Home Inspections Head to the Basement

Black and white stair steps descending to the right.
The basement is home to a number of vital home systems, making the space a key destination for home inspectors

When purchasing a home, buyers might focus on the number of bedrooms or if the kitchen needs updating. Home inspectors, however, turn their eyes downward. The basement is a key component in any home inspection.

The invention of concrete helped popularize basement construction


In Chicago and throughout the Midwest, basements are a common feature. Clay soil is prevalent throughout the region and makes the construction of a basement possible. 

Most Midwestern homes were constructed after the 1824 invention of concrete. The introduction of concrete reduced the cost and expertise required to build a basement and helped increase their popularity.

Foundations must be below frost line

The Midwestern climate also plays a role. The freeze-thaw cycle can crack a building foundation. As a result, it’s important to place the foundation below the frost line, which is the depth to which ground is frozen.

In Northern Illinois, the frost line ranges from 36 inches to 72 inches (or 3 feet to 6 feet). By the time a builder has dug down to the frost line to place a foundation, it makes sense to dig a bit further and install a basement.

Utilities are located in the basement

basement water heater in front of green brick chimney with furnace in the background.
A home inspector will check the hot water heater and furnace in your basement.

Basements in Illinois play a number of roles. They’re accessible points for natural gas and water and sewer piping.

They also house furnaces, duct work, hot water heaters and, in some areas with hard water, water softener systems. 

The electrical breaker box and control panel are likely to be located in the basement. 

A number of homes in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs have their laundry hook-ups in the cellar. Sump pumps also are found in some Midwestern basements.

With so many of a home’s operating systems located in the basement, it makes sense the area is a priority destination for home inspectors.

During an inspection, the inspector also will evaluate the basement itself. Is it damp? Is there a mildew odor or is mold visible?

Are foundation walls bowing or leaning? Are there wall or floor cracks that could indicate foundation problems or concerns?

An inspector may recommend a radon test for your home. Radon is a naturally-occurring invisible, tasteless odorless radioactive gas known to cause lung cancer. It can enter a home through cracks in walls, floors, foundations, and other openings.

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