Investigating the Perceived Pros and Cons of Digging Down


Where space is limited, and families are outgrowing their homes, basements have become increasingly popular. Planning applications have risen by 22% over the last year*, perhaps a result of the stagnant housing market. The demand for converting existing properties into ideal dream homes is increasing.

Basements are a great option if you love your home and location but crave additional space. Avoiding the inconvenience of moving house, the additional purchase cost and the cost of stamp duty, and investing in your current home makes sense from many angles.

One of the joys of a basement is that the use of the spaces can change as your family grows. A playroom can be used as a cinema room in years to come, or a bedroom could become a study or vice versa.

What are the Most Common Concerns Regarding Basement Conversions?

Safety is the most important aspect of any construction project to secure the wellbeing of site workers, passing pedestrians and anyone coming into contact with the site. In response to increased concerns regarding the safety of basement construction, the industry has become heavily regulated, and the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) pay regular visits to construction sites to make sure they are being run in accordance with their standards. There has been recognition that the works need to be carried out by basement specialists, which has increase the level of professionalism throughout the industry.

Disturbance from basement construction can be a common cause for concern for homeowners, who are anxious that the works will upset their family life, and ruffle the feathers of neighbours. Many councils now have adopted the responsibility of ensuring that construction work is not too intrusive to the neighbouring properties. The methods of spoil removal are stringently monitored to ensure that traffic, hygiene and access around the property is maintained. Particularly in parts of central London where a Construction Traffic Management Plan is required to prove that the works won’t affect the traffic flow.

Basement conversion companies are restricted to carry out construction works during set working hours and work must take place behind a contained hoarding (enclosure). Also as the majority of works are carried out underground, the noise impact is significantly reduced to comparison with, for instance, a loft conversion, where the noise is external and not contained.

Some people are concerned about the likelihood of getting planning consent for their basement. In terms of altering the external appearance of a property, basements are a safe option because the only external feature is typically a light well. This should be designed in accordance with the local planning rules. Other restrictions include limiting the amount of garden that can be converted to basement space underneath, and also the number of storeys a basement can be dug down to. Many councils also have tighter restrictions on what can be done with a listed building. Basement applications should always be submitted by a specialist that understands basement structure, and the local authority’s planning rules.

The most common concern however is the potential for a basement to flood. All houses in flood risk areas have potential to flood from ground water run-off, otherwise there is no greater risk to a basement conversion assuming the waterproofing and pump system has been installed correctly. Pumps can be fitted with high water level warning devices that sound alarms and can even send warning alerts to a mobile phone. A pump maintenance company should inspect these to ensure they are working correctly.

What are the Benefits of a Building a Basement

Basements are particularly prevalent in Victorian terraces in London. The average footprint of the ground floor of a Victorian house is around 70m2, which for many growing families can feel just shy of comfortable. Reconfiguring the layout of the house by adding a basement allows storage and facilities such as toilets and utility rooms, boot rooms etc to be moved providing the opportunity to de-clutter the principal living spaces on the ground floor.

Although the basement can be functional for storage, it can also be designed as a real showstopper, providing entertainment for friends. The extra space can provide stress-free areas to change improving overall liveability of the house.

A basement can obviously add significant value to a home.

The extra space allows the flexibility to give families room to breathe. Glass doors and walls are often used in basements to create the illusion of light and space. With cleverly considered designs, this could be the case, but cleverly designed basements create the illusion of light and space. The key is in the space planning and layout, and the fit-out itself. Neutral colour palettes and open-plan rooms and light wells that flood the rooms with natural light can result in. A glass balustrade from the staircase on the ground floor through to the basement allows light to permeate between spaces.

Rosie Caley, Design Director at BasementWorks, understands the pressure on family life. With hectic work and school schedules, and growing children wanting more space and independence, families need homes that provide spaces to function, but that also provide opportunities to relax together:

“As a mother of two, I sympathise with the desire to zone areas of the home to create spaces that the family can enjoy together and separately, helping to manage noise and clutter and also providing opportunities for new shared activities such as a games room or cinema room. I try to provide my clients with a blend of practical space planning but also an elegant extension of their home which repays not only in added value but also increased enjoyment for the family.”

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