How Are Home Basements Built?

September 17, 2019


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It can be very intriguing to examine the diverse range of basements that are being built today. Some basements are still relatively conservative areas reserved for storage, while others are lavish, fully-furnished living spaces. Even though each basement is slightly different due to factors such as budget and building location, they all still undergo the same fundamental construction process. Let’s take alook at how basements are built during the construction of a house. 

Before excavation begins, the soil must be evaluated for stability. A geotechnical engineer will often determine if the soils in a building site are suitable to be worked upon. If the soils are suboptimal, then they will either be removed and replaced with better soil, or treated until it’s ready for construction.  

The next step is to build the foundation, which needs to be situated below the region’s frost line. The frost line is the depth that groundwater is expected to freeze, so it’s important to set the foundation below this point to avoid damage from frost heaving. A foundation is typically dug between 7-9 ft deep, but this height might be extended to 10 ft to allow for a more comfortable living space once the basement is finished. 

At this point, a number of options for a foundation type are available. The most common type of basement consists of reinforced poured concrete, but they can also be built with prefabricated concrete panels, stone or clay tiles, or concrete cinder blocks. Although alternative options are potentially cheaper, poured concrete is almost always the preferred method, since the other basement types are much more susceptible to water leaks. 

A reinforced poured concrete basement is constructed in a manner so as to provide the best waterproofing possible. First, the beams are poured, followed by the walls, and finished with the actual concrete slab. This creates the tightest fit possible between the floor and wall joint, which is the area most susceptible to leaks. The concrete will then be cured for several weeks as the cement dries. 

Builders will have to perform many additional tasks to ensure the longevity of a basement. Given that around 600 gallons of water are used to pour the cement for a basement, and most of that water will evaporate within the first 3-12 months after completion, the basement must be kept free of humidity to prevent mildew and other damage. As a result, basement walls are typically covered with insulation, which keeps humid air and condensation away from the walls. Furthermore, proper insulation of a basement allows for the walls to maintain a stable temperature, which lowers the risk of them forming cracks. 

Finally, a basement needs to be equipped with some sort of drainage system. A drainage system is installed to resist the pressure of groundwater on the basement walls and foundation. A basement can have interior and exterior drainage systems, but it is often recommended that they include both. An interior drainage system is usually placed at the joint between the basement floor and walls, which again, is the most common point of leakage. 

It is clear that building a basement is a process that requires a lot of careful planning and preparation. In order for basements to become the fancy recreational spaces they’re known to be nowadays, builders need to ensure that the ground is stable, provide adequate insulation, excavate to a reasonable depth, and properly flood-proof the basement. If these measures are not taken, then it doesn’t matter how expensively decked-out the basement is, because it will be structurally unsound.  

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