A walk-out basement is a bonus feature—a place to relax and entertain in a recreation space, a place to accommodate aging parents, or the perfect spot for a home gym. In a new construction situation, the chosen lot may have a natural topography for building a basement. In such cases, it is most cost-effective to do so, according to Evan Bost of Bost Custom Homes, but it’s important to properly plan a comprehensive design of how the walk-out basement area will coordinate with outdoor living elements.

“In a walk-out basement house, the main living area is elevated from the backyard, so there can be a dysfunction between the spaces if it is not designed properly,” Bost says. Let’s say a homeowner has a basement that will serve as a billiard room and entertainment bar, but there is also a pool, a pool deck, and an outdoor kitchen on the wish list. In many basement scenarios, the homeowner would be left with a pool or lower patio about twelve feet below the main living area, leaving an awkward segue between indoor and outdoor living. “There are several ways to address such a situation,” Bost says.

Rethink the huge porch off the main living area. Since this area is essentially the second floor of a basement house, due to a large overhang the porch’s depth shades the majority of sunlight from outdoor spaces contiguous to the house. Designing the porch off to one side addresses this light issue and makes the outdoor space more inviting. Bost explains, “Shifting the house design so the porch is off the kitchen or family room on one side of the house allows a portion of the walk-out basement to be fully daylit, which reduces the dungeon effect. If the topography is sloping from left to right, it’s possible to have walk-out outdoor living space on the main floor and basement level across the back of the house by using retaining walls to hold up the high side of the lot and a staircase through the retaining wall down to the basement level. This allows for some yard access from the main floor. The trade-off is that a larger portion of the basement is buried below-ground.”

In a porch reconfiguration, a homeowner can get even more bang for the buck by using retractable clear-vinyl phantom screens. These screens roll down on exposed porch walls to create additional indoor living and entertainment flex space during the colder months, and they roll up during warmer seasons to extend outdoor living.

As an alternative suggestion, Bost suggests designing tiered outdoor living spaces. For example, from an outdoor kitchen off the main living area, tier down nine steps to a raised patio, and then tier down nine more steps to the basement level. “Several levels of tiered living spaces beat one giant set of steps,” he says. “This design is more inviting for outdoor living, is easier for daily use, and draws visitors through the space; however, a raised patio is expensive to build unless it jives with the topography.

Although building a walk-out basement is not hard to implement, to achieve optimal home functionality and a seamless experience, it takes planning on the part of a custom homebuilder.

  • Written by Dana W. Todd