What Is a Daylight Basement? What To Know

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Is a daylight basement right for your house? Learn about this trend that maximizes living space while letting the light in.

There’s been an uptick in homeowners asking about finishing basements and installing egress windows the past few years, says Aaron Enfinger, chief operations officer for design, build and remodeling firm The Cleary Company.

“If it’s a walkout or daylight basement, it doesn’t feel like a basement. It feels like a normal living space,” Enfinger says.

Are you ready to change your dark basement into a daylight-filled living space? Enfinger and Jason Hensler, senior territory manager for Marvin Windows and Doors, discussed some of the things you should know about daylight basements before starting your project.

What Is a Daylight Basement?

A daylight basement is a basement with at least one full-sized window that lets in daylight.

Beyond that, it depends on who you ask.

Many people, including both Hensler and Enfinger, say a true daylight basement has windows on one or two fully-exposed exterior walls. This design lets in the maximum amount of light.

Others argue you can have a daylight basement if you have a window well with a full-sized window, as long as the window is positioned to let in daylight. If not enough sunlight comes through your basement window to let you read a book without turning a light on, it’s not a daylight basement.

Are a Daylight Basement and a Walkout Basement the Same Thing?

Some say a daylight basement has only windows, while a walkout basement has windows and a door. Others say they’re the same thing.

“Walkout basement” is the more popular term in certain regions of the country, like in central Ohio where Enfinger is located. Code books also usually refer to “walkout” rather than “daylight” basements, Hensler says. He believes the term “daylight basement” is becoming more popular with designers and homeowners as interest in biophilic design (connecting with nature through a building’s design) increases.

Daylight Basement Pros and Cons

Is a daylight basement right for your home? It depends on three things: what you’d like to use the space for, your budget, and some characteristics of your home’s lot.

Pros

Cheaper than an addition: Finishing a basement is a more cost-effective way to add livable space than building an addition because the structure is already in place.

Good for resale: Adding living space with an egress window (a window that could be an escape route in case of a fire) means you can include that space in the finished square footage of your home.

Good for entertaining: Hensler notes that walkout basements are great spaces in which to host gatherings, especially if they open out to an outdoor living space.

Bedroom potential: Having an egress window is required if you plan to add a bedroom to your basement.

Cons

Colder in winter: A window won’t insulate space as well as an insulated wall. However, high-performing windows can help mitigate heat loss.

More expensive than a standard basement: Any improvements to your home, including converting your basement to a daylight basement, will be more expensive than keeping the status quo.

Light blockers for home theater: Consider how you intend to use the basement. Full-size windows are great for bedrooms, workout spaces, artist studios and home offices. But for a few uses, like a home theater, you’d have to block the light from those nice, new windows.

Potential cons

May need a water mitigation plan: Water runoff could be a concern with a daylight basement, particularly if you install a below-grade egress window, Enfinger said. However, whether this is a concern depends on your home’s lot and can be mitigated with a rain control plan.

Some additional maintenance: If the basement walls were previously below ground, you’ll have a little extra external wall to maintain. There shouldn’t be additional maintenance on your home’s interior, though, Enfinger said.

Daylight Basement Windows

The most popular styles of daylight basement windows meet full egress requirements and maximize airflow and sunlight passing through, Hensler said. The types are:

If the space will be used for entertaining, you could consider a servery or hopper window, that opens 90 degrees, like an awning, and is great for passing drinks to an outdoor living space, Hensler said.

For window frame and sash materials, moisture-resistant vinyl and fiberglass are popular for basements. Fiberglass is a stronger material than vinyl, which helps with window durability. Windows with wood frames and sashes are also strong and can be used in basements, but the humidity needs to be controlled when wood windows are used, Hensler said.

Humidity makes us all uncomfortable. Learn how to manage the humidity level in your basement