Building and buying

Basements: advantages, planning, costs and types

Torben Schröder

This decision is one of the most important you will make when building a house: with or without a basement? Because one thing is clear: once you have gone ahead with the project, it cannot be reversed. If you decide against a basement, you may soon find yourself begrudging the lack of space as your family grows or you start new hobbies. Find out here what you as a building owner should consider, what costs you will have to pay and what types of basement there are.

A large concrete slab is embedded in a recess below the topsoil.
© Getty Images / Wicki58

In this article

Advantages of a basement

“A basement is an essential part of the construction of a house” – this idea dates back to times when people mainly stored coal and supplies in the basement. At the time, few building owners thought about insulation and heating, so moisture and unpleasant odors quickly spread.

Today, a basement can be so much more than just floor space – it can be used as a living area too. If you want to spend time there all year round, for example to work or meet friends, certain specific factors need to be taken into account during the planning stage.

Below you will find a brief overview of the advantages of building a basement under your house:

  • Demand: a house with a full basement is easier to resell or rent, especially in urban areas, because it offers more floor space and a larger living area.
  • Additional useful space: in principle, a basement gives you another complete story without increasing the floor area of the house. You can not only store items you only rarely use such as garden tools or winter clothes, but you can also install a boiler room or laundry room.
  • Additional living space: a sauna, a swimming pool, a home cinema, a party room – you can use a basement for the function you’ve always dreamed of.

Conversely, you should bear in mind that building a basement entails additional costs and is a potential source of water damage due to its location. But you can prevent this with the right preparation.

An elderly man is sitting working at a workbench in the basement. Stairs leading up to the floor above are visible in the background.

A converted basement with heating and lighting can be partially or completely inhabited.

Planning for your basement

Once you’ve decided to build a property, you should have the ground inspected by an expert. The findings will play a significant role in the further planning of a basement because they provide information about the composition and the physical and geological properties of the soil. Is there sufficient weight-bearing capacity? How high is the groundwater level? Is the ground contaminated by old deposits?

Keeping an eye on expenses

It’s difficult to determine how much it will cost to build a basement in Switzerland. It will depend on criteria such as the location of the property, the floor area of the house and the type of basement. As a rough guide, the construction costs for building a basement under a typical single-family house amount to around 150,000 francs. The excavation work alone will take up around 20,000 francs of this amount. A foundation slab, on the other hand, which is necessary for a house without a basement, costs between 15,000 and 30,000 francs. Due to its static nature, this type of foundation slab is considerably more expensive than a non-load-bearing basement floor slab.

Tip: don’t call in a separate company to build the basement, but have it done by the general contractor, otherwise the cost can increase significantly. This is because general contractors usually offer more favorable all-inclusive prices.

Decide on the purpose: to use or to inhabit?

Given the relatively high costs, building a basement under your house is only worthwhile if you have a sensible use in mind. In principle, there are two different purposes, as explained below.

  • A utility basement: this is usually a place with a low ceiling height where you can store and stow things away. It can accommodate heating and ventilation equipment as well as bicycles, supplies or garden tools. There is no need for extra insulation on the outside walls. However, you should install basement ceiling insulation to separate the unheated basement from the heated living spaces above it.
  • An inhabited basement: if the inhabitants regularly spend long periods in the basement, it is referred to as inhabited. This is the case, for example, if the basement houses a hobby room, a gym, a study or a playroom for the children. In addition to larger windows, adequate lighting, an escape route and heating, this type of basement also requires special thermal insulation on the outside walls that are in contact with the ground.
Two young people make music in a brickwork basement.

Remain undisturbed without disturbing others – a basement is the ideal place for practicing hobbies.

Types of basement: construction and waterproofing

There are two popular ways to build a basement: brick or concrete. Waterproofing the basement against moisture from outside is always very important. We present the different types of basement below.

A brickwork basement

One stone on top of another – the classic way to build a basement. As a material, you can use concrete, lightweight concrete or bricks. The main advantage of this procedure is that you can do the work yourself and save on construction costs. Once the shell is in place, it must be waterproofed. This is done according to the “black tank” principle. The basement walls are covered from the outside with a multi-layer bitumen coating. The dark color of the sticky hydrocarbon mixture gives the construction its name.

View of excavation work below the surface. A black bitumen coating is being applied to the outer brick wall of a basement.

A black bitumen coating applied from the outside protects the basement behind it from penetrating moisture.

A concrete basement

The somewhat cheaper, faster and therefore now widely used alternative is a basement made of waterproof concrete, known as WU concrete. This type of construction is ideal if your new basement is located under the groundwater level. The reinforced concrete parts are by nature impermeable to water – which makes the extra step of waterproofing unnecessary. The corresponding elements are either prefabricated in a factory or cast on site on the property. Due to its light color, this concrete construction is also called “white tub”.

Another waterproofing option for a concrete basement is known as “brown tub”. Here the concrete body is covered with betonite mats, which are brownish in color. This method is recommended if seepage water and ground water exerting pressure accumulates around the basement.

Conclusion: don’t try and save money in the short term, but plan for the long term

If the costs of your new build are mounting up, it’s true that not having a basement could be a potential cost-saving measure. But as the owner of a house, you should plan for the long term: will you regret not having a basement sooner or later? After all, remember that you can use a basement not only as a storeroom, but also as living space.

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