Cellar vs Basement: 9 Clear Key Differences To Understand Your Home Better

cellar vs basement

Common key differences distinguish the two lower-level spaces when differentiating cellar vs basement. The terms cellar and basement are often used interchangeably. 

However, different cities may have particular laws that separate the two terms. For example, in New York City, a basement is more than 50 percent above ground, while a space less than 50 percent below ground or curb level is considered a cellar.

Cellar vs. Basement: 9 Key Differences

Cellars and basements are located below or partially underground. While they do have some similarities, there are a lot of key differences to them as well. 

1. Purpose

People use a basement for various purposes. Some basement ideas are a game room, wine storage, playroom, home-theater, or a home gym. 

However, many people mostly use cellars are primarily as a place to store items. For example, many individuals use their cellar vs basement for storing wine or food. 

2. Habitation

Whether or not a cellar or basement is safe for habitation will depend on if it’s finished. A basement is better for those who need additional living space based on its size and location. 

For example, homeowners can convert a basement into a legal living space, such as a mother-in-law suite. However, because cellars are so far underground, they generally aren’t safe for a habitable space. This difference also impacts the 

3. Height

The ceiling height of a cellar tends to be no more than seven feet. It’s common for the ceilings to be less than six feet in height, making it challenging to move around in them. Unlike cellars, basements often have very high ceilings.

4. Size

A cellar is usually tiny. Some cellars are only slightly bigger than a large walk-in closet. The size of basements is similar to that of a small apartment, which is why many homeowners choose to have their basement finished to use it as a livable space.

5. Exterior Access

People can access basements from inside a home, and sometimes people can access them from the outside. However, cellars only have access from the outside via a crawl space. 

6. Floor Level and Type

Basements are located at floor level, and cellars can be at least 10 feet below ground level. As a result, cellars often only have dirt floors. Basements can have dirt floors, but many homeowners wind up putting concrete over them. 

7. Egress Window

Basements have an egress window, and cellars don’t have any windows at all. Egress windows look similar to regular ones, but you can fully open them if someone needs to exit from them during an emergency.

8. Heating and Ventilation

It’s pretty rare for a cellar to have any heating or ventilation. However, homeowners often have heating installed in their basement. Also, a basement has more ventilation than a cellar because a window can be left open.

9. Lighting

Because of their location, there is minimal lighting in both basements and cellars. However, basements do have a window that allows a little bit of natural lighting. The only light that comes into a cellar is when the door is left open.

Finished Basement vs. Unfinished Basement

An unfinished cellar or basement will have exposed beams and rafters, and there may not be an adequate floor. In addition, there won’t be any insulation, ducts, electricity, or plumbing. 

On the other hand, a finished basement will have drywall to cover walls and ceilings, adding potential additional living rooms.

Can You Rent Out a Basement?

While you can’t rent out a cellar, you may be able to rent out a basement if it’s fully finished. When a basement is huge, the homeowner may choose to put up walls to turn their basement into a small apartment. 

How to Take Care of Your Basement?

Because of your basement location, you will need to take care of it a lot differently than you would the rest of your home. If a basement is not properly maintained, a homeowner may need to hire basement repair professionals if significant issues arise.

Apply Paint To The Basement Walls That’s Water-Resistant

Your basement will be susceptible to moisture. Even though your basement has a window, it can be challenging to get enough air circulating to eliminate the amount of humidity inside. 

Fortunately, you can lessen the likelihood of mold and mildew growth by applying paint to the water-resistant walls. This type of paint won’t absorb any of the water it comes into contact with. 

As a result, it can be beneficial when it comes to keeping your foundation wall dry, preventing moldy areas.

Insulate All Of Your Pipes

There’s a good chance that you have a variety of different pipes located in your basement. If you don’t insulate them, you can have significant water problems later.  

Insulating your pipes with rigid foam insulation will keep condensation from forming on them.

If you don’t insulate your pipes, they are also at risk of freezing. Frozen pipes can cause them to burst, and significant water damage can occur. By insulating your pipes, they will stay as warm as possible. 

Make Sure Your Gutters Are Diverting Water Away From Your Home

Your gutters play an essential part in keeping water diverted away from your home. However, water can pool up near your home and get into your basement if it can’t work correctly. 

To keep this from happening, you should run water through them to see if your gutters are working as they should. If they aren’t, there’s a good chance some debris is blocking them. Fortunately, you should be able to remove small debris yourself easily. 

Lower Moisture Levels With A Dehumidifier

If you are worried about moisture in your basement, you should get a dehumidifier to regulate moisture levels. It can keep humidity levels at a safe range. Unless the size of your basement is enormous, one dehumidifier should be sufficient. 

Seal Your Floors

Many homeowners don’t realize that their concrete floors are at risk of being damaged by moisture, so sealing them is crucial to avoid a significant foundation repair expense. 

You can complete this simple basement waterproofing project in just a few hours. Just make sure that you open the window and have plenty of fans on hand to provide enough ventilation to not breathe in all of the fumes. 

Deep Clean It At Least Once A Month

Because your basement doesn’t get any natural light and has a limited amount of airflow, it probably collects dust reasonably quickly. You don’t want to be breathing all of this in, and you should make it a point to deep clean your basement at least once a month. 

This step will improve the overall air quality, making it a safer place to inhabit. Even if you don’t go down to your basement very often, you should still deep clean it regularly as you don’t want any of this dust to build up. 

Final Thoughts

Although a cellar and a basement are lower-level spaces, identifying them impacts the overall property. For instance, a finished basement will add to the floor area calculations due to more finished square footage. 

Thus, a home inspector will review them differently in their home inspection. The difference also impacts how an appraiser values a property. 

And, whether a space is inhabitable or not, either way, it can still be functional, such as extra storage space or act as a wine cellar.

So, if you’re planning on finishing a basement, be sure to take proper care after you finish your basement. For example, sealing to avoid waters issues and a vented space to prevent a musty smell are crucial. 

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Jonathan is a husband and father to two crazy kids. He is a software engineer, real estate investor, and personal finance blogger. He owns a small real estate business that operates a couple of investment properties in his local market. He has been featured in Grow from Acorns + CNBC, Business Insider, USA Today, FOX Business, and more!