Basement Safety and Design

Basements come in many varieties.  Luxury homes can contain elaborate theaters, entertainment centers and small kitchens in their finished basements.  Contrast that with the basic unfinished, rather moldy basement in my childhood home, not uncommon in many older homes even today.  A basement can be a desirable home asset or a space that is rather scary and mostly unused.  In any case, a basement should at the very least pose no health and safety threat to the members of your household.  So here are some tips to make your basement a safe and even desirable place to spend time:

beautiful finished basement


  • Test your basement for radon.  Radon is a radioactive gas that is found in nearly all soils.  It can enter your basement through cracks in the foundation.  Once inside your home, the gas can build up and cause health problems.  Radon testing is common and inexpensive.
  • Basements, especially unfinished basements, can be damp and promote mold growth.  Consider using a dehumidifier in the basement and be sure any cracks in floors or walls are sealed.
  • Cover exposed insulation in an unfinished basement.  Insulation releases vapors that can be harmful if inhaled.  If you’re not planning to put up drywall, at least cover the insulation with plastic sheets.
  • Be sure stairs to the basement have a railing.  Visibility is often poor on basement stairs, so be sure lighting is adequate and there is a railing for safety on the stairs.
  • Cardboard boxes are not a good choice for storage in the basement.  Cardboard absorbs moisture, which can foster mold and attract pests.  Plastic bins are a better choice for basement storage.
  • Be sure your basement has working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.
  • Cleaning supplies and other chemicals should be stored safely and out of the reach of children.
  • Keep window wells around basement windows clear of clutter and debris.  Be sure gutters funnel water away from your home, so it won’t seep into the basement.
  • If your basement becomes flooded, never wade into the basement unless all electricity has been disconnected.  If you have to turn off power at the breaker box, never stand in water to do so.

basement safety tips


Finished basements can be a wonderful asset to a home.  The acoustics are particularly well-suited to home theaters.  Heating and cooling bills tend to be minimal, as temperatures below ground don’t fluctuate very much.  If you’re fortunate enough to have a basement in your home, make it a safe and stylish space that everyone in your household can enjoy.




4 Responses to “Basement Safety and Design”

  1. 1

    Hi Judy! Thanks for the blog. Very informative. I would like to follow your blogs. I am on wordpress ( but I do not see a place on your site for me to sign up. Please let me know. Thanks, Nancy Honchen, Design Secrets

  2. 2

    Hi Nancy. Thanks so much for reading. The blog is in transition right now. I should have that resolved shortly. In the meantime, I can send you an email when I have a new post.

  3. 3

    Great blog, Judy! As a retired paramedic and interior designer/aging-in-place specialist, safety is always at the front of my mind no matter what I’m doing, so it’s always nice to see others alert to it as well.

    That said, while good lighting on stairs is essential, no matter which floors they connect, the photo you’ve used above actually shows a method that is less safe than others – and less attractive. With lights that face outwards like this, there are always going to be points at which anyone using that staircase is going to be blinded by light shining right into their eyes – which at times can actually be far worse from a safety point of view than not having good enough light. And the darker the rest of the space is, the more that contrast will exist and thus the worse the problem will be.

    Much better options include shielded/louvered recessed fixtures installed at the side of the stairs just above the risers, or strip lighting installed right under the stair nosing, ideally just behind it like in a recessed cove, the latter on every single step. Think shielded under-cabinet lights that illuminate but are never seen. Neither of these will ever blind someone by shining right into their eyes as they ascend or descend, nor will they detract visually from the look of a smooth sweep of stairs with that institutionally-pockmarked look above. The shown configuration could work better if the fixtures were at least louvered to direct the light in a more downwards direction where it’s actually needed, not aiming outwards into the dark night and the eyes of the unsuspecting .

    With lighting that is only on every other step as above, you also actually increase the hazard even further for elderly and visually impaired people who already have difficulty distinguishing one step from another, and the steps themselves from the landings, when different materials are not used. Strips of contrasting material or color can also be inset into the edge of each step or at least at the top and bottom of each run to help with that visual distinction.

  4. 4

    Thanks for your comments, Wendy. FYI, my blog has moved to Hope we can connect there.

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