Science Experiments in Your Basement
Whether it’s cooking ‘slime’ using items in the kitchen or growing flowers in different environments, it is fun to have experiments you can do at home with kids. And when everyone is forced inside on a rainy day or you’re just looking to mix it up, it’s good to have a toolkit of experiments in your pocket.
The home is full of cool science experiments you can do. In particular, the basement is a treasure trove of experiments. Not only is it often full of cool and interesting appliances, but it’s also the room in the house where you can make the most noise, the most mess, and generally experiment.
This guide will show you science experiments you can do in the basement of your home.
Why do experiments?
Doing science experiments at home with your child is a great way to get them interested in science and explain scientific principles. Along with the specific content you’ll be working on, you will also instill in them a sense of the scientific method and make them familiar with terms such as ‘dependent/independent variable,’ ‘control,’ and ‘conclusion.’
This will make the language of science more intuitive, which will have a positive effect on their school work.
On top of that, by showing them that science exists everywhere, you will breakdown the idea that science is a ‘classroom subject’ – instead showing them that science is simply a toolkit for engaging with the world around us.
Whether it’s that long summer away from school or just a weekend there’s nothing on at the movie theater, a science experiment can be a great way to spend time with your kids and get them learning (without them always realizing it!).
Teach about how your home works
The word ‘science’ comes from the Greek word for knowledge. Science experiments in your home are a great way for your children to learn about how their home works.
Whether it’s working out how certain appliances cool and certain appliances heat, or something as simple as seeing how condensation appears on a bathroom mirror, a science experiment will show your student just how the different parts of your house work.
Foster interest in science
One of the greatest values you can instill in your child is to make them curious about science and the world around them. By showing them how common objects in your home function and how different processes and materials interact, you can create a near-infinite set of experiments.
The best thing about this is that it doesn’t have to end when your experiment does.
If you experiment with shadows in your backyard, using a stick as a sundial, you can check back in on the experiment six months later, and compare results.
The best outcome for fostering curiosity in your child is to ask them questions after the experiment has finished.
For example, if you ran an experiment on how quickly an ice cube melted in different locations, you can ask them on a cold day how this would change the results or ask them to think of what time of day the ice cube would have melted faster.
This shows that they are engaging with the core concepts and are able to extrapolate the findings of the experiment.
What experiments to try?
Although not one for the squeamish, this experiment is great for showing how mold grows and thrives in different environments.
Slices of bread
Sealable plastic bags
Place the bread in the bag and then seal it up.
Then watch the mold slowly develop on the bread.
Variation #1 of this experiment:
Place the bags of bread in different locations throughout your home that experience different conditions.
For example, place one bag near the furnace or water heater, one in a cool, dry spot, and one outside.
Then compare how the mold grows on each slice of bread.
Variation #2 of this experiment:
Place one dry slice of bread in a sealed bag.
Sprinkle water on the other slice of bread and place it inside of the other bag and seal it up.
Then leave the bags in the same location and compare how the mold develops at different rates.
Electrical Systems and Energy Use
The basement is usually where the electrical meter is kept. This allows for a cool experiment to learn the value of a kilowatt-hour.
Home electrical meter
Materials for taking notes
Take your student down to the electrical meter and have them watch the meter turn (in most instances it will be turning, even if very slowly – it is almost impossible to have it stop completely, as you will always be using electricity in your home).
Make a note of how long it takes to complete one kilowatt-hour in seconds (this may involve some math).
Then, have another family member turn on a large appliance, such as the vacuum cleaner, the dryer, or the oven.
Make a note of how fast it now takes to complete the kilowatt-hour.
You will now be able to calculate the speed increase as a result of this appliance. (As an added benefit, this will teach your child that electricity usage corresponds to money, which is always a useful lesson to learn!).
Why Soap is an Effective Cleaner
A very simple experiment you can do that will show how surface tension works is the ‘pepper and water experiment.’
- Dishwashing detergent
Fill a shallow dish with water and then sprinkle pepper onto the surface of the water.
Place your finger into the water and notice how nothing happens (i.e. the pepper remains on the surface).
Then place a small dab of detergent on your finger and place it in the water.
Watch to see the pepper all moving to the edges of the plate.
First, this experiment will teach kids about buoyancy, since the very light pepper flakes float on top of the water surface. Additionally, this is a lesson about surface tension.
The introduction of the detergent causes the surface tension of the water to drop, but since the water molecules want to stick together and maintain the surface tension, they move away from the soap, pulling the pepper flakes with them. This is why detergents make such good cleaners in washing machines and dishwashers.
