Q&A / 

Frame or Concrete Rear Wall on Walkout Basement

Zhou (Joe) Yuan emailed me today with a fascinating question about his new home under construction that has a walkout basement:

"I'm building a new house in Pittsburgh PA. This is my first home and I've been learning many aspects about building a house to make sure mine is well-designed before the builder breaks the ground.

It's a 9' ceiling walkout basement on a slope, and the rear wall is the walkout side with a door. My builder said they will only pour the other three basement walls with concrete and put draped insulation, but frame the walkout side using 2x6 studs with R-19 insulation and make it drywall. The picture on the left that I discovered online is what they intend to do.

I've seen other walkout basement walls are all poured concrete, as shown in the right pic (it's from a Ryan home). I don't feel very comfortable if mine has a framed wall. Especially when I think my builderĀ is a reputable custom builder. I don't know why the builder has decided on this. Do you have any insights on this? Should I insist to ask for a concrete walkout side too? Thanks a lot for your time!"

The image on the left is what Joe's builder wants to do. Joe thinks he want's what's on the right. Photo credit: Who knows - Joe supplied the images.

These are images Zhou grabbed off Google images. The image on the left is what Joe's builder wants to do. Joe thinks he want's what's on the right. Photo credit: Scraped images from Google.

 

Here's the answer, Zhou.

A frame wall on the walkout wall is just fine. Whatever you do, don't do it like the photo you supplied! From that photo, it looks like the basement slab extended outside. That's a GUARANTEED leak situation.

I've built many houses with walkout basements that have frame walls only sitting on top of a normal foundation. You get better insulation that way and structurally it's not an issue at all.

Your builder is going to do it the way I would do it. I sure hope you have excellent plans and specifications. That's where most jobs go south and heartache follows.

Remember, I offer a 15-Minute Consult service if you have questions before you sign the contract.

 

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5 Responses to Frame or Concrete Rear Wall on Walkout Basement

  1. Tim, thanks for your answer. Just to be clear, both pics are from Google search. The pic on the left was what I though my builder will do for my walkout side. As you have pointed, I was wrong about this, because my blueprint shows me that the walkout wall will be sitting on a 4 feet tall concrete frost wall (under ground). My concern has been focused on which walkout wall is better: the framed or the poured concrete? You've only said the framed walkout side has better insulation. What about other aspects? Durability? Termite resistance? Flood/Moisture resistance? Fire resistance? Of course concrete may have cracks in the future. All I wanted to ask is which one is a better way to design the walkout side considering all the aspects.

  2. Forgot to mention, the concrete walls come with R-19 draped insulation. Since both the framed walkout side and the rest of the concrete walls have the same insulation R-Value. It becomes even harder to compare.

  3. The concrete portion is far stronger than a wood frame wall. It only takes a minimal amount of reinforcement (if any) to far exceed the strength of a wood wall.

    I have townhouse with a walk-out slider (super efficient) and the 3 remaining walls are concrete (exterior and interior). The wood frame wall is a cold wall in the winter even with a lot of insulation the allows short term swings in the interior temperature. The good thing about the wood wall is that you get to feel and enjoy the noise and effects of storms and wind outside without actually being there.

  4. Just to update, I talked to my builder today. The only reason they wanted to do framed walkout side is because it's low cost. If cost is not a issue, they will do concrete for sure. I don't like it at all. I've spent more money on a walkout lot, and they do all the poured concrete on a non-walkout basement, I've told my builder that I insist on a full-concrete basement and foundation since that's what it's said in the contract. Is this a wise decision, Tim?

    • Joe, as a builder myself, I can tell you that you did the right thing. Many clients don't dig into this question and went with the framed walkout wall. It's just fine. But a 8'' or 10'' think concrete wall will get you better foundation. And you can always frame the inside wall with good insulation.

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