If you’ve seen any number of American movies you’ll most likely have noticed that the basement is a key factor in American homes (or at least the film version of American homes). They are the man’s den, the teen hangout, the place too scary for a ten-year-old to venture into.
If you look beyond the televised drama though basements are excellent storage spaces for hot water systems, washing machines, bicycles, out of season clothes, Christmas decorations, surfboards. It’s like having a garage space for everything but your car. It sounds like heaven really, why don’t we have them?
And that’s the boring version. If you want to get creative about it you can design an underground palace. If you need some storage space then digging out a basement might just be your answer.
Consider an extra lounge area, games room or open study space (instead of cramming it into the smallest ‘bedroom’ in the house). There’s also the possibility of installing some foam mats, a ball pen and slides for small kids, a rumpus room for big kids, a wine cellar, massive walk-in wardrobe, home cinema, guest bedrooms, library, discotheque, bowling alley, home gym, trophy room or space for hobbies, memorabilia or maybe a recording studio or secret meeting room.
The earth is the limit when it comes to what you can get out of that extra space, and when you are looking to sell, having a basement is a key extra feature that will make sure your home stands out from the crowd and help get you the sale price you actually want.
It’s not just Northern Americans that have the basement nailed, in Western Europe a home basement is common and is an incredibly practical and useful storage space. It seems Australian homes are lagging behind, perhaps because traditionally Australians built on blocks of land that were incredibly large, giving generations-gone-by serious space for storage, a shed, a garden and a garage. Now though, times are changing, subdivision of big blocks is the norm and Aussie homes are starting to feel a little bit cramped.
Before you get too excited with your new basement plans there are some things to consider. Just like how building an extra storey up takes paperwork, permissions, professional blueprints and structural considerations, so does building down.
Check the local area water table
Building a basement is easy when you are well above the water line, if your basement plans lie below it, however, you’ll need to factor in extra time and expenses for making sure everything is watertight and structurally sound for the long term before you can continue.
Hire an architect who has experience with basement builds
This is important for a number of factors. You want to be sure you have supports in the essential places and your basement idea is solid in the real world. A professional can also open up avenues you hadn’t thought of and they will ensure that living essentials like the utilities for waste, water and electricity are all in place before you start pouring concrete.
Seek the advice of a structural design engineer (or builder)
As well as getting the proper blueprints drawn up, you will need a professional to do the required checks to make sure your soil, drainage and original home structure can handle the pressure of adding a sub-storey.
Before construction works begins it might be hard to tell exactly what your home is sitting on. Expect workers to give you updates on how the rock formations are going that might work to your favour (and give you more space for less money), or might mean you have less space than you originally planned if boulders get in the way.
Invest in adequate lighting
Getting the lighting wrong can mean your new basement never gets used. You want the space to be friendly and seamless. How much lighting you need depends on what you want to use your space for. LED downlights are the best bet for most situations. You also want to be sure you can access light switches easily or have subtle floor runners on your skirting boards and stairs for added safety.
Think open spaces
Open floor spaces are the best option for basements due to the lack of natural light. You want to keep your space breezy and vibrant; although skylights and ground level windows will be something your architect and structural engineers can assist you with, because the bigger the space, the better the feel.
Do the red tape shuffle
Every council has different building regulations which can vary significantly from region to region and state to state. Make sure you speak to your local council and lodge the correct permission forms and wait the required periods prior to building.
Fast track your complying development
Its worthwhile checking to see if you are eligible for Complying Development if you are building or renovating in NSW. If your build meets NSW codes (either suburban or rural) you can fast-track your planning and building approval to just 20 days, which can also save you a considerable amount of money. It may be worth adjusting your plans to meet the code if that doesn’t impede you too much on your future basement use.