Basement Foundation: Pros & Cons, Types, & Repair Costs

By Jacob L.

For developers and home builders, one of the most impactful decisions they can make is choosing what kind of foundation their houses will rest on. While it may appear obvious, the importance of foundations must be emphasized: foundations keep your home in place even when the ground beneath it shifts, they keep the moisture out, they provide insulation, and they keep your house level. Therefore, builders must consider the home’s location and climate, surrounding soil conditions, local humidity levels, and, last but not least, the price tag when determining what kind of foundation will sit below their homes.

Basement foundations are a popular choice for a variety of home builders these days. Unlike pier and beam foundations or concrete foundations, basement foundations sink deep into the ground, making it ideal for homeowners trying to squeeze extra living space into their new homes. Keep reading to learn more about the pros and cons of basement house foundations, the different types of basements, and the cost of repairing basement foundations. Plus, you’ll also get to see how basement foundations stack up against other foundation types.

What is a Basement Foundation?

Basement foundations are a type of foundation that supports the structural integrity of your house or building. Like most standard foundations, basements distribute a building’s weight evenly, secure the building to the ground, and stop moisture from getting in. However, unlike other foundations, basement foundations are fully submerged in the ground to create space for underground living space. There are three main types of basement foundations: full basement foundations, daylight basement foundations, and crawl space foundations. The differences between these types of basement foundations are explained below.

Building a basement foundation requires more effort and is more costly than building a standard foundation. Heavy-duty machines such as excavators, cranes, rollers, and forklifts are required to dig and reposition soil to make way for a basement. Sometimes, if the ground below is hard to break up, drills and specialized hammers are needed. Once the hole in the ground is big enough, the basement is created by pouring concrete or laying precast concrete slabs.

Pros and Cons of Basement Foundations

Pros

Energy efficiency

Insulated basements are not exposed to the elements, so they do not require much energy to heat in the winter and cool in the summer. Not only will this help you cut costs on energy bills, but it is also far better for the environment.

Additional living space

Basements do a great job of providing additional living and storage space, which can help homeowners maximize square footage without altering their house’s appearance.

Increased home value

With more living space created by a basement, your house’s value will be sure to increase. Homeowners that furnish their basements with bedrooms, kitchens, and bathrooms can sell their homes at far higher prices.

Shelter from storms

For houses in climates that are prone to large storms, basements provide an excellent place of refuge. Having your own basement means that you won’t have to seek out a communal safe place to wait out tornados and hurricanes.

Easier access to fix plumbing and wires

Basement foundations create more space for contractors or technicians to enter than foundations with smaller crawl spaces or no crawl space whatsoever.

Flexibility for uneven plots of land

As housing development expands further into the countryside and away from easy-to-build-on land, basement foundations create more flexibility for developers to build on uneven slopes.

Cons

Risk of dampness

Basement foundations can become quite damp depending on the location of your house or structure. To mitigate the risk of dampness permeating your basement, you can install a sump pump to insulate water pipes during floods and try to keep the foundation crack-free.

Mold and rotting

While dampness in your foundation is a minor issue, the larger problem at hand is the rotting that often follows a damp foundation. As a result, your house’s structural integrity may falter, and you will be on the hook for thousands of dollars in repair costs.

More expensive

It is far more costly and time-consuming to build basement foundations because of the machinery and tools required to dig them. Ultimately, you should be ready for your basement foundation to delay the construction of your home and leave you with a far higher bill.

Less sunlight

Because basement foundations are below the ground, they do not get access to very much light unless you install sunlight or find other ways to bring in natural light. This can make living spaces in your basement less desirable.

Risk of radon

There is a chance that basement foundations will increase your risk of being exposed to radon. Luckily, you can avoid or prevent exposure by using radon-resistant building techniques and installing active radon mitigation systems.

Basement Foundation Types

Type of Basement Foundations Description
Full Basement Full basement foundations are as large as the house’s perimeter, and the entire basement floor is submerged below the ground. This type of basement lacks windows, and if it has them, they’ll be small and at ground level.
Daylight Basement Daylight basements are common for houses built on a slope. One side of this type of basement is submerged, and the other is aboveground. Daylight basements let in some natural light and are less susceptible to mold or moisture.
Crawl Space Crawl space foundations are placed several feet off footings, leaving a small protected area between the ground and the base of the house. The walls of a crawl space foundation are built partially underground and shorter than basement foundation walls. This type of foundation offers a happy medium between standard foundations and basement foundations.

