September 24, 2013

Is it worth it to finish a dirt floor basement?

Homes with dirt floors in the basement are more common than we realize. Let us assume there is a staircase from the main floor inside the house that leads into the basement. Also, assume there are windows in the foundation below the floor plate, so natural light enters the basement. Lastly, let us assume there is headroom when standing on the dirt floor,

Basement dirt floorReader Question: I am considering buying a home built in 1908. The basement has a dirt floor. Is there any financial advantage in have the floor finished with concrete?

Monty’s Answer: Hello Michael, and thanks for your question. Homes with dirt floors in the basement are more common than we realize. Let us assume there is a staircase from the main floor inside the house that leads into the basement. Also, assume there are windows in the foundation below the floor plate, so natural light enters the basement. Lastly, let us assume there is headroom when standing on the dirt floor, so when four inches of concrete is present, one can walk around unimpeded.

Because the home has stood there without a concrete floor for over 100 years, are there factors present to be considered before going ahead? Not having lived there, those factors may not be apparent yet. Is there water seepage into the basement? Is the entrance to the basement from outside the home itself? Is the foundation constructed of rock, concrete blocks or poured concrete?  Is the home’s furnace in the basement? Is municipal sewer and water connected to the home? Is there any plumbing, such as a water faucet in the basement now?

The questions deal with the word “utility”. Will the basement be used even if a floor is installed? There is a quiet resurgence in dirt floors with people “building green.”

If the basement is more like a damp root cellar with an outside entrance and there are many other improvements to be made on the home in other places, it may be wise to delay the concrete floor. Check to see if there are building codes that would require additional plumbing, a sump pump and drain tile, or related components. Also consider a Radon test to determine if Radon is an issue. If there is Radon it may not be confined to the basement in an old home.

Lastly, the overall value and condition of the home are a consideration. If the home is in poor condition and not structurally sound, pouring a basement floor will not be enough to turn the house around. Before deciding whether or not it is a good idea, it would be wise to have a basement contractor look at the property to understand what would be required to undertake the project and what they will charge for their work. Remember to get several estimates, as they will all be different.

I hope this information is helpful, Michael. For a direct “yes” or “no” response, answer the questions, send me the MLS data sheet and photos of the exterior and interior of the home and the basement. Also, provide the street address, city and state. This information and a Google fly over will allow for a considered opinion.