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What You Need to Know about Walkout & Daylight Basements

Let the Sunshine In!


Remember those old movies where basements were scary, musty, and cobweb-filled unused spaces?

Banish those images from your mind as we fast forward to the 2021 homebuilding landscape and look at basements with an increased interest.

Often disregarded in home design, the basement – like the laundry room – is now viewed from a totally different perspective. Today, designers and homeowners are aware of the value of extending the upstairs living space belowground, and refashioning the lower level into something functional, entertaining, fun, stylish, and lucrative for the overall value of the home. Even those on the fence about basements are rethinking their position and considering the many possibilities.

Want extra bedrooms, increased storage space, a bathroom, a home office, a game room, a gym? How about utilizing a finished basement? But instead of a full-underground basement, how about one where you have large, bright windows or where you have windows and can just step out the door down there onto the patio or the yard?

Heres a detailed look at one of the hot trends in new home design – the walkout basement or daylight basement – their attraction and appeal, advantages, and drawbacks.

Walkout basement at the rear of Craftsman style home with lots of stone

Built on a sloped lot, this one-story Craftsman/Country style home with modern amenities features an open floor design, five bedrooms, 4.5 baths, spacious kitchen, and the walkout basement shown here. Look closely at the large windows of the basement and the door that opens onto the backyard. Back stairs lead up to the main floor through the deck and covered BBQ porch (Plan #161-1042).


Daylight Basement vs. Walkout Basement

Theyre among the hot trends in 2021 residential design and an interesting choice for a new home. But what are they, exactly?

Walkout and daylight basements are just like any other basement – with one distinct difference: that of not being completely underground. Instead, they are buried only partially underground, having at least one side exposed to daylight and from which you may be able to just walk out at ground level onto a patio, a yard, or a walkway without stairs.


What is a Daylight Basement?

When this space is referred to as a daylight basement, its because one or more exterior walls are exposed to natural sunlight aboveground and can accommodate full-size windows. Although a daylight basement has windows, it does not have direct doorway egress. That's where a walkout comes in.


What is a Walkout Basement?

The walkout type includes a door that opens directly to the outside, which is the main difference between the two types. Walkouts include all the other features that daylights do, but with the addition of the door. This means that all walkouts are daylights, but not all daylight basements are walkouts. Note that house plans on The Plan Collection with walkout or daylight basements are grouped under "daylight basement" for purposes of searching.


Daylight and Walkout Basement Pros and Cons

These foundation types are ideal for a sloping lot where the rear or one or two sides are above ground. Walkouts may also be designed with a deck or covered rear porch on the upper floor, or main level, of the house that covers the area of the egress door or doors, protecting the space from foul weather.

Beige Transitional Ranch style home with white trim and stone accents

Rear of home with walkout basement covered by deck with massive stone supports

This stunning Transitional Ranch style home (top) with two bedrooms and 2.5-baths has a walkout basement (bottom) that adds two bedrooms, two bathrooms, an exercise room, and a huge recreation room with wet bar. The beautiful home is built on a sloped lot and features an impressive rock-and-stone exterior facade plus gable and hip rooflines, all of which enhance its curb appeal (Plan #194-1010).



Why should you consider home plans with a walkout or daylight basement? Let us explore some benefits:


Lower Land Cost

Typically, sloped building lots are less costly to buy than flat sites, partly because theres less land thats usable as a yard – so its less desirable – and there may, but not always, be more cost in excavating the property. In fact, the right sloped lot may even be less costly to excavate. In addition, as building increases in an area and land becomes more scarce, being open to the possibility of a sloped lot gives you more options when buying your building site.


Extra Space

Think beyond storage when contemplating the extra space that a walkout basement presents. Here is an opportunity to extend the main-level living space. You can create a game/media room for the whole family. Furnish the walkout with a billiards or foosball table, a wet bar, and some tables for card games, Scrabble, crafting, or any other hobby – and you are all set for some family fun.

Walkout basement interior with large wet bar and socializing area

This well-designed walkout basement in a gorgeous, five-bedroom, five-bath Country style home includes a billiards table and a bar where family and friends can gather for refreshments and games. Step out the door of the basement into a patio, and enjoy the lush natural landscape and sunshine (Plan #165-1077).