Full Basement

Full basement foundations are as large as the house’s perimeter, and the entire basement floor is submerged below the ground. This type of basement lacks windows, and if it has them, they’ll be small and at ground level. Full basements can be unfinished or finished with drywall, flooring, and storage space. Finished basements will obviously cost builders quite a bit more. Aside from being the most expensive foundation, this type of basement is often more susceptible to dampness and mold.

Daylight Basement

Daylight basements, also known as walkout basements, are common for houses built on a slope. One side of this type of basement is submerged, and the other is aboveground. This type of basement lets in some natural light and are less susceptible to mold or moisture. For homeowners who want patios or entrances in their basements, daylight basements are ideal.

Crawl Space

Crawl space foundations are placed several feet off footings, leaving a small protected area between the ground and the base of the house. The walls of a crawl space foundation are built partially underground and shorter than basement foundation walls. This type of foundation offers a happy medium between standard foundations and basement foundations.

Although you won’t be able to finish crawl spaces, they do provide easier access to piping or plumbing than standard foundations. Crawl spaces also encourage greater airflow beneath the house, helping to keep the building cooler in warm climates. Many homeowners ultimately decide to build crawl space basement foundations because they are among the least expensive and least time-consuming to build.

Basement Foundation Repair

Type of Repair Summary Cost
Sealants and Masonry Patches You can repair cracks in the foundation of your home by patching the crack and waterproofing it with a masonry sealer. It is essential to repair cracks early because they can eventually threaten the structural integrity of your home. $300-$400 for small to medium-sized patching jobs.
Slab Jacking This is a method, also known as mudjacking, used to lift uneven or sinking concrete that consists of drilling holes through the concrete foundation and into the sunken spaces below. A solution of soil, cement, and other natural elements is injected into the hole and expands to raise the sunken concrete or slab back into place. The average cost is $511 to $1,790, or between $3 and $6 per square foot.
Piling Piling offers a long-term solution to foundation problems and does a better job of returning foundations to their original form than slab jacking. The process of piling consists of installing concrete piers, pressed pilings, steel piers, or bell bottom piers beneath your house’s foundation. $5,000 and more, depending on the amount of piling needed and the materials used.

Damage Types and Cost

Sagging and Uneven Floors – Summary

If your building’s floors begin to sink or settle, a number of different issues may develop that pose a threat to its structure. It is quite common for foundations to sink and settle when temperature changes cause soil to move beneath a home’s foundation and excessive moisture to get into crawl spaces and beam structures. Sometimes, poorly constructed homes can also fall victim to adverse weather events, leading to increased foundation sinking.

Sagging and Uneven Floors – Cost

In order to fix the problem of sagging and uneven floors, you should consider installing piers, shims, and additional supports for your foundation. The amount of support needed to maintain the structure of your foundation is highly dependent on the severity of the problems affecting your foundation. Slab jacking may suffice for smaller repair jobs, and this shouldn’t cost you more than a few thousand dollars. However, for bigger repairs needed to fix bigger problems, you may need a professional to do some piling, which will cost at least tens of thousands of dollars.

Poor Construction – Summary

While poorly constructed homes create their fair share of little annoyances, they can also lead to larger, and more dangerous problems. Indeed, if your home has an uneven distribution of weight, weak pieces of wood and supporting material, or a range of additional issues related to improper building methods, your foundation could lose structural integrity. In the best-case scenario, this would mean a major hit to your wallet in repair fees. In the worst-case scenario, your family’s safety could be at risk if your home collapses.

Poor Construction – Cost

To fix problems related to poor construction, you should have a contractor do a full inspection of your home. After inspection, it is most likely that they will recommend raising your foundation and floor joists. The cost of large projects like this is highly unpredictable. Contact a professional to get a quote for a better estimation of the cost.

Damp Crawl Space – Summary

Unfortunately, it is very common for crawl spaces to have moisture issues. But on the bright side, it is not hard or expensive to fix problems of dampness. However, if your basement or crawl space is completely flooded, you may have some far bigger issues to deal with.

Damp Crawl Space – Cost

If you want to minimize dampness in your foundation’s crawl space, an easy fix is to wipe up moisture with a cloth or bring a fan in to dry the area. But for more severe dampness issues, you may have to consult a foundation drainage correction service. You should also consider basement waterproofing, as this is a great way to prevent future dampness in your crawl space. While the costs of these repair jobs vary, you can get a more accurate picture by seeking a quote from professionals that have expertise in the area of basement dampness.

Moldy Building Materials – Summary

Mold can and will eat away at your foundation until it is weak and likely to collapse under the weight of your home. Although mold can appear for many different reasons, water damage and moisture are usually the primary causes. Mold will appear if dampness remains present for too long in your foundation’s crawl space.

