Uncertain about walkout design

sunshnJune 1, 2009

We are debating building a new home on a 1/2 acre lot. The particular lot we are considering has a walk-out condition, but we are uncertain whether a walk-out is a good design for our family. Note that we would likely not develop the basement for a few years, but would use the undeveloped basement for an office, secondary play area, exercise area, and for storage. Our children are young now (infant and 4 yr old) and we have no pets.

The back of the house faces due west. There is a 17' x 5' deck off the breakfast area, in front of the great room. Access to the rear yard would be through the basement doors, or through the mainfloor laundry room, which appears to be graded the same as the front and then slopes down to the walkout rear grade.

What are the considerations of a walkout basement, particulary considering our young children and the west-facing direction of the back of the home? What are the pros/cons of a walkout design in our situation?

Thanks so much in advance....

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Pros for having a walkout basement:
1. Extra light in your lower level (presuming you add lots of nice windows/doors, etc. This extra light goes a long way towards making the lower level feel like above grade space, the opposite of a spooky, subterannean pit you would want to avoid.
2. Ease of moving people and things directly in and out at ground level without ever having to traipse thru your upstairs.
3. Enclosing the lower level of a deck or screened porch or sunroom above gives you an automatic nice storage shed.

1. You don't have that easy, walkout to level area for playing, grilling, let the dog out, keeping an eye on children, creating beautiful landscaping at eye-level, etc.
2. Depending on how steep the fall is, side yards can be challenging to mow.
3. Many dogs don't handle the stairs/steps, etc. easily.
4. If you're planning on putting in a pool, the blessings are mixed--you'll always have to do stairs to get to and from, and friends/relatives with bad knees or other step aversities won't use the pool.
5. Very security-conscious folks consider the extra windows and doors in a walkout basement a negative.
6. If you're concerned about recycling, composting will require much more energy and fortitude, as you can't keep something near the back door that would be easy to use.
7. The back yard will feel just a teense more remote, and you may tend to use it less often.

Young children considerations:
1. If at all possible, have a bathroom on the lower level. It is only on the last stairstep that the child you are escorting will proclaim, "I have to go potty NOW" (unless of course, you have a bath on the lower level, in which case no need will arise.) Children's parties can be easily conducted from yard to lower level family room if there is a bathroom on that level. (Also, if there is a pool, showering can be done here when they're older.)
2. If you are building a smaller home and choosing between a family room off the kitchen on the main level vs. a family room in a walkout basement, this isn't as desireable for smaller children, as you won't be able to watch them here and tend dinner at the same time.

Western exposure considerations:
Western sun is hot, hot sun. You will want a covered deck or porch, or at least a canvas awning if you plan to be out much. You will also need flexible window treatments, especially if your only place for the television is on the wall opposite windows on a west-facing wall.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2009 at 11:19PM
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Could you add stairs to the deck? The rear of my house faces West and as annainpa states, has sun beating on it all afternoon. My deck runs along that side 30 x 15 and has sliding doors to the dinning room, sunroom and kitchen. Our deck has a long staircase to the yard. Our basement is above grade and has a door beneath going outside. The basement is finished and we have a full bath, office and tv room. We also have a small room we use as a guest room. We couldn't live without that door going in and out to the yard to use the bathroom and to run in the house for something.

For many years we didn't have stairs off the deck. When we added those, I couldn't imagine living without them. The area under the deck is shady and fairly dry. We keep a shed there with our garden tools. I wished we had paved it to use as a shady patio.

Hope that helps,


    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 12:23AM
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Personally, I hate a walkout design back; I feel disconnected from nature standing up there above the ground. I much prefer a level yard. You will immediately want to put a deck on the back so that you can walk outside from the main level. That deck will then reduce the light coming in the lower level. Then you will need to do something with the area under the deck, such as putting down pavers. Grass generally won't grow under a deck because of the lack of light. And then there are the creepy crawlers that claim the area.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 8:47AM
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Walkouts are great, but like any design, they can be poorly done. They are very common in this area, as flat land is pretty rare around here.

Why not post a link to the design you are considering. That way you can get more objective criticism.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 9:21AM
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Thanks so much everyone for your input so far. Here is a link of the house plan. We are looking at the bungalow elevation (A), 2605 sq.ft.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 10:30AM
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What do you consider the back of the house, the part facing West?

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 10:46AM
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Sorry if this posted twice...

I consider the back of the house to be the side with the master bedroom, great room, deck and breakfast room. The side garage may have thrown my post off. The back of the house faces west, backing onto a conservation woodlot at the rear property line.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 11:00AM
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I've had three walkouts and one regular basement. I would probably never have a house that didn't have walkout basement unless I just wanted to use the basement for storage. Where I live a walkout basement increases the value of the property over a regular basement.

I love windows, natural light, views to the outdoors especially if you have a nice, natural private lot. To me a walkout basement makes it liveable. A regular basement is like a cave and it's a place I wouldn't want to spend much time. You have a deck of some sort on the upper level so you can have a grill, etc. conveniently located. You have stairs if you want easy access to the ground. I'm not sure what difference it makes if you have kids - they've been living in houses with walkout basements for ages with no apparent problems.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 1:31PM
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Maybe I'm not reading the plan right or not understanding what you are trying to do. Unfortunately, the plan is too small to read all the print properly. Anyway, this is my take on it.

