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Are Basements and Cellars The Same?

Monday, February 10th, 2020


So you've moved to another state and your new neighbors advise you to waterproof the cellar, but from your understanding, you feel they’re actually talking about basement waterproofing. You are left more confused by their statements because they keep mixing the terms “basement” and “cellar.” Do they actually mean the same thing? And is it okay to switch between the two?

basement and cellar differences

Sometimes, people use the words cellar and basement interchangeably depending on their locality or region. As you will soon find out, they’re actually not one and the same thing. The difference is more functional than it is structural.

Difference Between Basement and Cellar

While both are rooms that are located below or partially below the ground level, they serve different purposes. By definition, a basement is the floor of a residence or building entirely or partly located below ground level. A cellar, on the other hand, is a room below the ground level used as a storage area.

Purpose: A dry cellar has housing shelves for storing wine, canned food and produce storage. In case of severe weather, it can provide temporary refuge if it has basic amenities and a secure door. People use the basement for different purposes such as storage space, craft areas or a game room.

Habitation: A basement has a greater living space potential than the cellar and is safe to occupy because it has better finishing and amenities. Cellars are inhabitable as they’re not always appropriately finished and not far below the grade level.

Size: Cellars are usually smaller confined spaces while basements are larger spaces covering a significant area.

Height considerations: Cellars are constructed halfway below the curb level, while basements are more above grade. They also have a low ceiling height. If the height of the ceiling is less than seven feet, it’s a cellar and not a basement.

Exterior access: If you can access the space from the inside, it’s probably a basement, but if you have to exit the home to access it, that’s a cellar.

Floor level and type: Many people consider the basement a floor level, while the cellar is not. Most cellars have dirt floors while basements tend to have concrete floors, though some people leave them unfinished.

Egress windows: In some municipalities, any underground area with large windows that a person can use to exit is a basement. Any space without such windows is considered a cellar.

The secret to a dry, comfortable below-grade space like cellars and basements is keeping them free from moisture and mold. Regular maintenance will reduce the need for basement and cellar repairs and ensure space remains a habitat part of the home.

Basement and Cellar Care Tips

As with any space in your Denver, CO, home, the cellar and basement are two places that require regular housekeeping and periodic maintenance. Neglect them, and they will fall apart; take good care of them, and they remain usable for a long time.

Clear debris from the cabinet or shelves in your cellar at least once a year. Examine it for dirt, styrofoam beads and straw, then brush and dust particles.

Vacuum the exterior and tend to external components such as compressors and condenser coils as well. Check the cellar door and seal (strip around the door) regularly to prevent discoloration. Use clean water to remove any indentations on the seal. This will ensure your seal remains usable and tight for many years.

Check gutters and downspout pipes to ensure they move water freely and that there's no debris to block water flow. Tree roots can disrupt water flow from the basement; ensure they're not encroaching on your property. Inspect the basement for leaks, especially at the floor plates, and fix basement cracks to prevent seepage.

Use a dehumidifier to regulate moisture levels in the basement. Ideally, humidity should be below 50%. Reducing moisture buildup eliminates dampness and all the unpleasant things that come with it, including pests, insects and mold.

Ensure your sump pumps are also working properly and channeling water away from the basement. You don’t want to be caught unaware following a heavy downpour. If it has an alarm, test it to ensure it is in working condition too.

Check to ensure your concrete floor is in good shape. Reseal your old concrete if you notice beads of moisture on the floor and walls.

Keep your finished basement warm (at least 60 degrees F) during the heating season. Many people tend to turn down their heaters when they’re not using them, which isn’t a good thing. Warming and cooling the air increases moisture levels, which in turn creates the perfect conditions for mold and mildew growth.

If you suspect your basement or cellar has underlying moisture issues or problems but you can’t locate the source, contact your Denver, CO, basement repair professionals as soon as possible. We’ll inspect your basement and advise you on the appropriate measures to take.