Daylight/walkout basement - not a sloped lot

juudyshouse2012June 11, 2007

We currently live in a beautiful home on 5 acres and our house is situated on top of a large slope. We built a house with one main level and a daylight basement. We are going to be moving and rebuilding. It is very difficult creating and maintaining landscaping and gardens on sloped land! Everywhere you go, you have to have steps or terraces. In the new house we want to have several garden rooms that lead into one another through gates, arbors and pathways.

This time we want to have a level lot. Probably 2 acres (I love gardening)but we still want to have a one level house with a walk out basement. The basement provided us with so much additional space - exercise room, 2 bedrooms, bonus room and SO SO much unfinished storage! I know we could have a basement, but I want there to be full windows in the rooms. I don't want a dark closed-in basement.

Is it possible to build a house on a level lot and create some kind of daylight/walkout basement without having the house be on a hillside? Can you just excavate the area on the side of the house where the basement will be and have a slope around it, but keep the property level for landscape purposes, like pathways, patios, vegetable garden, etc.

Thanks for any information you can provide.


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Yes, it can be done, but you need to be aware of the increased costs because of the retaining walls that will likely need to be build. If you don't want any slope on your land, then your basement will need to be excavated more deeply and "dug away" on the side where you want your walk out. Depending on the design of the house, that means that retaining walls will probably need to be constructed to hold back the dirt.

When my husband and I started thinking about building, a walkout basement was the #1 item on our wish list. One builder, who was very experienced in building walkouts, advised us to find land with a little natural slope because he said it's much easier and considerably less expensive to build a walkout on that than on a totally flat piece of land. He said it can be done, but it's not cheap.

Maybe you can find a piece of land with a gentle slope, rather than a steep hill. That way you can have the best of both worlds. It's also better for your septic system for your land to have some gentle slope away from your house.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2007 at 3:12PM
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What we did in a similar situation is to build a walk-up basement (exterior door opens to stairs going up to grade). You could also have large windows with window wells.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2007 at 3:31PM
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hoosiegirl, I'm not sure what you mean by stairs going up to grade. Wouldn't that put the basement level with the first floor? I want the first floor level with the property. I've seen plans where the "basement" is the first floor and the kitchen, patio, great room (the main living space) leads out to a deck. I don't want a deck. Do you have a picture?

arbella, maybe a slight (very) slope might be acceptable. Right now we are on top of a knoll and the front of the house is level with the wooded area, but the back of the house sits about 30 feet up from the road. We have a beautiful view of a mountain, but we cannot utilize our property because of the steep hill. I guess all you really need is an 8 foot slope on one side to account for the lower level. Of course, you can't "order" the land you purchase! :) We'll just have to see what's out there.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2007 at 3:46PM
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No, I mean when you're in the basement (below grade), you would open the exterior door and walk upstairs to your yard. I'll see if I can find or take photos to help you visualize.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2007 at 3:58PM
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Here you go, Judysgardens. The first photo is of the exterior basement stairwell; the second photo shows the exterior door to the basement (just to the right of the chimney). Hope that helps!

    Bookmark   June 11, 2007 at 4:17PM
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Our property is a little over 5 acres, it contains both flat and sloped areas. Our building site has a large flat area and then slopes down. We are going to site our home (a daylight basement plan) to take advantage of the views, and the slope and use the dirt from the excavation to create our areas on top and sides for yard and gardens.

If you find a gently sloped lot with some flat you can probably 'create' the landscape you desire more easily than with a totally flat lot excavated for your basement.

Good luck finding your land!

    Bookmark   June 11, 2007 at 4:21PM
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I don't think you have to find the "perfect" piece with exactly 8' of fall. There is a broad range that will work better than flat. You can make up the grade with a raised front door for instance. Put the front door 4-6 steps up from grade and then you only need to make up 4-5' of grade. In fact, I think it helps a house look more graceful to have several steps up to the front porch.

You could also take a flatter piece of land and orient the house so that the footprint is at its longest dimension going down the slope. That gives more distance, which gives more fall.

