Many homes have either a basement or a cellar. It’s actually pretty common for people to mix these two types of rooms up. You might be one of the many people who wonder what the difference between a basement and a cellar is. It can be somewhat confusing if you don’t know the particulars but it isn’t that hard to understand once you dig into the details.

Today I’m going to be talking about what the differences between basements and cellars are. I’ll help you to figure everything out so that you won’t be left scratching your head when someone asks you which of these rooms you have in your home.

Why People Confuse Cellars and Basements

One of the most common reasons why people confuse cellars and basements is that they’re quite similar. There are actually many differences but an average person might not be aware of these differences. To add to this, people use the term cellar interchangeably with the word basement. This makes it much more confusing than it needs to be and it’s one of the reasons why I’m writing this article today.

For a long time, people have just assumed that cellars and basements are close enough to be considered the same thing. This isn’t true for some important reasons that we’re going to go over later in this article. Now that you know a bit more about why this confusion exists, you’ll be ready to dig into the differences between cellars and basements. There are several distinguishing features that will set the two apart from one another.

Basement vs. Cellar: Features That Set Them Apart

The Height of the Room

One of the biggest differences between basements and cellars has to do with height. You see, basements are usually going to be halfway above curb level or a bit more. Cellars are going to be at least halfway below the curb. There are actually several reasons why this is an important distinction to make.

The height of the room is going to impact many different things. This can go a long way toward determining what can be done with the room. Whether the room is going to be a livable space or if it’s going to be able to be rented out can be impacted by these differences. I’m going to take a look at some of these issues below to give you a better idea of why this distinction matters.

Ventilation Issues

There are actually a number of ventilation issues that will pop up when a room is too far below ground. The lowest points of a home are going to be somewhat musty. It can wind up smelling and it might be different from a typical room. A basement can be made to be very similar to a normal room but a cellar is not going to resemble this.

Cellar areas are generally going to be quite dank. This means that they often have issues with mildew and you might even need to run dehumidifiers if you plan on using the space for anything important. This alone is often enough to tell you that your room is a cellar rather than a basement. The height of the room does make a difference and cellars simply aren’t going to be good livable spaces.


A lack of windows is another big difference between a cellar and a basement. It’s possible that a cellar could have windows but they’re going to be very small. As mentioned above, a cellar is going to be at least halfway below curb level. This is going to make it so that the only windows that could appear in a cellar would be very tiny.

These windows won’t be possible to use as entry or exit points, making the room more dangerous than a basement. In the event of a fire, a cellar would be a very dangerous room indeed. This is one of the reasons why you can’t really use a cellar as a true livable space. There are more reasons than this but it’s one of the most important.

The lack of normal-sized windows creates a lighting problem as well. Cellars are going to have insufficient lighting and will need to be illuminated using lamps or installed lighting. If your sub-level room has tiny windows such as this and is mostly below ground, then it’s an indicator that you actually have a cellar and not a basement. Your uses for this space are going to be more limited than what you could use a basement for.

A basement bedroom with a small window.

Basements Might Be Able to Be Rented Out

Basements are more flexible due to being able to be used as true livable spaces. Depending on whether certain criteria are met, a basement might even be able to be rented out. It depends on whether things are up to code but you should know that finished basements can be used as rental properties. The basement needs to meet the minimum safety requirements in order for you to rent it out to tenants legally.

A cellar is not going to be able to be rented out under any circumstances. The laws in most places would prevent this from being a possibility. Knowing this, it’s clear that there is a lot more potential use for a basement than there is for a cellar. A basement can be a very useful addition to the home.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that cellars are completely without value, though. It’s simply important to know what each room is going to be capable of. Many people use basements in order to create game rooms or they might even use a finished basement as an exercise area. They’re a lot more comfortable and usable than a cellar for normal purposes so you’ll likely enjoy having a basement more than you would a simple cellar.

What Are Cellars Used for, Then?

Cellars are useful to have and many people wind up using them for storage purposes. If you consider yourself to be a wine aficionado, then you likely already know that wine cellars are very popular. Storing items such as wine in a cellar is a common use for this type of space. People also use cellars as storage areas for canned goods and other items.

Wine cellar. Bottles of wine.

There are even cellars that are modified in order to provide shelter for the occupants of a home during severe storms. People sometimes need to seek refuge when there is a tornado warning in the area. Cellars can be very convenient when extreme weather events occur. Stocking a cellar with some supplies and fitting it with a secure door can provide people with a safe spot to ride out a storm.

What you decide to use your cellar for is completely up to you. There are not going to be quite as many practical uses for a cellar as there are for a true basement. Regardless, you’re going to find your cellar to be a helpful part of your home if you can make use of it in a way that makes sense for you. It might come in handy for storage or you might simply use it as a place to hide when storms are bad in your area.

It’s Possible to Have Both a Basement and a Cellar

You’ll also want to know that it’s possible for a home to have both a cellar and a basement. This might seem a bit unusual but there are situations where homes will have two separate sub-level rooms. A home might have a basement area under one section of the house and then have a cellar that is underneath another part of the home. It’s also plausible for a cellar to be attached to a basement so there is a lot to consider.

If you’re building a home and you’re considering your options, then a basement probably seems a lot more practical. A cellar area does have its uses so it might be worthwhile to include a cellar area that is connected to your basement. In order to decide whether or not this is a good idea, you should take the time to consider what you would use the cellar for. If you’re someone who is into canning fruits or vegetables, then having a cellar to store your goods is very sensible.

Having both a cellar and a basement allows for the basement to be used in practical ways. You can set the basement up as a normal room and use the cellar for storage. The cellar can even be used as your refuge spot when a storm comes too close for comfort. Just consider your options and make the choice that is best for your new home.

See also: What Is a Walkout Basement? (Problems and Costs)

Conclusion: Basements Are More Versatile

Now that you’ve taken the time to read all about the differences between basements and cellars, you should feel as though you understand things better. The topic may have seemed confusing at first but it’s actually more straightforward than you likely realized. Both basements and cellars have their own uses and they’re quite distinct from each other despite having some similarities. You should be able to know which type of room you have in your home after reading about the differences.

It’s definitely true that a basement is going to be a more versatile room than a cellar. You can do many different things with a basement and it can wind up being used as an extension of your home. The cellar is going to be more practical as a storage space or a storm shelter. As long as you can keep these differences clear in your head, you shouldn’t ever mix these two types of rooms up again.

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