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Top Ten Uses for a Basement

By: Chris Hogan MSc - Updated: 4 Oct 2015 | comments*Discuss
Basement Cellar Storage Underfloor

So you’ve decided to dig deep to find the extra space your family needs, but you’re not sure whether you can do what you want? Here’s a quick run down of the top ten uses for a basement extension and the core problems you’ll face.

With all except the very first option, you’re probably looking at lining the walls of the basement or cellar, particularly if you’ve had to dig down to make headroom. But once you’ve lined, tanked and got the access sorted, really the use of the room is limited only by your imagination and the size of the space you can create.

The easier options

We’ll start with the options that need the minimum of work once the basic structural work is done. All of these options will need electricity, light at least, if not power sockets as well, but that’s the only service required, strictly speaking.

1. Storage space

If you have an accessible cellar or basement you’re probably using it as storage space already. But clearing it of any rubble, tidying it up and putting decent shelves and cupboards in can make a huge difference. It could determine whether it becomes a useful storage space for items you only need occasionally instead of a place where you just throw things, never to be seen again, until the next house move.

Decent lighting really helps this as well, so you might want to think about more than just one naked bulb dangling forlornly from the rafters.

2. Workshop

One step up from the storage space is a workshop but think about the sort of work you are doing. Small scale modelling or similar hobbies will be fine but making large items of furniture or rebuilding motorbikes will require good access to the basement. You might be able to achieve this if your underfloor space isn’t completely below ground level, by enlarging a former coal hatch or skylight.

3. Home office

Whether or not this will work depends on the type of work you do and whether the lack of natural light could make the office too depressing. But all you need is light and power to make a space where work can be separated from the distractions of family life.

4. Spare bedroom

Technically no different to the home office but the same applies – could you hack the lack of light? The best basements for a bedroom are those where there may be a window, often the case with cellars in period properties. Light tubes can be a solution for other spaces. Self assembly furniture will be required too!

Entertainment and lifestyle

Again, no different from the office or bedroom in terms of the technical work required, these options are simply more entertainment focussed.

5. Gymnasium

A basement is a good place for gym machines as you are unlikely to have to worry about them going through the floor! You can also put a gym in a basement with restricted headroom as long as you opt for machines where you recline, like rowing or cycling machines, even bench presses.

6. Games room

By this we mean a space for more active indoor games, not the electronic type, that you might not be able to fit into the house otherwise. Candidates, depending on the area and headroom available, are snooker, pool and table tennis. If you’re lucky there’ll be space for a few pinball machines, a juke box or even a bar!

But with the advent of active electronic games like the Nintendo Wii, Microsoft’s Kinect and other many more, be aware that you may have to give space over to them in the end.

7. Home cinema and entertainment room

Here’s one where the lack of natural light will be an advantage. But remember to count up all the electrical sockets you need, add a few for luck and then double to arrive at the correct number to install. Network and internet access, either wireless or wired, is a must too. You might not believe it but they’ll all disappear much faster than you expect. Apart from anything else the Wii and Kinect will be muscling into the space as soon as it's ready, because Mum will be so annoyed with the breakages in the lounge.

Getting the plumbing in

These are the ideas with the extra level of complexity as plumbing is involved. With all of them you will need a way of getting water in, possibly heating it if the boiler in the property can’t be accessed, then removing it along with any waste. And no, water does not flow uphill, not unless you pump it, so there’s an extra level of complexity there.

8. Laundry

The basement can be a great place for a laundry, with the possibility of ironing space as well as a sink, washing machine and tumble dryer. You could even have hanging space to let washing dry naturally, as long as the ventilation is good enough.

Get a cold-fill washing machine and you won’t have to worry about getting a hot water supply to the basement. A standalone heater can deliver the occasional hot water required for the sink.

9. Bathroom or shower room

Another idea where the lack of natural light shouldn’t be a problem but one where the tanking has to be spot on. Resist the temptation to have a fashionable wet room, unless you fit underfloor heating and top-notch ventilation, or you'll be plagued with damp problems that will never go away. But otherwise the sky’s the limit.

10. Swimming pool

And finally, the reason why most regency terraces in Mayfair, Chelsea and Regent’s Park have basement extensions – the swimming pool. Ok, so not many ordinary houses have the space or cash for this but if you have a serious swimmer in the house you can install a small endless pool which provides a current to swim against while you stay still. Or just have a small pool for soaking and relaxing, maybe with a hot tub section and a sauna on the side. Go on, you deserve it!

Now, what about you?

So those are our top ten ideas but did we miss anything out? What would you do if you had the space and a few thousand pounds? Dig deep to decide what you could use your basement for. Post your comments below to help other readers!

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[Add a Comment]
RTatts - Your Question:
We have a cellar under the hall in our North London Victorian terrace.I'd like to 'tidy' it up so that it can be used as a clean/dry storage space.It's got lots of exposed pipework, cables and quite a lot of rubble under the wooden suspended floorboards and has a very rickety staircase and just one rubbish light.I've looked at the 'basement conversion' contractor sites but they only seem to do the BIG conversion projects. Any advice on what type of contractor(s) I need to get the job done?

Our Response:
A builder who's done this kind of work before should be fine. It might be worth getting a surveyor/architect to look at it and make some suggestions as to what can/can't be done first and to draw up some plans. When choosing a builder make sure you look at other jobs they've done, talk to people about how satisfied they are, get a quote for the job and a staged payment agreement (never give all the money up front and always retain some until the project is complete). Building regulations approval will also be needed and you'll find your building control officer will be quite helpful in making sure you/your builder do not do anything that would prove to be unsafe in the future.
LoftsAndBasements - 7-Oct-15 @ 2:12 PM
We have a cellar under the hall in our North London Victorian terrace. I'd like to 'tidy' it up so that it can be used as a clean/dry storage space. It's got lots of exposed pipework, cables and quite a lot of rubble under the wooden suspended floorboards and has a very rickety staircase and just one rubbish light. I've looked at the 'basement conversion' contractor sites but they only seem to do the BIG conversion projects.Any advice on what type of contractor(s) I need to get the job done?
RTatts - 4-Oct-15 @ 12:18 PM
@berni. From the information you've given, there's no reason why a velux window wouldn't work. Your best option however, is to read some technical forums or ask your local building regulations officer for advice.
LoftsAndBasements - 21-Oct-14 @ 9:51 AM
Hi, we have a basement at home already converted into a home office. It has a window at the front that must have been where the old coal shute was. It doesn't open and the basement sometimes gets musty as no air is circulating. The window has also been leaking so we want to replace it with a window that opens. There are issues about security as the window is in effect in our front garden. Could we replace it with a velux window? If not, what would you suggest? Thank you!
Berni - 18-Oct-14 @ 5:46 PM
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