We're on 3 acres (and closing on Thursday!!!!) with a walkout basement. Our land had a spot that gave us exactly the fall we needed, literally to the inch. We ended up with "enough" flat space around the house. What made a big difference though was to orient things so that your traffic patterns follow the contours. We can walk across the grade from the front door over to the garage and then on to the guest parking area (a total of about 150') and stay within a foot of the same elevation. Sure, when you want to go around the side yards its a little steep, but our daily patterns will be basically flat.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2007 at 11:51PM
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Before we purchased our property, we had dhs good friend (a contractor) look at the ground to see if we could build a walkout basement on this lot. He used equipment that looked at the slope and determined that we could have a nice walkout basement with retaining walls. (We also have three steps going up to our front porch).

When we purchased the ground, several people commented that we could not build a walkout basement on that "flat" propety. It actually did appear mostly flat from the road.

We built a one story home with a walkout basement without a problem. Here is an outdated pics from the back and from the front.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   June 12, 2007 at 9:05AM
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blsdgal, your house is beautiful! That's exactly what I want! Where is your kitchen? Do you have a walk out patio off the kitchen? That's what I want. Is your master bedroom over the daylight basement? Thanks for the pictures. I'm going to print them out and keep them in a file so when we start designing the plan (after we find the land) I can show a builder what you did.

Tragusa3, that's a good idea about putting several steps up to the front porch. In the past I never wanted to do that because I used the front door often to go in and out of the house. However, over the past 15 years we've had garages in our houses and of course only (normally) use the garage entrance to enter the house. So, I can see how that would not only look nice, but add that additional elevation for the daylight basement.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2007 at 12:01PM
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If you raised the house up a bit....maybe even 4', then you would only have to go down about 5' below grade. You could do a courtyard. Basically, it would be built like a basement only with no house on top. You could do a large section like this and have a full bank of windows on the basement wall. The courtyard would be beautiful. Put laminate stone on the walls, maybe a fountain in the center, lots of ferns and hostas and other shade plants. It would stay cooler in the summer, great for gardening! It would not be cheap....but it sure would be fantastic. You could even do a greenhouse top over part of it to extend your gardening into wintertime. An earth-sheltered greenhouse is really nice.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2007 at 1:27PM
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Judy--here you go. I did have the kitchen redrawn by a local architect which improved it immensely.

I also made a few other minor changes. Let me know if you want more detail. In the basement I have two bedrooms, a playroom, exercise room, family room with bar and pool table area, 2 bathrooms, cedar closet and tons of storage.

It is a very livable home for a large family (or even not so large).

Here is a link that might be useful: Oak Hill Lane--SL

    Bookmark   June 12, 2007 at 1:29PM
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blsdgal, I really like the floor plan! It is a little larger than what we wanted. We are thinking closer to 3700 to 4000 sq. ft. But, I can already see some things I can live without. Like we only want a great room leading into the kitchen. We don't need an additional family room, too. Also, don't need a master sitting.

And downstairs, I only want one additional bedroom, exercise room, bonus room and another full bathroom, and, yes, I want a cedar closet. And I want all the storage!!

Do you have a copy of the lower level floor plan, too?

You must love living there!! How long did it take to build? Did you have a good building experience?

    Bookmark   June 12, 2007 at 7:26PM
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I don't have a copy of the basement floor plan. However, it did come with the house plan and it was so well done, that we made very few changes. The only rooms that do not have windows are the play room and the bathrooms--which is fine by me. The basement windows are large and to the south. We also have tall ceilings down there and it does not seem like a basement at all.

The house is 3500 sq ft, so not as big as you may have thought--although certainly big enough. We finished 3000 sq ft in the basement.

We don't really need the upstairs great room either, but surprisingly we do use it. I have my baby grand in there and it has NO television.

I do love my home. I wanted a home that was elegant but not pretentious, like so many new homes in my area.

It took us about a year to build and we had a terrific building experience with the best builder I could have hired.

We did time and materials, which I know is frowned on here--but for us it worked out well.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2007 at 8:58PM
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