If the lot slopes down to the west, I don't see how you could build that plan with the MBR/great room side of the house facing down slope without a huge expense. You would have the entry porch and at least part of the garage over the slope. I think it would require extensive professional engineering, major excavation and concrete work, and probably one or more retaining walls.

Does that plan specify a walkout basement foundation or at least make it optional?

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 5:33PM
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BTW, Since you are thinking about building this home, I think you would do better in the home building forum than the buying and selling real estate forum. I suggest you post a link to this thread in the other forum.

Here is a link that might be useful: Building A Home Forum

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 5:38PM
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The lot is sighted as a walkout...it's not something we're specifically requesting. The site slopes to the west, such that the back is a walkout. The front, garage doors and back corner porch are at the front ground level, and then it slopes quickly down to the basement level such that the basement is a walk out.

I hope this helps.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 5:54PM
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Here is a drawing of the rear walkout (we are not doing the second story elevation though, but it gives you an idea of the walkout basement).

And here is the front elevation, and hopefully a clearer image of the floorplan (ignore the stairs to the second story though)

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 6:42PM
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I love having a walk-out basement.
Our basement faces SW and it receives late afternoon sun.
We have 6 foot tall windows across the back along with french doors.
We graded our sloping land so that is is a gentle slope from front to back.
It is definitely a positive for us and I see no negatives.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 10:45PM
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I've had walkouts the last two houses and love them. If you do it, make sure to do at least a 9 foot tall foundation and 10 if you can swing it. You will not regret that... and spend the extra it might take to reduce the number of lolly columns if you can.

I will comment, however, that I think you will not like a house with its back to the west. You have a nice breakfast room and a lot of glass across the back. In the morning, the sun will be at the front of your house where you can't enjoy it. In the afternoon, when the sun sets in the west, you'll have a big heat load and glare with the sun coming in all that glass. Both my previous and current house face west and have the living spaces towards the rear where that glorious morning sun can stream in. Site orientation is often overlooked and the results are usually something you can't quite put a finger on sometimes to the better and sometimes to the worse.

For the kids, an unfinished walkout basement can be a place where they can be rambunctious without having to worry about making a mess of things. As they get older you can finish and have an away space for yourself or them.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 11:22PM
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We finished building our house in Feb, and we're finishing the walkout basement now. No sump, we have french foundation drains, a waterproof spray and draing matting, and all of our downspouts are piped down below and out past the house. No damp, musty or wet basement for us... and we just emerged from a drought with a few of the wettest months in a decade, so we're feeling good about the basement.

Klabio is correct about the heat load from all those West facing windows and glare on any TVs and such. Our rear faces Northeast, so we get morning sun, followed by afternoon shade. That's a nice combo.

If your main floor is 9 ft ceilings, do an 11 ft basement wall (you lose about 4 inches to the slab, and then you'll have soffits and such for the HVAC and plumbing, so you'll end around 9 ft if you make the ceiling flat). And go up from there to make the basement feel like the rest of the house instead of a cave. Also, plumb for a bath and even a wet bar. The cost now is a lot less than later.

We have small retaining walls on each end of the walkout, only 3-4 ft high, which allows the grade to be less steep for planting and mowing.

We have a deck going from retaining wall to retaining wall with a concrete pad underneath. We'll decide if we tile or do a concrete stamping on it later, but it's usable till we decide. The deck is PT lumber, with PT plywood decking. We waterproofed it, and are in the process of tiling it with slate. We also boxed out the support posts (all the way to railing height) and had our stucco contractor cover it all. Yes, we'll lose some of the natural light in the basement from the covered deck, but we'll gain outdoor, dry, shaded space to enjoy the really hot months here in Charlotte.

Let me know if you want to see any pictures or know more about the specific products we used.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2009 at 8:27AM
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We have a walkout basement & use it all of the time. Ours has sliding doors which I hate, if we ever finish it, a French door would go in.

I love the back of your house including the slope.
I think if anything, the door they show, I would consider changing due to the kids. Too much glass.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2009 at 10:46AM
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sunshn, if you can afford the walk out basement and your lot allows it, do it now.

You can change counter tops and such later but you cant pick up the house and add the walkout later.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2009 at 4:42PM
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I had a walkout basement in my old house, and loved it. It worked well because of the pool in the back yard, but even with no pool, I just like all the benefits of a walkout, mentioned in several posts above.

I live in a slab home now, so no option there, but I am looking to move and the homes with walkout basements are definitely more attractive to me.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2009 at 10:28PM
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The walkout design, in my opinion, is far better than a basement. No contest actually. Who wouldn't like bigger windows and another entrance/exit on the lower level? They are very desirable where I live and increase the value of the house.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2009 at 10:49AM
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I agree with neesie. We have a walkout basement and we use the downstairs all the time. It feels like a downstairs and not a basement. I doubt we would use the space much otherwise. We have french doors and 4 large windows in the main room so the space is full of light. It is set up as a family room. The guest suite is down there and is private and pleasant.

Our house backs to the west like yours would. In the summer, it is too hot to use the main floor deck, but it is nice in the mornings and early afternoon (it is covered). The lower (walk-out) deck is shaded by the upper deck, and we usually sit there in the evenings. We have large trees in the back of the lot.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2009 at 2:09PM
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