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Cellar vs Basement: Pictures Tell You the Difference



V Susan
Hi! I'm Susan. I am passionate about woodworking, general DIY and home improvement. If you'd like to connect with me or talk about something you like at mellowpine, drop me a mail at susan@mellowpine.com


Cellar vs Basement

Despite often being used interchangeably, cellars and basements are actually distinct spaces with unique characteristics and legal purposes.

Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, and it’s important to understand the differences between them.

A cellar is a space inside a building that is below its curb level or at least half its height. On the other hand, a basement is a story of a building with more than 50 % above the curb level and the rest underneath.

You can use a curb level or a base plane for the measurements.

How do Cellars and Basements Differ?

How do Cellars and Basements Differ?
How do Cellars and Basements Differ?

Both cellars and basements can increase the worth of your home, but they have unique definitions that vary by different jurisdictions.

The New York City codes outline the key distinctions between a cellar and a basement.

Recognizing the difference between the two is essential to market your property properly.

Here are the differences between cellars and basements:

Depth below the curb levelTotally, or more than half of its height below the curb level.More than 50 % is above the curb level
Size SmallerLarger
PurposeStorageStorage and living spaces
OccupancyUninhabitable Habitable
Floor areaNot consideredConsidered
Ceiling height Less than 7 feetMinimum 7 feet height
External entrancesHave external entrancesAccessed from inside
WindowsDevoid of windowsHave windows
Independent of the HousePossibleNot Possible
Difference Between a Cellar and a Basement


Cellars are typically smaller and more enclosed than basements which are used as living spaces.


Wine Storage in Cellar
Wine Storage in Cellar

There are commonalities in how the space in a cellar and a basement is utilized.

Cellars are typically used to store wine, tinned goods, and preserved produce.

During the winter, gardening equipments are also stored in cellars.

Basements can also be used for storage if it doesn’t match the zoning standards for dwelling space.

You can also utilize finished basements as living quarters, leisure spaces, and home gyms.


The potential for living space in a basement is higher than that of a cellar because of its superior finishing properties and amenities.

Unlike basements, cellars are below the grade level and are uninhabitable.

They are poorly finished and do not provide a convenient way to escape in the event of an emergency.

Floor Area

When calculating a building’s floor area ratio, basements are taken into account, while cellars are not.

A cellar does not count towards the floor size because it is not a story.

Ceiling Height

The height of habitable basement ceilings is typically 7 feet, while cellars have lower ceilings than basements and are generally less than 7 feet in height.

External Entrances

The entrances to cellars are typically located outside of the house, whereas if you can access it from the inside, it is usually a basement.


Windows in the Basement
Windows in the Basement

Depending on the municipality, windows may determine whether the area is classified as a cellar or a basement.

A basement is an underground space with sizable windows that one can use to exit, while cellars are devoid of these windows.

Independent of the House

Constructing a cellar outside your house can be a huge benefit if all you need is a place to store food or wine.

This is not possible with basements.


Though basements add much value to your property, they are more expensive to maintain than cellars.

Additionally, finishing a basement is quite expensive, making a cellar a better choice if you only need simple storage space.

Uses of Cellars and Basements

Cellars and basements can be used for a wide range of purposes.

Uses of a Cellar

You can use cellars for

  • Storage for general purposes
  • Wine storage
  • Cigar humidors
  • Location for retrofitting plumbing works
  • Bomb shelters

Uses of a Basement

Basements are more useful than cellars.

Here are some ideas for making use of your basement:

  • Extra living space
  • Additional bedroom
  • Home spa
  • Office space
  • Home gym
  • Gaming area
  • Home bar
  • Laundry room
  • Home theatre
  • Craft area
  • Workshop
  • Apartment rentals

Issues in Your Cellar or Basement: How Can You Know?

Issues in Your Cellar and Basement:How Can You Know?
Issues in Your Cellar and Basement: How Can You Know?

Both cellars and basements are susceptible to leaks and dampness.

Ensure there are no problems with your basement or cellar, as these can affect your home’s foundation.

Watch out for the issues listed below and resolve them as promptly as possible.

  • Wet, humid air
  • Mold and mildew
  • Musty odors
  • Floor and wall cracks
  • Warped or wet carpeting
  • The appearance of cracks and gaps around doors and windows
  • Dripping drywall
  • Buckled walls
  • Block walls with condensation
  • Loud and inefficient sump pumps
  • Grateless pipes and gutters in the interior
  • Puddles of water on the floor
  • Efflorescence and spalling of concrete and masonry
  • Rotting and decaying of joists and headers

Take care of these first before commencing any renovations.

Installing proper insulation and egress windows in your basement can help improve waterproofing and increase natural lighting.

Maintenance of Cellars and Basements

Regular inspection and maintenance of cellars and basements can minimize the need for repairs.

Basements require more maintenance due to their increased exposure to the elements.

Consider these steps for maintaining cellars and basements:

Clear the Gutters and Downspouts

During autumn and windy seasons, gutters and downspouts can become clogged with leaves, leading to water accumulation in cellars and basements.

To prevent this, examine the gutters and downspouts to ensure that water can flow freely and that no debris is blocking the water flow.

Consider replacing old or damaged gutters with seamless gutters that have built-in leaf guards.

Additionally, ensure that the downspouts are draining water at least four feet away from the foundation, and add extensions if necessary.

Control Moisture Levels


Always check the floors and walls of your cellar or basement for leaks.

Resealing the concrete is necessary if any moisture droplets are detected on the walls or floor.

Using a dehumidifier can also help to control moisture levels, which should ideally be less than 50%.

Additionally, water-resistant paint can help prevent the accumulation of moisture and humidity on the walls of your cellars and basements.

Reducing moisture levels can eradicate pests and prevent mold growth, so it’s crucial to take measures to control it.

Check Tree Roots

Tree roots can disturb the flow of water from your basement or cellar.

So take precautions to ensure that tree roots do not encroach on your property.

Inspect Sump Pumps

Sump Pump
Sump Pump

Ascertain that any sump pumps you have installed are operational and divert water away from your cellars and basement.

It is also important to regularly test your sump pump’s alarm if it has one.

Clean the Space

Clean your cellars and basements yearly to get rid of dirt, straw, and dust particles.

What are the Chances of Finishing a Cellar and a Basement?

While cellars are typically left unfinished, basements can be finished and occupied as any other room in your house.

This finishing may include amenities like ventilation, heating, and lighting and is a personal decision that can improve the value of your property.

However, finishing a basement requires working with a licensed professional.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

Should a Cellar have a Window?

Cellars are typically used for storage, and they should be kept dark to protect items such as wine.

Also, they don’t serve as living spaces.

Therefore, it is best to keep cellars without windows.

Can I Sleep in My Basement?

Basements often have a damp and dark atmosphere, which can result in poor air quality, leading to coughs, headaches, and allergies.

You can sleep in the basement if it complies with local building regulations.

However, many homeowners ignore this sensible safety precaution.

Why Do Texas Homes Lack Basements?

Due to a high water table, some areas in Texas experience flooding and leaks.

Basement excavation is also difficult and expensive in some cases due to the proximity of the bedrock to the surface.

Additionally, Texas soils are not favorable to basement construction as they swell significantly during the rainy season and contract during the dry season.

As a result, most Texas homes lack basements.

V Susan
Hi! I'm Susan. I am passionate about woodworking, general DIY and home improvement. If you'd like to connect with me or talk about something you like at mellowpine, drop me a mail at susan@mellowpine.com