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Why No More Basements?


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I discuss this issue frequently whether it's a homeowner, client or family member.

Its probably more a west coast thing.

I still haven't found a definitive reason.

Yes, there are basements in the northwest, but not in newer homes (post 1960-ish) unless the place is built on a slope where you have to dig in to the hillside anway.

Most viable reasons I've figured are:

1) cost

2) why dig big holes in the ground in a region where it rains a lot.

Southern California builds most their homes on slab. Most all our places up here are crawlspaces which still doesn't make sense cuz you're still digging a hole in wet soil.

I think slabs would fare better.

Any thoughts?

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Originally posted by randynavarro

I discuss this issue frequently whether it's a homeowner, client or family member.

Its probably more a west coast thing.

I still haven't found a definitive reason.

Yes, there are basements in the northwest, but not in newer homes (post 1960-ish) unless the place is built on a slope where you have to dig in to the hillside anway.

Most viable reasons I've figured are:

1) cost

2) why dig big holes in the ground in a region where it rains a lot.

Southern California builds most their homes on slab. Most all our places up here are crawlspaces which still doesn't make sense cuz you're still digging a hole in wet soil.

I think slabs would fare better.

Any thoughts?

As Chad pointed out, the issue is frost.

In our area, we've got to dig down at least 12" to get beneath the frost line. If the lot is dead level, we could do a slab on grade with a 12" deep footing, but most of our land isn't dead flat. A slab on grade with 12" deep footings on a sloped lot would represent a heck of a lot concrete. Crawlspaces are much easier and cheaper.

Southern California doesn't have to worry about frost. They can just scrape down to undisturbed soil and start pouring. Slabs make sense.

Houses in cold places need deep footings. Basements make sense on those houses.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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  • 3 years later...

I saw this post last year but to be honest I was too lazy to respond to your original post. Well tonight I have energy and will do you all a favor and give you some true facts.

"The simple answer is the North Texas clay soil moves too much, making a basement cost prohibitive. It's structurally safer and much less expensive for a home builder to build a second story than to build a basement."

This statement is no where near the truth and don't have an ounce of fact in it, and I prove it every day to customers. Fact Texas is unique and has less expansive clays than you might imagine. Check out the Texas map showing this fact: http://www.shaggybevo.com/board/showthr ... tral-Texas

IS IT WISE TO BUILD A BASEMENT? the answer is an unequivocal YES! When you think of all the foundation repair problems in the state already that is not due to basements, the advice don't hold water. The foundations in Texas were built to serve contractors and builders... Build them cheap and build them quick is why. Slabs are built with soil that was often times brought in by truck, cushion sand and steel that was often times thin like fence grading. Depending on the soil type that the slab was built on, the slab has very little support even if rock is below it because the soil was never tested in the first place(too save money).

WHAT IS THE COST TO BUILD A BASEMENT? It really depend on what type of soil your working with, because if its caliche your cost will be cheaper since you will not even need footings poured. For all other soils it will nearly be the same if your not pouring a cheap slab to easily crack in the future. I say this because today slabs are not all built the same any more,ie post tension, flooding beam method, Pier & Beam and a number of different piling methods are used. Point I am making is it does not matter if you build your foundation above the ground or below it your engineer will design it based on your loads and reactions (weight & height) of the home that will be built. Cost will be $4 to $7 sqf depending on if it is a floating,supported,mono or slab on grade. So consider the simple fact that you will be pouring a foundation regardless.

Foundation Warranty If you build the basement with green technology the manufacturers of the concrete will warranty the basement walls not to leak. Same insurance company is called to cover the repairs except it is backed by concrete manufactures and not fly by night builders who will not be there when you need them.

ITS CHEAPER TO BUILD UP! Sounds good but this can't be further from the truth. Like I stated earlier we know we have to build a foundation and the cost will be really the same if you build it above or below the surface. So really the only difference is that you will be pouring concrete walls instead of building conventional framed walls. So make the comparison - if you compare the cost of building wood or steel framing, Foam insulation instead of Batts, Thicker wood panels than cheap OSB, radian Barrier instead of cheap Tyvec, and stone exterior than cheap siding - then you will find your cost will be less for a basement with 10" to 12"concrete walls. When you consider the cost of excavation you will find that your basement will cost you a little more if the soil is clay,sand,grey caliche or solid rock (little chance of solid rock).

MAJOR FACTOR LEFT OUT Basements have geothermal temperatures which are a cool 62 ot 65 degrees all year round. The slab in a basement literally draws the heat from the house into the cold slab. Result is that it is cheaper to cool a basement than it is to cool a second floor of a home. In-fact there is no comparison because unless you have a walkout basement with many windows you don't need A/C at all, only a fan will be needed. At the height of the summer it will take 3 to 4 hours to cool the second floor at a cost of $350 to $500 a month for a mid size home. Basement floor will cost about $20 to run your fan for the same amount of time. Like I said! no comparison. Building in the attic sound good until you consider that it is unbearable in the summer even if you have A/C and have foamed the rafters. It is nearly unbearable in the winter for the opposite reason and will need little heat only if the rafters is foamed, ie heat rises. If like 95% of the homes it does not have foamed rafters then the attic will be freezing and no heating lines it will stay that way. So other than about 3 to 4 months out of the year your "Texas basement - Attic" is totally unusable.

We won't talk about the tax savings for a non-finished basement that may be finished out later that does not add to your tax base. Come on boys and girls - say it with me (non-living space) is treated like our garages regardless of how much space it takes up- WOW!.

We won't talk about how all those people who look at houses for sale want to always walk through the basement home FIRST!

Tornado Safety: This part is not even a challenge but I will share FEMA'S suggestion.

When you encounter one stand in a door way, or get in a tub and cover yourself with a mattress. What happens to the rest of the family since only the kids will fit, or one large person, and what if it is fiberglass if the home is newer. No only a basement will save your entire family if a tornado hits and we all know it.

How do I know what I am talking about? My family started out building Swimming pools all over Texas for over 40 years before we started helping people build basements. You can check out my book: on our company information page

It is also sold on Amazon, Barnes & Nobles and eight other online stores. If you have any particular questions we answer basement questions for Building or Basement Repair on "Just Answer"

We have a show home in of all places NORTH DALLAS - For everyone to see if you want to see a real one or check it out on our website.

Like many of you I am a state licensed Professional Inspector with the state of Texas lic#20238

I mean no disrespect, but Basements are my thing!

wking

Willie E King Jr.

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