What Is a Walkout Basement? Pros, Cons, and More

A walkout basement is designed with at least one exterior entrance that is installed at ground level, allowing homeowners to walk directly out of the basement. Having one side of the basement at or above ground level also helps to increase airflow and sunlight into the home, though not every aspect of a walkout basement is beneficial.

Find out what a walkout basement is and learn more about the pros and cons.

What Is a Walkout Basement?

A walkout basement is a basement that has at least one exterior entrance, allowing people to walkout from the basement to the outside. However, the basement entrance must be located at or above ground level for the basement to count as a walkout.

Typically, walkout basements are installed on sloped lots where the ground dips down to the bottom of the basement on one side of the home, but still mostly covers the foundation on the other three sides of the home.

Walkout basements can be installed on excavated lots where the homeowner has specifically requested that the ground around one side of the home be excavated to down to the bottom of the basement, though this method requires the use of retaining walls to prevent the soil from collapsing.

Walkout Basement Property Requirements

The key property requirements for this upgrade include the drainage, egress, foundation condition, lot slope, orientation, soil composition, as well as zoning and setback regulations.

  • Drainage is essential to prevent leak and basement flooding. The yard should slope away from the basement and foundation so that rain and meltwater do not flow back toward the house.
  • Egress requirements shift between different cities, regions, and states, so you need to check the local egress requirements before proceeding with this update.
  • Foundation condition is a key consideration. If the foundation is in rough shape or it’s not strong enough to support the upgrade, then the homeowner may not be able to proceed with the walkout basement installation without first repairing and reinforcing the foundation.
  • Lot slopes should drop down to the bottom of the basement on at least one side of the home. If the lot doesn’t already have this slope, contractors can excavate the lot to create it, though this will come with a higher cost.
  • Orientation will impact how much light enters the home, as well as where the walkout door will be installed. The difficulty of the project can increase depending on how the homeowner wants the walkout oriented.
  • Soil composition affects the ease with which the yard can be excavated. Dense, heavy soil with a high amount of clay is difficult and more expensive to excavate than loose soil.
  • Zoning and setback can also vary based on the location of the home. Check local zoning regulations and property setback requirements to determine how close to property lines you are allowing to build.

Benefits of a Walkout Basement

  • Easy access into and out of the basement is one of the main reasons a homeowner will install a walkout basement. The convenient location of the walkout door allows homeowners to enter the home from the yard or walkout to a patio or outdoor kitchen. Additionally, a walkout basement entrance should not require the use of stairs, making it easier for individuals with mobility issues to enter the home.
  • Increased airflow and natural light come as an added feature of a walkout basement, since one side of the home must slope down to the bottom of the basement.
  • Rental income may be an option for homeowners that don’t really use the basement. While a standard basement may not meet the local requirements for rental, a walkout basement can usually be legally rented out because it has a separate entrance.
  • Extra living space or at least the impression of added living space can be attributed to a walkout basement. While regular basements don’t provide enough light, ventilation, or points of egress to be considered additional living space, many municipalities consider a walkout basement differently, since it can allow airflow, natural light, and a convenient point of egress into and out of the home.

Drawbacks of a Walkout Basement

  • Cost estimates for a new walkout basement installation put the average price at about $15,000. This includes the cost to excavate, install retaining walls, and modify the existing foundation. Even if the property is sloped, the installers will still need to excavate at least enough to ensure the walkout is at ground level.
  • Leaks are a big problem for walkout basements, especially if the yard is not sloped away from the home. Without the wall of compacted soil, moisture will have an easier time seeping into the basement, so it’s important to invest in high-quality waterproofing and landscaping to protect the home.
  • Heating and cooling costs will increase when installing a walkout basement. This is because an entire side of the basement is no longer insulated by a solid wall of densely packed soil, reducing the efficiency of the heating and cooling system.

How to Use a Walkout Basement

  • Create a second living room or family room.
  • Install a dedicated workspace or home office.
  • Set up a bedroom, bathroom, and basement kitchen for guests to stay.
  • Renovate the space to create a fully separate apartment for rentals or as an in-law suite.
  • Make a playroom for kids.
  • Set aside space for a DIY workshop.
  • Move instruments down into the basement for a dedicated music room.
  • Use the space and natural light for a basement art studio.
  • Store extra furniture, boxes, appliances, and other items in the basement.
  • Create a home theater room with the latest soundproofing and entertainment technology.

Cost of a Walkout Basement

The cost to install a walkout basement is one of the main drawbacks, if you want to add one to your home. The cost will include excavating the yard, building retaining walls, modifying the existing foundation, and installing a walkout door for the basement. Typically, this work will cost about $15,000, though the price of the job can increase depending on the soil composition, orientation, and drainage requirements.

Walkout vs. Walkup Basement

In a walkout basement, there aren’t any stairs leading up or leading down to the walkout exit, allowing individuals with mobility issues to enter the home without needing to navigate their way up or down stairs.

A walkup basement can be completely below grade, but it will have a set or steps, either inside or outside, that leads from the ground level down to an exterior basement door. Walkup basements don’t provide the same amount of airflow or natural light as a walkout basement, but a walkup basement doesn’t experience the same heating and cooling cost increases, since it remains insulated on all sides.

Walkout vs. Daylight Basement

A daylight basement is similar to a walkout basement, in that it increases the amount of airflow and natural light into the space. However, a daylight basement does not have a door leading to the outside. Instead, it has large windows that can be installed by partially excavating one side of the home, or by putting in window wells, which drop down below ground level, allowing natural light to enter the basement.

Walkout Basement Installation: DIY vs. Professional

You may be able to dig out a portion of the yard or excavate small spaces beside the foundation, but when it comes to installing a full walkout basement, this job is beyond the scope of expertise for most DIYers. Generally, it’s best to hire a crew of trained and knowledgeable professionals to assess the property and come up with the most effective way to complete the project.

This will often include excavating an entire side of the home, building retaining walls, cutting into the foundation, making drainage system adjustments, installing a door, putting in windows, and sloping the yard away from the home to prevent leaks or basement flooding.

Additionally, you will usually get some type of warranty or guarantee for the work completed by the pros, so if a problem occurs with the installation, you won’t be held responsible for the repairs.


  • Whether a walkout basement is better than a regular basement depends on the homeowner. A walkout basement offers better accessibility to the yard from the basement and also helps to increase the amount of sun that enters the home. However, a walkout basement costs more than a regular basement and can increase the heating and cooling costs for the home.

  • A regular basement can be turned into a walkout basement if the property meets the requirements for this upgrade. Just be prepared to spend an average of $15,000 to excavate the yard, install a retaining wall, and modify the existing foundation.

  • A walkout basement can add square footage to the home if the basement is completely finished and considered livable. However, whether this space is counted towards the square footage of the home depends on where you live, the grade of the basement, and accessibility to the walkout entrance.

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