Mold Building Materials – Cost

To deal with moldy materials, you will need to extract the problem sections and replace them with new wood and other materials. You will also likely need to do some patching, slab jacking, and piling to strengthen your home’s foundation. A repair job like this will cost several thousand dollars, but you should always consult multiple contractors to find the best available price.

Basement vs. Other Foundation Types

Type of Foundation Summary Cost
Basement Foundation This is a type of foundation built at least eight feet below the ground to accommodate an underground living space. The structural foundation walls are placed on concrete footings that run the perimeter of the basement. Approximately $40,000 for a 2,000-square foot house.
Pier and Beam Foundation This specific type of foundation is built using rebar and concrete beams that are driven deep into the ground until they reach the bedrock. Additional beams are added to extend from one pier to another to increase support for the floor joists and flooring of the above structure. Approximately $21,000 for a 2,000-square foot house.
Crawl Space Stem Walls Foundation This is a short foundation with concrete walls on concrete footings or stem walls that form the foundations of a house. The crawl space created is a slightly elevated space below a house that you can crawl through and has enough room for storage or a furnace. Approximately $14,000 for a 2,000-square foot house.
Concrete Slab Foundation The concrete slab foundation, sometimes called a monolithic or monoslab foundation, is made of a flat concrete slab resting on the ground in one piece. These types of foundations are less expensive and faster to build. Approximately $13,000 for a 2,000-square foot house.
Wood Foundation Using preservative-treated wood, you can build a wood foundation that is resistant to decay and easy to install. These foundations are easy to install because they are less labor-intensive and less expensive. Approximately $10,000 for a 2,000-square foot house.

Pier and Beam vs. Basement?

Pier and beam foundations are a type of foundation that supports the structural integrity of your house or building. This specific type of foundation is built using rebar and concrete beams that are driven deep into the ground until they reach the bedrock. Additional beams are added to extend from one pier to another to increase support for the joists and flooring of the above structure.

Most modern homes are not built using pier and beam foundations because they are more expensive than slab foundations. Pier and beam foundations differ from slab foundations because the former is elevated by nearly 24 inches off the ground, and the latter sits directly on top of the ground. You will find pier and beam foundations below many homes built before the 1960s. Overall, pier and beam foundations can be a superior alternative if you want to elevate your home off the ground and pay a little bit less in construction costs.

Crawl Space vs. Basement?

Crawl space stem wall foundations are short foundations that have walls on concrete footings or stem walls that serve as the foundations of a house. Crawl spaces create a small area underneath a house that is just big enough to crawl through. Many homeowners keep storage or furnaces in their crawl spaces. Because crawl spaces are not as deep in the ground as full basement foundations, it is much less expensive to build houses with crawl space foundations.

Crawl spaces are found across the United States. They are particularly popular in areas that are prone to earthquakes and seismic activity because of their sturdiness.

Concrete vs. Basement?

Sometimes referred to as monolithic or mono slab foundations, concrete slab foundations are built out of a flat concrete slab that rests on the ground in a single piece. It is less expensive and quicker to build concrete slab foundations than basement foundations.

The process of installing a concrete slab foundation is quite simple: the construction crew will lay a concrete-embedded beam about two feet below the found around the perimeter of the slab and embed wire mesh and steel bars as reinforcements. Homeowners do not need to worry about maintenance issues with this type of foundation because there are no crawl spaces or basements present to encounter problems like dampness, infestations, and mold.

Unfortunately, the drawback to concrete slab foundations is that they can crack in cold climates as temperature cycles cause the ground to freeze and thaw. Plus any issues with the drainage system could require you to cut into the slab to reach the pipes embedded in the concrete.

Wood vs. Basement?

While wood is not the most intuitive option for a building’s foundation, it has become a relatively popular foundation for many home builders. If you are worried about rotting, this type of foundation is built using preservative-treated wood that does not rot. In terms of price and time needed for construction, wood foundations are the cheapest and less labor-intensive to install.

The durability of wood foundations should not be a concern to home builders. In fact, archaeologists have found wooden beams in Egyptian pyramids that date back more than 6000 years. If the pyramids are still around, your house will be just fine with a wooden foundation. Nonetheless, it is still a fair assessment to place more trust in the durability of concrete foundations.

Final Thoughts

Foundations serve the incredibly important function of keeping your home in place when the ground beneath it moves, keeping moisture out, providing insulation, and keeping your house level. This article should provide you with a good idea regarding what basement foundations can offer. Basement foundations are sunken below the ground, making this type of foundation ideal for homeowners looking to maximize their living space. While the basement foundation may not be perfect for every building, any homebuilder should consider this type of foundation as they plan out the construction of their home.

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