What is a Michigan Basement?

Bill Hoelzer
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

Growing up or living in Michigan, you’ve likely heard the term "Michigan basement." But … do you know what it means? In this article, we’ll break it down: What is a Michigan basement, and how can you make the most of the basement you have.

If you have questions about your home in particular, please give us a call at (248) 291-7815 or send us a message anytime:

What is a Michigan basement?

In simple terms, a Michigan basement is a crawl space that is converted into a basement.

According to the State of Michigan's building glossary, a Michigan basement is a former crawlspace which has been dug out, generally to a depth of 5 to 7 feet to allow for a basement. The excavation begins approximately 2 feet in from the inside of the existing foundation walls in order to preserve the soundness of the existing foundation wall and footings.

The floors are usually just sand or dirt left over from the original digging job.

Original or crude Michigan basements lack power, water, or ventilation, but some have been upgraded over the years to accommodate water heaters, circuits, and other simple appliances.

Generally, these spaces are not finished like other basements; a finished Michigan basement is often referred to as a cellar.

michigan basement

The term Michigan basement is believed to have originated due to the prevalence of this particular style of basement construction in Michigan.

Michigan basements are typically shallow and have a partial or low ceiling height compared to standard basements. They are often used for storage or utility purposes rather than as livable space.

The term Michigan basement is not a technical or official construction term. Similar types of basements with low ceilings or shallow depths can be found in other regions, but they are referred to by different names.

Common features of homes built before 1950, Michigan basements are often found beneath old northeastern farmhouses and large homestead dwellings.

Advantages of a Michigan Basement

Unfortunately, Michigan basements provide little in the way of benefits for a modern homeowner.

They can be used for crude storage, as a root cellar, or as a storm shelter. However, their earthy and damp nature, along with low ceilings, limits their usability for everyday living.

Disadvantages of a Michigan Basement

Lack of Livable Space

Unlike full basements, Michigan basements are not typically designed for habitation. Their earthy and damp nature, along with low ceilings, makes them less suitable for creating comfortable living areas.

If you’re looking for additional usable living space, a Michigan basement may not meet your needs.

Moisture and Mold Concerns

Michigan basements are infamous for water seepage, dampness, and mold growth.

moldy michigan basement

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), molds produce allergens, irritants, and potentially toxic substances (mycotoxins) that can make you and your family seriously sick.

Mold loves to grow in the dark, moist conditions that are typical of Michigan basements. This puts the health of your family at risk because as much as 50% of the air you breathe inside your home can come from the crawl space or basement because of the stack effect.

We won’t go into too much detail about the stack effect, but it’s important to know the basics. You know that hot air rises. In general, cold air enters through the crawl space or basement of a home, then moves through the main floor and upper floor as it heats up, exiting through the attic.

Illustration of the Stack Effect

diagram of stack effect

More likely than not, the air that you're breathing at home started in your crawl space or basement. If you have mold down there, then your risk of feeling sick at home is that much greater.

Ventilation Challenges

Ventilation in a Michigan basement may be limited compared to traditional basements.

Due to their partially below-ground nature and restricted access, these basements may have fewer or smaller windows, impacting airflow and natural lighting.

Structural Integrity

Michigan basements are often dug out from existing crawl spaces, which can affect the soundness of the existing foundation walls and footings.

Also, because of moisture intrusion, cracks, deterioration, and potential structural instability can result over time, leading to expensive repairs.

Energy Efficiency

The lack of insulation and unfinished walls in Michigan basements allow cold air to seep into your basement and, subsequently, other parts of your home.

These drafts can create cold spots near basement windows, doors, and any gaps in the walls. Cold spots make certain areas less comfortable, especially during winter months. The stack effect, where cold air enters low and rises through living spaces, exacerbates this issue.

If you don't control the movement of hot and cold air into your home, then you'll see significantly higher energy bills over months and years.

What can you do to make the most of your basement? The first step is to give us call at 248) 291-7815 or send us a message:

How do you insulate a Michigan basement?

There are multiple ways to insulate a Michigan basement. The most common options are closed cell spray foam, rigid foam board and open cell spray foam.

Closed Cell Spray Foam Insulation

At Ecotelligent Homes, we recommend using closed cell spray foam insulation for a Michigan basement.

With the way Michigan basements are built, there are often awkward angles as well as big and small spaces that need to be filled with insulation. Closed cell spray foam has the ability to get into these areas making it one of the best options for a Michigan basement.

spray foam michigan basement

Closed cell spray foam insulation filling both big and small gaps in a Michigan basement has multiple benefits:

  • The rock foundation and old timber joists that make up most Michigan basements have lots are areas that pests can take a liking to. Closed cell foam can help keep them out by covering and sealing the areas where they're likely to enter your home.
  • Closed cell spray foam insulation in your Michigan basement can help enhance your home's air quality due to its air sealing properties and creating a vapor barrier. It will prevent unwanted pollutants from entering your home through the purous basement walls.
  • The small areas in your basement rim joists can be filled with closed cell spray foam insulation to help prevent cold floors during Michigan's cooler months.
  • Moisture is a common issue in Michigan basements which is another reason why closed cell spray foam is a good choice for it. Using closed cell spray foam insulation can help create a moisture barrier and prevent mold and mildew from becoming an issue in your basement.

Rigid Foam Board Insulation

Rigid foam board insulation is a lightweight rigid panel made from various types of foam like expanded polystyrene (EPS), extruded polystyrene (XPS) or polyisocyanurate. Rigid foam board is easy to install but has downsides.

Michigan basements typically do not have smooth walls meaning there will likely be gaps that allow unwanted air to enter or exit your home where the ridge material does not sit flush on the bumpy rock walls.

rigid foam board michigan basement

Open Cell Spray Foam Insulation

We do not recommend open cell spray foam insulation for Michigan basements.

Open cell spray foam insulation has many of the same benefits as closed cell spray foam insulation with one major exception. Open cell spray foam insulation is vapor-permeable, meaning it allows moisture to pass through the material.

If your Michigan basement is susceptible to water, open cell spray foam insulation will likely cause more problems that it solves.

Can you finish a Michigan basement?

Yes, you can finish a Michigan basement to make it a livable space as opposed to a storage area. A few things to consider when deciding to finish a Michigan basement:

  • Ceiling height: Michigan basements have a lower ceiling height meaning excavation or lowering the floor, a costly endeavor, may be necessary.
  • Egress requirements: A finished Michigan basement must have an emergency egress exit such as a window or door to make it habitable.
  • Moisture: As mentioned, Michigan basements are known for moisture issues. Bulk moisture problems like flooding or foundation leaks need to be addressed prior to insulating with a closed cell spray foam.
  • Heating and ventilation: Basements tend to be cooler than the upper levels of a home, so it is essential to consider heating and ventilation systems to maintain a comfortable temperature and adequate airflow in the finished space.

Is it time to insulate your Michigan basement?

We're here to help. Just give us call at 248) 291-7815 or send us a message when you're ready to schedule an appointment with one of our consultants.

Ecotelligent Homes

Since 2009, Ecotelligent Homes has completed more than 3,000 projects in Michigan. If you need help with new insulation, efficient HVAC, or abatement services, give us a call anytime: (248) 291-7815. Satisfaction guaranteed.

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