Differences Between Attics And Basements – Should You Build Up or Down?

If you are building a home from scratch, there isn’t much incentive to build a basement for that home. 

Before you even start building your basement, you will need to cover excavation costs. These costs could escalate dramatically depending on the terrain you are digging into.

While you might save some pennies by building an attic instead, some factors might make a basement more feasible for your home.

This article will outline what you need to know about building up or down. By the end, you should be able to make the best decision for your renovation or construction project.

attic vs basement

What Is The Purpose Of An Attic vs A Basement?

For the most part, attics and basements are pretty similar in how they’re used.

An attic can be used as a storage facility, home office, additional bedroom, musical studio, personal library, playroom, gaming room, and craft room. 

A basement can be used as an additional living space, garage, maintenance room, laundry room, storage facility, or HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning).

However, the basement is unique in the construction of most homes because it is often designed to keep the housing structure stable and safe to live in.

What Makes An Attic An Attic?


The most defining feature of an attic space is that it is found on the uppermost level of your home, between the ceiling and the roof. 

While attics do offer some additional storage space in your house, the areas in the attic are usually cramped and have hard-to-reach corners.

The reason space in the attic can be so limiting is that there are roof trusses and rafters all over the attic. These structures provide the support required to keep the roof in your home up. 

Most attics can be pretty tricky for larger and taller people to access. The access point is usually a hatch accompanied by an awkward little ladder/staircase. 

Because the hot air in your home will always rise to the highest possible levels, attics also retain a lot of heat and can be quite challenging to live and work in if you don’t meet specific HVAC standards.

What Makes A Basement A Basement?

home basement

The primary defining feature of a basement is that it is found at the bottom-most level of your house, below the ground.

You could have a conventional English basement, walk-out basement, sub-basement, underground cellar, or underground crawlspace.

Basement walls are usually the same as any other walls in the home, meaning that they are upright, giving the impression of a lot more space than the slanted sides of many attics.

Can You Convert An Attic?

attic as a living space

Yes, you can convert an attic into an additional living space of your home, provided that it meets the basic standards set out in the building codes governing construction in your area. 

Building codes governing the conversion of the attic in your home focus on aspects like:

  • Space regulations
  • Suitable access, 
  • Secondary exit points (in case of a fire)
  • Suitable floor framing (so you don’t fall through)
  • Roof framing alterations (to prevent the roof from caving in)
  •  Insulation
  • Ventilation.

Can You Convert A Basement?

basement living space

Yes, converting the basement is usually the first solution for people seeking additional living space in their homes because there is so much more space to work with and fewer dangers.

While building codes regulating how you should convert your basement will vary depending on where you live, the essential factors to consider are fire safety, drainage, waste disposal, fuel conversion, power conversion, ventilation, and electrical safety.

What Is The Required Ceiling Height For An Attic vs A Basement?

If you plan on using the attic as an additional living space, the ceiling should be seven feet high in at least half of the living area. It’s the same for a basement, where there should be a minimum of seven feet between the floor and ceiling.

At the entrance of any attic, there should be a headroom clearance of at least 30 inches, although both of these might be determined by the region you live in.

Building codes for both attics and basements will vary based on region.

How Many Windows Are Required In An Attic vs A Basement?

You only need one window in an attic. But it must account for at least eight percent of the living space in your attic, and half of that window needs to be able to open outwards.

Basements require more windows. A basement requires at least one egress window or one window for each room if there is more than one room in the basement. 

This isn’t only important for ventilation, but there should also be enough room in that window to allow for an escape in an emergency.

What Are The Minimum Requirements For Exit/Access Ways In An Attic?

The minimum requirement for an attic access opening is 22 inches by 30 inches, with a head clearance of 30 inches.

Any attic opening also needs to be built in a hallway or another part of the house that makes it easily accessible.

If the entry point to your attic is in a wall, the opening must be at least 22 inches wide and 30 inches high. 

What Are The Minimum Requirements For Exit/Access Ways In A Basement?

basement exit/access

The lowest point of an exit way in a basement must be within 44 inches of the floor so that you need to be able to access it quickly in case of an emergency.

The exit point of a basement must be at least 20 inches wide and 24 inches high. The net clear opening for an exit point in a basement must be about 5.7 square feet, but you can reduce that to just five feet if the lowest point of the exit way is closer to the ground.

In the event that you have a porch or deck above the exit way of a basement, you will also need 36 inches of headroom clearance.