The Importance of Regularly Replacing Air Conditioner Filters
An interesting experiment you can do on your HVAC system is one designed to show air pollution, as well as the chemicals and bacteria that live within an air conditioner. This experiment is a little more advanced, so it’s better for an older student (middle school or above).
- Two agar or sugar plates
- Sterilizing alcohol
- New air conditioner filter
- Used air conditioner filter
- Sharpie marker
Label the bottom of the plates “new” and “used.”
First, take a new air conditioner filter, and cut a 1-inch square from it.
Place this in the center of the agar plate labeled “new” (remember to sterilize the forceps and scissors after each use).
Then cut a 1-inch square from the used air conditioner filter and place this in the center of a second agar plate labeled “used.”
Place both plates and leave in a warm area, where there is little or no temperature variation.
Check on the plates over the course of a week (or longer, if there is little progress) and you will see that the bacteria present in the used filter continues to grow.
The new air filter operates as a control – compare the two to see how HVAC filters accumulate bacteria and see if your child can draw conclusions about the implications of this. This shows the importance of cleaning the hvac ducts and cleaning the dryer vent.
How Water Can Defy Gravity
Make water defy gravity in this very simple and easy experiment.
- Glass half filled with water
- Piece of cardstock about the size of a postcard
- A bucket
Sit the glass of water upright and place the cardstock on top of the glass, holding it tightly over the opening with your hand.
With your hand still pressing the cardstock onto the glass, quickly flip the glass over so it is upside down.
A little water will fall out, but it mostly all stays inside of the glass.
Remove your hand from the piece of cardstock so you are just holding the bottom of the upside-down glass.
The card is stuck onto the glass and no water escapes. The water is defying gravity!
Hold the glass over the bucket and pull the cardstock away. All of the water falls out.
Air molecules push on us from all directions. The air pressure from underneath the card is greater than the air pressure inside of the glass. The water creates a seal with the card and prevents any other air from getting in, which holds everything in place.
When the card is removed, there is no longer a seal holding the water in, and air is able to get inside of the glass to equalize the pressure as gravity pulls the water out. It also shows the importance of having a good seal when it comes to waterproofing your basement.
Warm Air Expands
This experiment shows how air behaves differently at different temperatures with the help of a balloon.
- Container of water that
is hot, but not boiling
- Empty bottle
Pull the end of the balloon over the opening of the empty bottle, which should be at room temperature.
Then, place the base of the bottle into the container of hot water and watch as the balloon expands.
The bottle still has the same amount of air in it throughout the experiment. When it is heated, the air molecules speed up and move further away from each other. This is what causes the balloon to expand and shows why warmer air takes up more space than cooler air.
This is why when warmer temperatures settle in, people need to let some air out of their car tires and when it gets colder outside, they need to add air to them.
Although most appliances such as a sump pump, have pumps to move water from one place to another, it is possible for water to travel without the use of pumps through siphoning. This experiment teaches lessons about fluid dynamics and gravity.
This experiment has the potential to get wet, so you should make sure to avoid carpeted areas (again, the basement is the ideal place for this, particularly if you use the stairs as a way of raising the buckets).
- Two containers
- A clear hose
- Food coloring (optional)
Place one of the containers higher than the other and fill the higher one with water.
Totally submerge the hose in the water in the higher container, making sure all of the air is out of the hose.
Then, place your thumb over one end of the hose to create a seal, and place this end of the hose in the lower container.
Then take your thumb off the end of the hose and the water will begin to flow. You can also start the initial flow of the water by sucking on one end of the hose or sticking a pipette or other suction device on the end and squeezing it to start the flow of water.
Once the flow starts, the water will continue to flow from one container to the other on its own. You can repeat this as many times as you like.
To make the experiment even more fun, use food coloring in the water.
You can also try other iterations to see how high you can siphon the water or use multiple containers and create a series of siphons.
Atmospheric pressure and gravity work together to pull the water through the hose. The liquid is initially being pushed into the tube by external air pressure. Gravity takes over and pulls the water into the lower container.
The flow continues until all of the water is gone from the higher container or until the levels in each container reach the same height. At this point, the forces are balanced, and the flow stops. This can help explain when there is a sewer backup and how a sewer lateral works.
There are plenty of science experiments you can do in your home – often without the need to purchase additional equipment. Regardless of the age of your child, your own level of technical proficiency, or the amount of time you have, you will be able to find something entertaining and engaging.
Your basement, like the world around it, is a veritable treasure trove of potential science experiments. The best thing about many of these science experiments is that they engender further questions, so the experimenting can go on indefinitely.
So don’t be afraid to get messy and try one of these experiments. You may even learn something yourself – and your child certainly will!
Sources and Further Reading