What is a Wood Basement?

Lori Kilchermann

A wood basement is made of wooden walls in place of concrete blocking or poured cement. Large treated timbers are used to support treated wooden planks that form the basement walls. Used mainly in the northern midwestern United States, the wood basement has proven to give a great deal of competition to masonry-type basements. Using only pressure-treated lumber, the typical wood basement is rated to last 100 years.


When building a home to sit on a wood basement, the initial preparation is the same as when using a concrete basement. The basement hole is dug and the footings are installed. With the footing is secured, the large timbers are set into position. The first rows of planking are nailed against the timbers to aid in standing them in place. Once the main frame of the wood basement is in place, the remainder of the planks are nailed into position, creating the basement walls. The wall boards are usually tongue-in-groove planking, which aids in the strength of the walls.

Once completed, the wood basement's exterior is painted with a waterproofing substance, which renders the basement watertight. In cold climates, the interior walls of a wood basement are covered with fiberglass insulation and then finished with dry wall or thin plywood. In warmer climates, many homeowners choose to fasten wooden shelving between the timbers of a wood basement, thereby providing handy storage space without sacrificing any floor space. An occasional inspection for insect or water damage is all that is required of the walls.

In a wet climate, proper drainage under and around the basement is critical to prevent water from leaking past the wooden walls of the basement. An improperly-planned water drainage system which allows water to accumulate at the base of the walls could lead to a water problem. Placement of sump pumps at high-flow corners of the basement can prevent this from occurring. Recurring water leakage can be addressed by applying waterproofing compound to the basement's interior walls.

Some wood basement construction is used with dirt floors. This is often termed a "Michigan basement" due to its prevalence in that U.S. state. In this type of basement, cement slabs are typically poured to place a furnace, hot water heater and other fixtures on the structure. In some instances, homeowners opt to use only bricks or blocks to set the appliances on. This type of basement also works well for the storage of vegetables over the winter and summer months.

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Discussion Comments


I have read that there are a few things you should consider before hopping on the wood basement bandwagon. According to some sources, wood used in the wood basements has to be treated with toxic substances to make the structures more resistant to insects and also to make them stronger and more durable.

This is fine, but eventually there is a risk that the toxic chemicals in the wood will leak out and contaminate the soil and maybe even find a way into water supplies. And as @Drentel mentioned, the wood does not last as long as the concrete.


I would be hesitant about having a wood basement. I have seen some wood supports in basements. One of the wood supports in an old house we were working on had to be replaced because the wood was rotting. All of the brick and stones in the basement were in good condition even though they had been there the same amount of time as the wood.

The article mentions that the wood used for basements nowadays is pressurized and treated, and I'm sure the rotting wood support I mentioned was not up to today's standards. Still, the article mentions that the typical wood basement is rated to last 100 years. A good concrete basement can last much longer than that.


I didn't know basements were made out of wood. All of the basements I have seen, including the one in our house is made of concrete. I do not like the cold concrete walls. Of course, refinishing the basement and adding new walls and whatever touches you want makes a big difference.

Our basement has been renovated and turned into a comfortable and large family and game area. However, I think the renovating would have been easier, quicker and less expensive if we had been working with a wood basement from the beginning instead of a concrete one.

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