Basement Vs. Cellar—What Are The Differences In The US?

When looking for properties, you must be able to distinguish a basement from a cellar. As much as possible, the type of space you choose should suit your family's needs. We have done the research to help you differentiate between a basement and a cellar in the US.

Although most people interchange the terms basement and cellar, there are recognizable differences. In the US, state building codes define the features of a basement apart from a cellar. Look into these factors to check the distinctions:

  • Floor area size
  • Finishing
  • Purpose of the space
  • Presence of egress windows
  • The level where the basement or cellar is on

By learning the differences, you will not get confused about how to use the space. You will know how you can maintain and improve the area. Determining the type of space will also help during property appraisal or inspection purposes. Read further for more information about basements and cellars.

Open storm cellar door and Luxury home wine cellar interior. Basement Vs. Cellar—What Are The Differences In The US

What Makes A Basement Different From A Cellar?

People will sometimes interchange the terms "basement" and "cellar." Although both are extra spaces below a house, they are not the same. These spaces may undergo similar finishing, repairing, and waterproofing methods. You can also use both spaces for similar purposes like storage.

Even so, you have to know how a basement differs from a cellar is for legal purposes. You can prepare for home inspections and avoid getting sanctions. Likewise, it is also beneficial when you want to sell or rent out the property.

Basements Vs. Cellars

Find out in this listing the specific differences between basements and cellars:

Allow a large living space
(average at 400-1,500 sq. ft)
Smaller in floor area size
(ranges from 25 to 150 sq. ft.)
Better amenities and finishing Not always appropriately finished
Permit more activities other
than storage
The primary purpose is for storage
(Not legal for residential purposes)
Partly underground or more than
50% of its height is above grade
At least 1/2 of its height is
Have some means of egress
(windows or doors)
No means of egress
You can access the basement from the
inside of your house
You must exit the house before
accessing the cellar

Based on the table, basements are more habitable than cellars. You can do usual family activities in the basement because of a wider and more finished space. For a cellar, you can only use it for a storage area. You won't be able to get comfortable sleep in the cramped space.

Yet, there are allowable plumbing fixtures in a cellar. You can install a 2-piece bathroom, sink, and laundry equipment. There can also be windows, but these can be so small and near to the ceiling.

How you access the spaces is also different. Basements are accessible without going out of the house. You also have egress points that allow you to enter or exit from the basement in times of emergencies. A cellar does not have these properties, rendering it unsafe for living.

You can refer to your state's building codes for the occupancy requirements of basements and cellars.

a nice wine cellar, elegant, luxurious, full of wine

Where Is The Cellar In A House?

You can find the cellar below the halfway curb line. There are cellars attached to basements or separated from the main house. It is also possible to make your cellar visible inside your home even if it is not below the ground.

Here are some places in your home where you can have the cellar:

  • Living room
  • Dining room
  • Under the stairs
  • Inside an unused closet
  • Hallway

Regardless of where you wish to put a cellar, always consider accessibility. You can access the cellar through ladders, staircases, or trapdoors. If you store products that you frequently need, your cellar should be closer to your house.

If you love to host gatherings, you can read a related post if you should put a bar in the basement.

What Do You Call A House With A Basement?

A half-house is the term for homes that have basements. This type of house became popular after World War II. As the housing systems improved, homeowners either added another story or demolished it to create a new home design. It is rare to find unchanged structures for this type of house.

In modern times, single-family homes and bungalows also have basements. In some states, they allow basement or in-law suites for single-family homes. Bungalows are also a good choice if you have to consider mobility.

Regardless of the type of house you want, you can ask your contractor to include a basement in the house plan.

What Percentage Of American Homes Have Basements?

From an analysis of the NAHB, there are fewer than 24% of homes with basements in the US. Homeowners hesitate to add basements when they build new homes because of some factors. These factors include climate, soil type, flooding risks, and culture.

The regional data showed that West North Central and New England have more than 80% of houses built on basements. Basements are more prevalent in northern regions because of necessity. For southern and western states, having a basement is impractical.

Some builders exclude basements during construction because these add up to the costs of the property. Buyers may not be able to pay for the house, and developers will lose customers. By forgoing basements, it can address the issue of generating sales.

Why Are There No Basements In California?

Due to the high housing costs, it is a luxury to have a basement in the Golden State. Home developers are trying to minimize housing costs by excluding the idea of a basement.

If you want a house with a basement in California, you must also consider the location of your house. The geographical regions surrounding California includes:

  • Pacific Ocean coastline
  • San Andreas fault
  • Central Valley
  • Sierra Nevada
  • Deserts (Mojave and Death Valley)

With the nearby coastlines, the basements in this area are below sea level. There should be preventive measures to avoid flood and water damage. Installing waterproofing and drainage systems is essential to maintain the basement's condition.

Aside from the coastal areas, California is also earthquake-prone. Most homeowners fear that earthquakes can render basements useless and dangerous. Yet, there are recent developments in construction technology to help mitigate structural damage.

What Are The Different Types Of Basements?

Adding a basement adds to the function of your home. You can make use of the space for a variety of purposes. Also, the location and conditions of your house will need a specific type of basement. It is up to you to choose the best basement type to meet your family's needs.

The 3 major categories of basements based on construction are the following:

  • Masonry wall - Masonry blocks create the basement walls. Materials like brick, clay tile, or stone bind together with mortar.
  • Precast panel - The panels have solid concrete studs that support the load of the house. This type creates warmer and drier basements if the panels have rigid insulation. The construction will take 4-5 hours, and costs are lower than other types.
  • Poured concrete - This is the most popular choice for basement construction. This type has more water and fire-resisting properties.

Read here for the 6 types of basements you should know.

Luxury home wine cellar. Basement Vs. Cellar—What Are The Differences In The US

In Closing

All things covered, basements and cellars are not the same. Although both are under the ground, you cannot interchange these terms. As shown above, basements are more habitable than cellars. Cellars are also smaller in area, and their main purpose is only for storage.

Most American homes do not have a basement. Like in California, a basement is costly for homeowners. If you want to have a basement, you can customize it to meet your needs. After all, basements and cellars are great additions to your home.

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