Does a Basement Count as a Story?

Knowing how many stories your home has should be easy, right? Just count the number of floors and you have your answer! But does a basement count as a story?

That's right, if your home includes a basement, you might find yourself stumped by this seemingly simple question. So does your home’s basement count as an additional story? And what could that mean for your home’s value now or in the future?

Does a Basement Count as a Story?

is a basement considered a story

In the vast majority of homes, no! The basement is not counted in the number of stories.

That doesn’t mean you can’t put your basement space to good use. But labeling a basement as a story could have financial consequences (both good and bad).

Who Decides if a Basement Counts as a Story?

Real estate appraisers are responsible for determining if a basement is its own story or not. An appraiser’s job is to determine the value of a property in the most unbiased way possible.

Appraisers largely base their calculations on the appraisals of nearby properties. So if homes in your area typically include the basement as a separate story, it’s more likely that they will count your basement as one as well.

Why Does It Matter if a Basement Is Considered a Story?

Whether or not your home’s basement is counted as a separate story shouldn’t affect the way you use the space. It can, however, affect your home’s value on the real estate market and tax rate.

Since a greater number of stories is often more desirable, including the basement as an additional story can boost the appraised value of your home. This is great news if you’re planning to relocate or upgrade to an even better home.

It’s not so great news when it comes to having your property taxes assessed.

4 Reasons a Basement May Count as a Story

1. It’s More Than Halfway Above Ground

more than halfway above ground

Not all basements are constructed completely below the ground. Some basements only extend a few feet below the Earth’s surface. Others may not be below ground at all.

Any basement that is less than halfway below ground is more likely to be counted as a story. Few appraisers will include an unfinished basement as a story, even if it is entirely above ground.

2. It’s a Walk-Out

basement
Image: PJ Chmiel

The most common type of basement that sits partially above ground is a walk-out, or daylight, basement.

Walk-out basements are extremely popular in homes built into a hill. While much of the basement is technically below ground, there is at least one wall (with an entryway) exposed to the outdoors.

3. It’s Finished

basement

 

Basements make great storage space for seasonal decor, family keepsakes, and household supplies. Yet many homeowners opt to finish their basement to add to the total usable space inside the home.

A finished basement includes all of the amenities of the main living area. The walls and ceilings are covered with drywall or another finish. The space should also be heated and cooled like the floors above.

A finished basement can be converted into a home office, basement kitchen, recreation room, extra family room, or even a private gym.

4. It’s a Livable Space

livable space

Keep in mind that finished basements are not automatically considered “livable space.” To be counted as livable space, a basement must be fully finished with adequate heating, cooling, plumbing, and electrical.

Some areas require basement ceilings to be a minimum height to count as livable space. The basement must also include an egress or exit to the outdoors. Egresses are key to the safety of anyone spending time in the basement — especially if the space will include a bedroom.

Does a Basement Count Toward Total Square Footage?

Different real estate markets may have varying protocols for what is and is not included in a home’s total square footage. It’s common for home listings to differentiate between finished and unfinished areas.

Whether or not a space is above or below ground can also impact its inclusion in the total square footage. So an unfinished below ground basement will almost never be included in a home’s total square footage.

But the same might not be true of a finished walk-out basement!

Final Thoughts

It’s rare for an existing home’s number of stories to change, even with a brand new appraisal. But for those thinking of constructing a home (or updating their current living space), knowing whether a basement can count as a story is extremely important.

There’s a chance your basement could count as a story if:

  • More than half of the space is above ground
  • It includes a walk-out entryway
  • The space is completely finished
  • It qualifies as a fully livable space

For most homeowners, however, it doesn’t matter if the basement is considered its own story or not. It won’t affect how you use the space (and may save a few dollars on your annual property taxes!).