Or consider a home office/getaway retreat. The space will be totally separate from the main house – quiet, light-filled, and airy. And with a walkout, when youre feeling the pressure of your workload, all you have to do is open the door – and step onto the yard and bright sunshine.   

You can have a mudroom with lockers, bins for shoes and footwear, hooks for jackets, umbrellas, and hats. How about a wine cellar – or another entertaining space that links the indoors and outdoors?    

There are many exciting possibilities for a daylight or walkout basement. You can be innovative without going over budget.


More Light

A walkout or daylight basement allows more natural light to filter into the space through large glass windows – and with a walkout, the door that opens into the patio or backyard. If your design includes extra bedrooms, bathrooms, an open concept living/dining area and another social space, a bright and airy basement is quite inviting. 

Custom home walkout basement, well lit for nighttime, at the rear of 1-story Craftsman style home

While this beautiful one-story, three-bedroom Craftsman style home is lit from top to bottom – main level to the walkout basement - it is easy to picture the natural light that fills the home during the day – with all the tall glass windows that surround it. A view from the windows into the basement shows a spacious open concept design with a living/recreation area. The basement floor plan includes a bedroom and office (Plan #161-1081).


Show-Stopping Look & Feel

This foundation type provides a unique look and feel to the home. Often “invisible” from the front facade of the home, its almost always in full view from the rear elevation. A well-designed and furnished basement with large – or even floor-to-ceiling – glass windows and sliding glass doors in a walkout can be a show-stopping sight!

One-story gray Craftsman style home with lots of stone siding accents

Rear of a 1-story Craftsman style home with a view of the walkout basement

Top: An artful mix of stone and wood siding, gable rooflines, and a covered porch anchored by white columns add to the appeal of the spectacular front facade of a one-story Craftsman style home with three bedrooms and 3.5 baths. The focus of the interior is a double-story Great Room with a fireplace. Bottom: Walk to the rear, and bask in the sight of a completed walkout basement that opens to an outdoor patio with a swimming pool. The walkout includes options for more bedrooms and other amenities like a media room and a family room (Plan #161-1067).


Expanded Family Living

The basement – especially a walkout – can be ideal for multi-generational living if the space is built as a separate and stand-alone apartment that functions as an in-law suite or space for adult children, especially those who work or have a budding career. With their own living space and private entrance in the walkout basement, these adults can come and go according to their own schedules without disturbing anyone in the main house. Some homeowners may consider potential income if they make the walkout a rental apartment – with its own entrance and needing no access to the main level.


Added – Lower Cost – Square Footage

With a completed and fully furnished – and well lighted and airy – basement, homeowners add more livable square footage to their home without increasing its footprint, eliminating extra excavation and foundation expense. And this, in turn increases the value of the home – whether or not you put it up for sale. 



Like everything else in life and design, there are drawbacks to consider with a walkout or daylight basement.


Flat Building Sites Are Out

It is not always feasible to have this type of foundation because it is ideally suited to properties where the land slopes downward away from the back of the home or upward toward the front of the house, in which case you can include a drive-under car garage.


Possible Extra Cost

If you dont have a properly sloped building site, youll likely incur additional costs when building a daylight or walkout basement. Without a sloping lot – or a slope that is too great or too shallow – contractors must custom-excavate the land to create the proper slope and steps for landscaping – obviously adding to contractor fees at the initial building stage.


Moisture Issues

Problems with moisture and mold are common concerns in full basements, and the same is true for the underground walls of walkouts and daylights. You need to be sure that proper waterproofing and water-containment and -diversion strategies have been included during the building phase. Here is where its extra important that you work with a reliable contractor – and one whos experienced in building dry basements.


As more people realize the benefit of light-filled lower levels and basement remodeling moves to the forefront of home improvement, we can expect stylish and functional walkout basement designs to continue as hot trends.


Footnote: The bottom left photograph in the lead image of this article is the walkout basement in a magnificent four-bedroom Western Craftsman style home with more than 4,900 square feet of living space. For more on the attractive home with its open-concept-designed floor plan and amazing features, go to Plan #161-1049



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