?

Exterior facade of a daylight basement

A daylight basement could be described as a compromise between a walkout and a full underground basement. It’s not directly connected to the outside through a door, but it is partially connected on one or more sides above the ground level, which allows for windows.

Daylight basements’ primary focus is, as the name suggests, letting in natural daylight. There generally needs to be at least one full-sized window for the structure to be considered a daylight basement.

These windows can either be above the ground or in a window well. Thanks to window wells, it is possible to build a daylight basement even if your lot is flat. However, a gentle slope is usually preferred.

Window Well

Cost of Finishing a Daylight Basement

On top of the regular price you would pay for a finished full basement, we need to include a few extra expenses to finish a daylight basement.

Amongst others, the additional spendings will be for the extra windows, some landscaping work, and the cost of all required permits.

The cost will also include the fees paid to an engineer who will check the soil and decide whether your land is suitable for having a daylight basement in the first place.

The final cost will very much depend on your locality (and local rules and fees) together with the size of the planned basement.

I have to generalize a lot to give any kind of estimation, but it is safe to say you will need to set apart tens of thousands of dollars in your budget to finish a daylight basement.

This type of basement is only slightly cheaper than the walkout one, if at all. For a smaller to regular size basement, you can probably count on paying $20,000 to start off, but in some localities, it could be closer to $40,000.

Advantages of Daylight Basements

  • Daylight basement can be built in various terrains – both steep and moderate slope, and also flat land, can all work well for this type of basement.
  • It allows in a lot of natural light – windows are the main requirement for any daylight basement.
  • The basement provides good ventilation – thanks to multiple large windows, you can easily ventilate the basement even without an exhaust fan.
  • It is ideal to be used as a finished basement – a bright, airy interior is more suitable for living areas and bedrooms than a dark, humid one of a regular underground basement.
  • Adds value to your house – any finished basement will add value to the house, but basements with natural light are definitely preferred options.

Disadvantages of Daylight Basements

Dependent on geography – some northern or other cold areas couldn’t accommodate a daylight basement. The basements there need to be built deeper due to the frost heaving.

Only accessible through the house – a daylight basement lacks a door that leads outside. Same as a regular basement, the only entry is from inside of the house

More expensive – a daylight basement is typically more costly to build than a full basement. Amongst other things, you will need to add a price of multiple windows to your budget.  

Best and Worst Uses for Daylight Basements

The daylight basement is basically made for having it finished and being used as an additional living area, a room with a bar or pool table to entertain in, a lair to hide in, or a place to enjoy wine nights.

However, due to the lack of its own separate entrance, it is not great to be used instead of a pool house, a garage for storing certain tools and sports equipment, that you wouldn’t want to drag through the house. It is also not suitable for renting out as a basement apartment.

Additionally, due to the high humidity and potential water leaks, basements, in general, are not ideal for storing books, textiles, or pricy electronics.

Therefore you can cross off a library, walk-in closet, or an office from the list of potential uses for the basement.

What is a Walkout Basement?

Exterior facade of a walkout basement

Defining feature of a walkout basement is the presence of a door that is on the main level and opens directly outdoors. Therefore, at least one of its walls needs to be above the ground to accommodate the door. One or more walls are then located below the ground.

This basement needs to be on a lot with a slope of at least around 7’. But the hill can be as low as 3’ if you plan to raise the house foundation anyway.

Every walkout basement varies, but they usually come with multiple windows to let inside more natural light and another door that connects it with the inside of the house.

Because of its accessible entrance and bright interior, people often consider and use the walkout basement as a lowered living area rather than storage space.

Cost of Finishing a Walkout Basement

Generally speaking, the cost of a finished walkout basement starts around $20,000, the same as it is for the daylight basement.

You could manage to pay less if all the circumstances that we’re going to cover in a second were optimal. But it is realistic to take into account you might end up paying tens of thousands of dollars.

Naturally, the exact price for finishing a walkout basement will vary from case to case, but it mainly depends on four questions:

  • Are you building a new house or only adding a new basement to an old one?

It is usually cheaper and simpler to build the walkout basement while building a house. Adding it to an already existing one often requires additional demolishing and landscaping works that make the construction more expensive.

  • Is there a major slope on your piece of land?

Building a walkout basement requires a significant slope. If there’s none on your lot, but you still want a walkout basement, the only way to do it is to pay for earthmoving, excavating, and other landscaping. And so the price will jump up again.

  • How big is the walkout basement going to be?

Same as with any other construction project, its square footage will, of course, affect the final figure.

  • What are you going to use the walkout for?

