One of the most important decisions to be made when building a house is what type of foundation to use. As a load-bearing base to the property, it must support the weight, keep out moisture as well as providing stability. But with the building of the foundation comes the argument: crawl space vs basement. Which one should you choose?
This is a debate that rages on between builders, architects, and homeowners alike. There is much to consider, as it can have a major impact on house prices, as well as the structural stability of your home.
So, what is a crawl space, and what is a basement? Are they essentially the same or are there differences? Which one is best for your needs? These are questions that can be answered by looking deeper into the benefits and drawbacks of each option. The main considerations are financial and structural.
Something to consider before deciding
A major point you will need to consider before deciding on a basement or a crawl space is the kind of area you are living in, and what other houses in your area have used. Ultimately, you must do what is best for your particular house.
If all the houses near you have used a basement foundation for example, there may well be good reasons for that. Before we look deeper into what those reasons may be, let’s first understand exactly what crawl spaces and basements are. How do they differ from one another?
What is a crawl space?
Crawl spaces are found in homes that have been raised off the ground by a few feet. This is done by laying the load-bearing sections of the walls on feet or blocks above the actual foundation slab. This creates a space beneath the house itself.
The main advantages of crawl spaces are:
- They are ideal for high-moisture areas
- They produce warmer homes due to the insulating effects of the air pocket beneath the house
- They give easy access to all the home’s utilities, such as electrical wiring, pipework, and ducts
- They provide easy access storage throughout the home
However, there can be disadvantages to having a crawl space. For example:
- Combining the air pocket with moisture can result in worse damp and fungus issues
- They are more vulnerable to storms and extreme weather due to the lack of foundational anchoring
- If not insulated correctly, crawl spaces can lead to colder homes
What is a basement?
Image source: Creating Space, Inc
Basements are one of the most commonly used types of foundation. They are a large space beneath a house with a concrete slab foundation beneath. They were used for years as storage spaces for food and perishables, due to the fact that they are often below the frost line and can maintain steady temperatures for longer. The main difference between a basement and a crawl space is the use of continuous concrete walls going down from the house to the slab below.
The main advantages of basements are:
Image source: ELM Construction LLC
- They provide extra living space, as they function not only as storage areas but also as liveable rooms
- They provide protection from seasonal storms and extreme weather
- They give the house above a strong anchoring foundation
- Due to the airflow and natural insulation by being beneath the frost line, they help keep homes warm in the winter and cool in the summer
The disadvantages of having a basement are:
Image source: Revision LLC
- It can be the most expensive option, due to adding what is essentially another whole room to your building. It will also take more time to construct
- There is a higher risk of flooding, however when built with concrete rather than cinder blocks, and with good drainage and a pump, this threat can be reduced significantly
Crawl Space vs Basement
When comparing the two – whether to decide on which to have in your own home or just to see the differences – the important points of comparison can be distilled down to a few key points.
For a crawl space under your house, the cost tends to run at around $7 per square foot, meaning the price could run anywhere between $8,000 to $21,000.
Compared to a basement option however, this may seem more doable. Unfinished basements can cost between $10 to $25 per square foot, whereas finished basements can run from $30 to $100 per square foot. This means that in total a basement could cost you anywhere between $18,000 to $30,000.
Image source: Urban Design Interiors
It is also worth mentioning that a simpler slab foundation is the much cheaper option averaging at around $4 per square foot. This means that a slab foundation may cost between $4,500 to $12,000.
Looking at these price points, it is tempting to just opt with the cheapest choice. However, it is important to take into account other important points which may mean you spending more money in the short term, to save you much more money in the long term.
- Choosing a slab foundation in an area prone to extreme weather and storms may lead to huge repair cost later on, whereas a basement foundation offers the greatest amount of stability and anchoring to your property, as well as safety for the occupants
- If you live in a flood-prone area and choose a crawl space for your home, you will be more protected than any other option. Basements are likely to flood and potentially destabilize the foundation of the building, while slab foundations offer little to no protection at all
- If you are planning ahead and thinking of the resale value, properties with basements tend to be much easier to sell, and often go for higher prices
- Labor costs factor greatly into this. A greater proportion of the cost of a basement goes into labor, as it is more time-intensive to pour the foundation floor and set the concrete walls
Image source: Kilbarger Home Builders
If you only consider one thing, then make it this: look at the area and neighborhood you are building in and see what other buildings have used. The chances are that there is an environmental reason they have built the way they have. Start here and decide what is best for you and your finances.
Conclusion – Crawl Space or Basement? The Final Decision
So, when all is said and done what is the real difference between these types of foundation? Builders and architects often side with their preferred method of construction for many reasons. Often these are related to cost, labor or are even just down to habit. But the argument need not be so heated. We have seen here how each method has its merits and its drawbacks. Ultimately, you must decide what is best for your own property and stick with that.
- Do you live in an area with high levels of air moisture? Consider a crawl space. These are cost-effective ways of ventilating your home and stopping the build-up of damp and rot.
- Do you live somewhere with a higher than normal risk of extreme storms? A basement will offer you the most protection and structural anchoring. It may cost more at first, but the long-term benefits will outweigh this.
- Do you live in a temperate region without the issues of moisture and storms? Then a simpler slab foundation may be fine for you. These are much cheaper and while they don’t offer the benefits of a basement or a crawl space, these benefits may not be necessary for your situation.
Hopefully, if you consider all of these points, then your choice will be easy to make. But remember to always consult a professionally trained structural engineer before finalizing your decision.
If you enjoyed reading this article about crawl space vs basement, you should read these as well: