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To build or not

The basement has many functional advantages but the planning has to be early and perfect.

21bgp-greensens_21_2348403eBasements have traditionally been a matter of household requirement, but now during the days of depleting urban resources, it is equally well a matter of efficiency, hence a matter of green living.

European nations adapted it long before we discovered its advantages, mainly due to their climatic zoning and multi-use potentials, but now its time every city home in India considers it as an option.

There is a flip side to having a basement, water seepage being among the greatest worries. It is possible to make it water proof by using concrete walls, external plastering with water proof admixtures and such others. Yet, most people fear the seepage and just do not build the basement at all. The other bothersome issue could be the raised ground floor, necessitated due to basement ventilators. As such, everyone needs to climb up by 4 to 5 feet while in a normal house we need to walk up by 1’ 6” only.

The major criteria towards building the basement should be the family lifestyle, for an unused basement is a waste of resources and money. Of course we are not discussing basement for car parking, which lacks efficiency, but may check out if activities like home office, extra storage, home gym, home theatre, drying clothes, family entertainment like TT table, community music sessions, dance classes and such others could be accommodated there. These tasks done elsewhere would consume more precious upper floors and negate the options for other uses.

Part-basement

Providing basement fully below the ground floor is ideal from the cost and construction criteria, but if it is not needed, we may consider part basements. In such a case, the area with basement below gets raised up, while the rest of house can be at normal ground level, creating a split-level house. Alternatively, we may also raise the areas without basement by filling earth, thereby bringing the whole house to the same level everywhere. While the split-level house appears nice, it will affect movement of babies and elders. Levelling the house will cost extra money, though it could be worth it considering the advantages of a floor in the same level.

Reduced climbing to reach the listed needs is among the main advantages of a basement, which is just one floor below the ground floor. Alternatively, the needs may end up on the second floor where people have lesser urge to climb or may hesitate to walk the guests up through the house, thereby reducing the frequency of usage. If we consider that basements cost less than upper floors both during and after construction, they come as a cost-effective solution. These part-underground spaces are cooler than the rest of the house, hence can be appropriate for specific usages.

Basements come with functional, economical and ecological advantages. More importantly, it is always a ‘now or never’ decision. If the basement is not done in the beginning, it cannot be added later.

Why waste space in your house?

Basement car parking holds more disadvantages than advantages.

14PPgreensense__14_2340831eEnergy-efficient architecture revolves around not only technology and materials, but equally around the functional benefits we gain across time from the design details. After all, every square foot of built-up space costs time, money and effort, hence it is important to check the implications of our ideas and decisions, to choose the most effective solution among the available options.

Accommodating car parking in a typical house site could be a good example to elaborate this point. Strangely, majority of people believe parking the car in the basement saves space, while the truth is it consumes double the space which is actually required! The ramp down to a 5 ft. lower basement needs to be around 25 to 30 ft. long for a comfortable drive, while the car itself will not be longer than 16 ft. long. So, just imagine the total length of 40 to 45 ft. we spare to park one car, which on normal ground level would not demand more than 20 ft.

Sometimes, people try steep slope to save space, which is difficult to drive in and out. Now if we look at the extra cost of executing the ramp, making it skid proof and building up the side retaining walls, the logic of ground-level parking sounds attractive.

Functionality

The ramp space cannot be used for anything else but driving down, unlike the flat part of the site. On ground, if the car were to be kept out temporarily, the space could also be used as a guest space during events, buffet lunch area, kids’ play area or shaded area for plants. The sloping ramp, besides not offering any other use, also divides the ground space available into two parts which further reduces the multi-functionality of the site.

During monsoon, ramps collect water flowing down onto the basement floor, necessitating a sewage on-line pump for emergency pumping out.

Meaningfully accommodating the car parking area has been among the challenges for designers. Front garages prove this point with their limited range of unattractive rolling shutters while the ramps are even more difficult. Ramp going down the ground level, with a shutter at the entry to basement, can be an equally challenging task in developing an attractive elevation.

If parking is on ground level, the car can be placed up to the edge of the property, whereas a ramp can happen leaving the setback. This setback space gets cut off from the rest of the site, rendering it nearly useless. Even to access this area, we need to cross the ramp.

This analysis is not to negate the idea of a basement, but to discourage car parking in the basement. If we analyse expenses, advantages and disadvantages of basement car parking, we see more disadvantages than advantages. Equally well, this analysis is to suggest a methodology to be adapted when we design green buildings, where we may weigh the options for their real benefits and get an efficient building.