Different basements require different permits and materials that will also add up to the overall cost. And don’t forget to add up the value of the furniture, equipment, or décor that will be needed in your brand new walkout basement.  

Advantages of Walkout Basements

Bright empty room with fireplace and carpet floor. Glass slide door to backyard
  • It provides a separate entrance – the walkout basement has its own access, which makes the space more versatile. It also gives you an option to finish and rent out the basement as a room.
  • Can offer more privacy – whether you use the extra space as a living area, art studio, or workshop, walkout basement allows for easy entrance while giving a bit more privacy than a basement accessible only from inside of a house could have given you.
  • Adds value – this type of basement adds perhaps the most value to the house out of all basement types. It is quite popular in many areas, and people who want it are willing to pay for it.
  • Brings better lighting – similarly to daylight basement, the walkout also improves lighting and ventilation thanks to the additional windows it provides.
  •  It can function as a lowered first floor – the space provides many qualities that are required from livable areas. It is not only good for storage but also ideal to be finished and serve as a functional living area.
  • Walkout basement can be built on a slope – steep terrain is usually bad news when building a house, but with a walkout basement, you are using the slope to your advantage.
  • It creates extra exits – walkout basements often have two different entrances, one of which leads outside and the other connects it with the interior of a house. This way, the basement can serve as an additional emergency exit or be used to move things.

Disadvantages of Walkout Basements

  • High cost – adding a walkout basement to your house plan comes at no small price, primarily due to the steep slope that overcharges the whole construction.
  • It can potentially increase property tax – a finished walkout basement can add to the living space square footage and increase the value of the house, but at the same time cause reevaluation and increase of the taxes paid on the property.
  • It can’t be built anywhere – unfortunately, walkout basements need particular terrain conditions.
  • Potential for leaks – the ground needs to be graded far enough from the door and windows. Otherwise, it may cause water leaks.
  • Security issues – with an extra exit, there’s one more way for intruders to try to get into your house. You should treat the walkout door and the door that connects it with the main part of a house the same as you would treat your front door. This means putting security measures in place and not forgetting to lock it.

Best and Worst Uses for Walkout Basements

Thanks to its own separate entrance, the walkout basement offers a unique opportunity to have it finished as a basement apartment and subsequently rent it out, which will provide you with additional income.

If you don’t have a garage or just don’t have any extra room in it, you can use a walkout basement as a workshop or a place to store your tools and service sports equipment.

It is also ideal for used as a pool house because no one would go from the pool straight to the main house and drip all over your clean floor.

The extra privacy and natural light make this area perfect for an art studio or a home gym. Or alternatively, a place to entertain in with added contemporary home bar or a pool table.

The walkout is the type of basement that is worth it if you are planning to finish it. It is not ideal to be used as simple storage. This is mainly due to the additional light and warmth, which are unsuitable for storing certain items.

The high expenses for the construction also won’t get completely paid off if the basement serves only as an ordinary cellar.

Table of Differences Between Daylight and Walkout Basements

Provides natural lightYes, it always has at least one full-sized windowVery often, but it is not a condition
Additional ventilationYesYes
AccessThrough the houseIt has its own exit which leads outside
Cost of finishing itStarting around $20,000Starting around $20,000
Terrain requiredModerate slope or even nearly flat terrainSteep slope
Provides more privacyNoYes
Ideal to be rented outNoYes
Security issuesMost likely noPotentially yes
Provides additional exitNoYes
Ideal to be used as a pool houseNoYes
Adding value and square footageSomeRelatively a lot and often
Searched out for by many buyersNot so muchYes

Is One Better Than The Other?

They are both solid options with their own pros and cons. And in most cases, either of them is more optimal than a regular underground basement.

It is worth mentioning that the walkout basement is more versatile, adds more value to your property, allows you to add an extra source of income, and provides you with better privacy.

It is definitely the right choice if you want to turn the space into a basement apartment and rent it out or even welcome some more extended visits of friends and family members.

While a daylight basement is less demanding when it comes to the terrain of your estate, it is not an ideal choice for cold localities due to frost heaving.

Generally, if you have the resources to finish a basement and your lot has good conditions for either of these two, you will most likely be better off with a walkout basement. It provides you with more possibilities of how to use it.

Plus, if you ever decide to sell the house, a walkout basement is typically a better selling point than the daylight one.

That being said, if all you want from the basement is better natural lighting and you want to avoid potential security issues, you may want to opt for the daylight basement after all.

Which type of basement is better for you will ultimately depend on your personal preferences and what exactly you intend to use it for.


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