Basement design and planning

Do you need a basement in your home, or would you like to renovate or repair your current basement? In some areas, they serve as storm shelters and are essential elements for safety and security. Basements also provide an escape from outside noise and tend to stay a constant temperature and require less heating or cooling. Basements introduce a whole different set of challenges than above ground structures and those challenges need to be considered when designing your basement.


Because basements are structures that are beneath the surface, moisture from runoff, condensation or seepage through the soil becomes an issue in basements. These moisture issues need to be dealt with when designing your basement. Here are a few tips to help:

  • Make sure that there is a good slope away from the foundation wall of your home so that runoff gets away from the wall. 2” fall for every foot of run is necessary.
  • Make sure that downspouts empty well away from the foundation wall. 3 to 5 feet is recommended.
  • Don’t put flower beds right up against it and then introduce water right next to the foundation wall. Leave a minimum of 12” space between plants and the foundation wall.
  • Line your foundation wall with impervious material and maintain it regularly to make sure no cracks or areas of seepage develop. 12” of concrete or other impervious material is recommended.
  • Make certain that there are no cracks or defects in the foundation wall and keep an eye out for them. A tiny crack will grow much faster than you think.
  • Make sure that you have adequate water sealing on the walls of your home. New structures should have it on the outside as well as the inside.

Making certain that these steps are followed to waterproof your basement will rid you of a lot of headaches later on.

Dealing with mold and mildew

Keep in mind that where there is moisture, there is the potential for health issues due to mold and mildew. Even when you have properly waterproofed your basement, there is a tendency for basements to retain moisture from internal sources. Some of the main issues to guard against for internal moisture are:

  • Unvented driers.
  • Showers and other indoor plumbing fixtures.
  • Cooking
  • Humidifiers
  • Condensation from warmer, outside air.

Make sure that your fixtures and appliances are well vented and that your plumbing fixtures are well drained. Basements tend to be more humid than other parts of the house, so don’t add to that humidity by using a humidifier. Do not cool your basement using outside air.

Plumbing Challenges

Plumbing in basements create a whole new set of challenges, including the ones that we’ve already discussed. The major issue involved is the fact that water doesn’t run uphill. You have to get sewage from showers, toilets, sinks, washers and other fixtures up to the proper level so that it can drain into the sewer system outside your home. To do this, you’ll need to pump it up to the required level. Planning for and having a sump pump will be a necessary part of your home design. Additionally, plumbing from the rooms above will have to be dealt with in a space between the floor above and the ceiling of your basement. Understanding the challenges with plumbing shouldn’t cause you to avoid putting in a basement, but these challenges need to be addressed during home design so that surprises don’t pop up later.

Load Designs

When you place a whole under an area that is meant to be supported by earth, you have to plan how the structure above is going to be supported in that empty space. In many cases, there will be columns and beams that are necessary to support the floor and wall structure of the floors above. Make certain that you take these structural members into consideration when you are creating the floor plan design of your basement. In some cases, you might even make good use of those structures within your design to provide a special feature in your basement.

Professional Help

All of the issues raised above can also come with a set of local code requirements to complicate things further. It is best to seek professional help when designing a basement, in order to avoid and deal with the special set of challenges that arise out of including a basement in your building design.


Basements can serve a special purpose and be a functional living space that enhances the value of your home. Though there are waterproofing, mold and mildew, plumbing and structural problems, seeking help to make certain that those issues are dealt with during the design phase will help you to avoid surprise problems later on.

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What is an architect and why might you need one?

An architect is a design professional with special education and experience in the design and construction supervision of buildings for residential or commercial occupation. An architect does a great deal more than just draw floor plans, but many people don’t understand the full scope of their work. We’ll answer five questions about architects so that you can become more familiar with their work and why you might need one.

What is an architect?

An architect is a licensed professional who not only designs the layout of building, but also specifies, in detail, what materials will be used and how a building will be assembled. In essence, architecture is an art form that is combined with engineering, joining the concepts of both form (the appearance of the building) and function (how the space will be used). In essence, they wear both a creative and a technical hat.

What do architects do?

In the function of both a creative and technical professional architects perform a variety of functions such as, but not limited to:

  • Plan building design and material specifications
  • Make sure that all local building and life safety codes are met in the building’s design.
  • Apply for variances when special considerations need to be made for the client’s construction needs.
  • Develop a set of construction plans that are presented to builders in order to collect bids on the construction of a building.
  • Approve material changes and construction techniques.
  • Supervise construction to make sure that their design specifications are being met.
  • Give final approval for the building to be turned over to their client.

What sort of education do architects have?

Architects are required to obtain a professional degree (Master’s Degree) in architecture from a degree program that is accredited by the National Architecture Accrediting Board (NAAB). Within an accredited program, an architect studies art, math, drafting and design, and environmental studies. In addition, they also learn structural, electrical, mechanical and environmental engineering.

After receiving an accredited degree, architects must also participate in an Internship Development Program (IDP) with an already licensed architect within the state they hope to obtain their license. The number of hours required in an IDP varies from state to state, but most take about 3 years to complete. Following their education and internship, architects must pass all divisions of the Architect Registration Exam (ARE) before licensure.

What professional qualifications do architects have to demonstrate?

Architects are rigorously tested over a number of different subject areas and they are required to pass on the ARE in order to be licensed. The test includes the application of knowledge and skills in the following areas:

  • Construction Documents & Services – project management and professional practice knowledge and skills, including the preparation of contract documents and contract administration.
  • Programming, Planning & Practice – environmental, social, and economic issues; codes and regulations; project and practice management.
  • Site Planning & Design – site planning and design including environmental, social, and economic issues, project and practice management.
  • Building Design & Construction Systems – building design and construction, including environmental, social, and economic issues, and project and practice management
  • Structural Systems – incorporation of general structural and lateral force principles in the design and construction of buildings.
  • Building Systems – selection, and integration of mechanical, electrical, and specialty systems in building design and construction
  • Schematic Design – schematic design of buildings and interior space planning.

You can be assured that a licensed architect has the understanding and knowledge necessary to build a safe structure that will suit not only your aesthetic, but also your functional needs.

Why would you need an architect?

In some situations, a building, even residential, cannot be built without the approval of a licensed architect. In those cases, many builders, but not all, have an architect on staff to make sure that they are able to meet those requirements. In the event that you are unsure about certain code requirements, an architect is your best bet for understanding or obtaining a variance in relation to that code. If there are some particular engineering, environmental or space issues that need to be resolved during planning, an architect can provide the proper guidance to make sure those needs are met as well.


Though architects are not required for all residential building projects, they are the best professionals to consult where any issues or challenges arise with your home design, planning and structure. Architects have the combination of education and experience to either assist you in the design or provide the proper construction documents for building your home. In essence, if you have an issue that involves your building design or construction, consult an architect before it becomes a mess rather than after.

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