While homes with basements are very rare in South Africa, there are a few older homes that were constructed with basements included in the original architectural plans. However, this is one trend that has not caught on in the South African housing market, until recently. Since the rise of international home makeover shows set mostly in the west, more and more South Africans are hankering after extra space that comes in the form of a basement.
The last two decades have seen immense growth in the development of new housing projects, especially in urban areas – the most popular type being the duplex or townhouse. Property developers have opted for fast construction, affordable labour and materials while fitting as many units as possible in a given space. This hasn’t left much room for basement or attic construction in these town houses, thus having a basement has become a luxury reserved for those who can afford to build their own homes from the ground up.
Since contractors in South Africa build from solid concrete foundations, it’s very difficult to add on a basement to a pre-existing house. However, if you have the opportunity to build your own home and would like to add a basement there are a few things to consider namely irrigation, temperature regulation, general construction and of course ventilation. Having windows in your underground room, though counter intuitive, is an essential element to building a basement. While you could rely on air conditioning to ventilate your space, having windows that provide natural light and an emergency exit is crucial.
· Have you made room for window wells? The window well is a space on the outside of the window that prevents the earth from collapsing onto your window. They also help to let in air and light. Wells are semi-circular or rectangular structures made from galvanized steel that attach to the outside of your window or house and stop moisture and rubbish from coming through your basement windows.
· Have you considered your climate? The weather in your region plays a huge role when picking out basement windows. Along with choosing good quality well covers, picking the right material to make your windows will be useful for keeping out dust, rain or leaves
· How does humidity factor in? You want to be able to ventilate your basement as much as possible – not only the air but the walls, floor and ceiling too. Windows provide a natural and cost effective way to prevent mold and mildew from growing in your basement.
· What are you using the space for? Whether you’ll be using the space as a craft room, extra bedroom or home theatre, considering the function of the space will inform what kind of windows you end up using. Whether frosted, clear or double glazed – there’s a basement window to suit almost every function. Lighting is an essential part of creating a functional space – depending on its function, your basement might need more than just overhead lights.
· Do you have the correct measurements? To avoid future disasters like rainwater leakages or heat escaping through cracks – be sure to fit the windows in snugly.
· What materials have you chosen? Suitable materials are essential when choosing your basement windows. Consider your climate when picking out your frames and glass elements. While aluminum frames are more cost effective and popular, they’re not suitable for colder climates. And while wood provides a cozy, homely feel, it’s not good for regions that see a lot of rain. Opt for glass plates that are high-quality polycarbonate to keep the interior temperatures regulated.
· Are your basement windows stylish and functional? While making sure that the overall design of your basement matches the rest of your home’s aesthetic, don’t forget to ensure that your windows are large enough to let in ample light, air and can comfortably facilitate the entry of emergency personnel should the occasion ever arise.
PVC or vinyl: These frames are great if you live in a region that has fluctuating temperatures as they can withstand drastic temperature changes. Apart from being affordable, PVC or Vinyl frames are completely rust-proof, moisture resistant, flexible and come in a number of styles and colours.
Fiberglass: Weather resistant and durable, Fiberglass is an option for those prioritizing versatility of style and colour. Although strong low-maintenance, it is more expensive than other materials.
Wood: While ideal for rooms above ground, wooden frames are not ideal for basements due to their ability to retain moisture, warp and promote mold and mildew in humid areas.
Aluminum: The most economical and durable of the options, Aluminum can be painted any colour to suit the rest of the room. Though it is susceptible to corrosion, if protected with rust proof paint, these frames can last for years.
A wooden window frame is most suitable for above-ground windows that won’t have too much contact with the moisture from the ground. Since wood is a porous material, it’s advisable to go with an aluminum frame instead. If you’re opting not to use wood or aluminum window frames, then PVC windows come highly recommended due to their flexibility, durability and ability to counteract humidity.
Fixed windows: While they don’t allow natural ventilation to circulate the space as they do not open, they are much more cost effective. For emergency purposes you’d just need to make sure you use durable yet breakable glass.
Horizontal axis windows: Here the hinge is located at the top or bottom of the window which help prevent rain or debris from entering the room.
Sliding Windows: Popular for their ability to not block the space directly outside or inside the window, having a pane that slides horizontally on a rail is easy to use and saves on space.
Building a basement in South Africa can be quite an undertaking considering that it’s not a regular feature in South African architecture. However, that shouldn’t stop you from taking on such a bold construct. Since building a basement can be quite expensive and labour intensive, it’s important to get the most out of your space. So, if your basement window is damaged and compromises the functionality and look of your room, it’s recommended that you employ the services of your initial contractors to fix or replace it. While most other windows could easily be fixed with a quick DIY, the complicated nature of basement window installations are better left to the professionals.