I decided long ago that my next house will have a walkout basement.

That tells you that I’m all in favor of walkout basements vs traditional full basements, so I’ll try not to let that color the information I provide here.

Meaning I’ll stick to the facts and not sound like a real estate agent trying to sell you on a benefit—especially since a walkout won’t be a benefit to everyone.

What I will do is offer a brief explanation of both types of basements and then provide you with the pros and cons of each. I’ll also include whatever information I feel might be helpful to you.

A walkout basement is one that has a wall, windows, and a door at ground level that you can exit through, so they offer more natural light. A traditional or full basement will have no ground-level exit and often lacks natural light.

Read on, and I’ll help you decide if a walkout basement vs a traditional basement is the best choice for you. And if you can afford one.

What are the Different Types of Basements?

There are several different types of basements, but I’m only going to talk in any detail about a few of them here.

I touched on this above but let me flesh it out a bit more. And provide you with a bit more of a comparison.

Depending on where you live, there will be different types of basements that are the norm. For example, where some people live, they mostly have crawl spaces. I’ve never seen a crawl space in my life, and I can’t wrap my head around them.

Traditional Style Basements

A traditional finished basement.

Where I live, every house has at least a full, traditional basement. At least every house built in the last 50 or so years. They may not be fully finished basements, but they are full height, typically between 8 to 10 feet, and about the same square footage as the main floor.

This type of basement lacks a door and typically has tiny windows at ceiling height.

Walkout Style Basements

An extended walk-out basement.

Another popular option here is the walkout. They are typical for any home built on a grade where the back of the lot is lower than the front. Of course, if someone was having a custom house built, they could also excavate to make a walkout possible.

Some people confuse walkout basements with daylight basements, but they aren’t necessarily the same thing.

Remember, a walkout basement is exactly that. You can open a ground-level door and walk outside.

Daylight Style Basements

A daylight basement.

Daylight basements don’t require doors. Technically, a daylight basement just requires at least one full-sized window that sits above ground level. Windows can be on one wall or multiple walls.

So if you are in the market for a new home and basements are an important feature, be careful with those designations.

It’s fairly simple to remember.

Daylight means windows. Walkout means a door that exits to the outside.

I did mention this isn’t a complete list of basement styles. For those who are interested, here is a more comprehensive list:

  • Traditional/full basement
  • Partial
  • Walkout
  • Daylight
  • Cellar
  • Crawlspace
  • Sub-basement

Is A Walkout Basement Cheaper to Build?

In most cases, no. And not every site allows for them. Not only does the property need to be sloped—either naturally or man-made—the soil needs to be taken into account. Variations in the soil can cause problems for your home, especially if you live in a climate where the temperatures change drastically with the seasons.

So if you are designing and building, you’ll need to pay for professionals to check the site before you do anything. And that will cost you.

You can expect a walkout basement to cost you around $20,000 more to build than a full, traditional basement. And keep in mind that estimates are going to vary depending on your locale.

Here are the current building costs to install a basement in new construction homes.

Traditional full basement$26,000 to $50,000
Walkout basement$47,000 to $100,500
Daylight basement$47,000 to $100,500

You’ll also have the option to have the basement finished—again, assuming this is new construction.

It will cost an extra $22,000 to $46,000 to turn the basement into a livable, finished space. Whether your basement is a walkout or not will have no bearing on this price.

The Hidden Costs of a Walkout Basement

Here are a few things that should be factored into the cost equation. First, are you planning to stay in your home forever, or is there a good chance you will sell at some point?

If you do plan on selling, having a walkout basement is a selling feature that comes with a premium. Walkouts are a personal preference, but those that want them are willing to pay extra for them.

So keep that in mind when counting the cost.

Next, above the building costs, you need to consider how a walkout might affect your property taxes. But how property taxes are assessed is going to depend on your locale so some personal research may be necessary.

However, generally speaking, any increase in your home’s value will impact your property taxes. And as discussed above, a walkout will increase the value of your home. Having said that, building any type of finished basement will increase value.

So be sure to plan for the long-term costs of a basement addition, whether it’s a walkout or traditional.

More natural lightingIncreased construction costs
Increased living spacePotential increase in property taxes
Additional accessSecurity concerns
Ideal for legal basement apartments 

Do Walkout Basements Count as Square Footage?

The answer to that depends on where you live. If you’re in the US, it will depend on the laws of your state.

It can be confusing, especially if you’re looking at real estate listings. Some listings count the basement as square footage, and some don’t.

If you’re in a state that does include the basements in square footage, there is a criterion. There must be an ingress and egress point—a walkout.

Square footage of a walkout will be calculated based on how much of the basement is above grade. So if your home is on a steep grade, that could equate to a very small area of the basement.

Walkout Basements vs Daylight Basements

As noted above, the construction costs are going to be the same, so this will come down to preference.

If all you’re interested in is light, and you don’t care about having egress, then a daylight basement will do. Personally, if I was getting the work done, and the costs were the same, I would think ahead and get the walkout. Remember, it’s a selling feature.

However, if you want light and you feel that having a walkout could be a security concern, then the choice is obvious. Stick with the daylight basement.


So, a walkout basements vs traditional. Which is worth the cost?

It really is all about you! In this case, at least.

Go for a walkout if:

  • If that’s what you really want
  • You want more natural light
  • An extra egress or ingress point is desirable
  • You’re thinking of building a basement apartment

Stick with a traditional full basement if:

  • You don’t have an extra $20K
  • There are security concerns with a walkout
  • You don’t mind the lack of natural light
  • You’re worried about an even greater increase in property taxes

If you’re still reading, then hopefully this information has been helpful for you. I don’t think I’ll be getting my walkout basement any time soon, but maybe you will!

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