How to Dig a Walk-Out Basement


A walk-out basement, sometimes referred to as a daylight basement, is common in homes built into the slope of a hill. One side of the basement is sheltered by the ground but the other is open, with doors and windows like the rest of the house. In green architecture, such a feature takes advantage of the thermal mass of the hill and the passive heating provided by windows. Since a walk-out basement requires less soil removal than conventional types, you can dig one by hand to save on excavation costs.

Things You'll Need

  • Stakes
  • Twine
  • Measuring tape
  • Excavating tools
  • Stake out the area for the house. Place one stake at each corner of the future building. Connect the stakes along the perimeter of the house using twine. Attach twine to connect the opposing corner stakes on the diagonal. Use a measuring tape to compare the dimensions of the staked area with the dimensions in your plans. Move stakes as necessary until they match the plans.

  • Use excavating tools, such as a pick and shovel or a mini backhoe, to remove dirt to the depth appropriate for your walk-out basement. Use additional stakes and twine at the bottom of the excavation to ensure that the walls of the hole remain square.

  • Check the excavation measurements. When you have completed your excavation, re-measure the hole against your plans. Allow for the space taken up by the walls, footer and foundation to ensure that the finished basement and home will be the appropriate size.

  • Remove all loose dirt from the excavation and backfill the slope. Use any extra dirt removed from the basement excavation to increase the slope on shallow lots. This prevents the foundation from protruding too much on the upper side. Once the slope has reached the proper grade, you can begin installing the basement foundation and walls.

Tips & Warnings

  • Check the location of all pipes, wires and other buried objects before you begin to dig.
  • Renting excavation machinery can speed up the process of digging a basement.
  • Use hand tools to keep the walls of the hole clean and straight.
  • Placing a long pole upright in each corner of the excavation can help you keep the walls even.
  • When backfilling a slope, use pieces of wood to keep the soil from falling into the excavation.
  • Digging out a basement under an existing house may require hand tools.
  • Never use any excavation machinery with which you feel uncomfortable.

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