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Cellar vs. Basement: Pros, Cons, & Difference (With Comparison Chart)

There is a staircase that leads down from your kitchen to somewhere. Is it a cellar or a basement? Some people use these terms interchangeably. Some people think that the difference between a cellar and a basement is entirely based on dialect. But is the difference between a cellar and a basement? It turns out, quite a lot.

Basements and cellars are not the same things. They are similar to be sure, but they are in no way the same. There are some very big distinctions between a cellar and a basement. If you are confused about what constitutes a basement versus a cellar do not worry. This comprehensive comparison piece will go over exactly what makes a cellar and what makes a basement.

house divider Overview of Cellars

Cellars are rooms that exist entirely underground for the express purpose of storage. Cellars store things like wine, root vegetables, dry goods, canned goods, and jars. Cellars are rarely used for habitation purposes, rarely feature any windows, and are often very small, cramped, and dimly lit. Cellars can also feature a single entrance that lies outside of the house though they can have doors inside as well. The classic cellar entrance is the double doors that lie at ground level outside that you have to pull open and climb down into. Cellars are nice because they do not add much in the way of utility costs as they are usually unheated and contain just a couple of simple lights.

Basement Cellar
Image Credit: Dayvison de Oliveira Silva, Pexels


Cellars are much smaller than basements on average. Cellars usually only consist of one room and occupy just a few hundred square feet. The ceilings of a cellar are usually lower than basements.


Cellars’ main purpose is storage. Cellars can be used to store a variety of different goods from food to drinks to fuel and more. Cellars often feature shelving, racks, crates, or boxes. They are not used for habitation; they don’t feature bathrooms or bedrooms and people don’t hang out in the cellar. The only time people willfully spend long moments in a cellar is during a storm when they are hiding out from damaging winds. One of the most popular types of the cellar is the wine cellar which people use to store large amounts of wine. People use cellars for storage because they are always cool and dim which is ideal for keeping things for long periods of time.

Root Cellar
Image Credit: Imfoto, Shutterstock

Defining Characteristics

There are some defining characteristics of a cellar that can be used to distinguish them from basements.

Here are some things you will usually find in a cellar but not a basement:
  • Only one room
  • No windows
  • An exterior entrance versus an indoor entrance
  • Used primarily for storage
  • Counted more as a closet than another floor of a building

These things usually put a cellar in stark contrast to a basement. Basements are much more expansive, much more versatile, and can exist in a variety of different ways. Cellars are more narrowly defined, narrowly used, and are not as versatile.

  • Easy to maintain
  • Great for storage
  • Doesn’t add to utility costs
  • Doesn’t add livable space
  • Fewer uses than a basement

divider 4 Overview of Basements

Basements refer to the bottom floor of a building that is partially or entirely underground. Unlike true cellars, basements can, and often do, reside partially above ground. This allows basements to have windows and multiple entry points. Basements are often much larger than cellars and occupy spaces the same size as the footprint of the house above. Basements can be finished to add additional living space including a laundry room, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, office, second living room, and more. Basements do not have to be finished in order to differentiate them from cellars. Basements can greatly increase utility costs as they are usually connected to the home’s HVAC system and require a lot of power to keep them lit, cool, and dry.

Image Credit: Pisaphotography, Shutterstock


Basements can be very large. Some basements can be as big as 2000 square feet or more. Generally, basements are the same size as the first floor of a building. Basements can have multiple rooms divided by walls and doors whereas cellars are typically just a single unbroken space. If finished properly, basements can be counted as living spaces. A finished basement with windows, closets, and egress (direct exit) can add thousands of square feet to a home’s official listing which can greatly increase the value of a home.


Basements can serve many purposes including living space, storage space, gym space, office space, rental space, and more. A basement can be repurposed to serve in a variety of roles based on how they are finished (or not finished). Cellars are typically used for storage and little else. Many homeowners desire a finished basement because of the flexibility and additional square footage that they can add.

Image Credit: Anatoli Igolkin, Shutterstock

Defining Characteristics

There are some defining characteristics of a basement that can be used to distinguish them from cellars.

Here are some things you will usually find in a basement but not a cellar:
  • An entire floor of a house
  • Exists partially above ground
  • Features windows and natural light sources
  • Can be finished to have multiple rooms and spaces
  • Counts towards square footage
  • Entrance typically inside

These are the defining qualities of a basement versus those of a cellar. If your below ground space has multiple of these characteristics it is likely a basement and not a cellar.

  • Extremely versatile
  • Large spaces
  • Can be included in the total square footage of a house which adds value
  • Can be expensive to finish
  • Adds utility costs

divider 4

Do I Have a Cellar or a Basement?

If you are wondering if you have a cellar or a basement, ask yourself these questions:

How many rooms is my space? If it is one small room, usually unfinished, it is probably a cellar.

Does it have any windows? Basements usually have at least one or two narrow windows near ground level. Cellars do not have windows.

Does your home list a basement on the listing? If a basement is listed, it is usually a basement. Realtors will not add cellars to a listing and try to pass it as a basement.

Is the space used primarily for storage? Cellars are usually just glorified storage rooms. They do not feature plumbing, furnaces, or other appliances or utilities. If your space has a boiler, furnace, water heater, sink or multiple rooms it is a basement, not a cellar.

Daylight Basement
Image Credit: real-twin-photos, Unsplash

Comparison Chart

Cellar Basement
Size Small Large
Entrance Commonly outside Commonly inside, can be both
Purpose Storage Living space
Windows No Yes
Utility Costs Lower Higher
Ceiling Height Lower Higher

house divider Conclusion

Basements and cellars are both found underneath houses but otherwise they are extremely different. Cellars are more narrowly defined and often exist as enhanced storage space. Basements are the bottom floor of any building that exists partially below ground and can be used for a large variety of different purposes. You can determine whether you have a cellar or basement by asking a few simple questions. Now you will know the definitive difference between the two home features going forward.

Featured Image Credit: (L) aquatarkus, Shutterstock; (R) pisaphotography, Shutterstock


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