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IowaCowboy
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Springfield, MA
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[general] Why don't houses in the south have basements

I watch the weather channel a lot and they are hosting tornado week as a programming theme.

One question I have is why don't houses in the south have basements, especially in those areas that are prone to severe weather/tornadoes like the south and tornado alley (Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma).

I live in the New England area and a lot of the houses here have basements (which probably explains the low fatality rate in the 06/1/2011 F3 tornado that came through town).
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guppy_fish
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join:2003-12-09
Lakeland, FL
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1 recommendation

High water tables and costs, its lower cost to have a slab instead of a basement

robbin
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join:2000-09-21
Leander, TX
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reply to IowaCowboy
No reason for a deep foundation to protect against freeze damage.

CaptEd
Premium
join:2003-01-25
Overland Park, KS
reply to IowaCowboy
Yes, as pointed out... high water tables and freeze line less than 36 inches.

For safety, though you can buy an above ground/partially buried shelter.


r81984
Fair and Balanced
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join:2001-11-14
Katy, TX
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reply to IowaCowboy
I'm living in houston and have been looking for a house.
People claim its for flooding reason, but at work we just dug out a 25 foot pit and it was dry not swampy. I was nice clay to 20 feet then sand below. The clay would make it ideal for a basement in this area. Worst case is you just need a really good sump pump.
We have concrete pits for machine foundations that are 10ft deep in this area and they never flood. So I dont even think flooding is the real reason for no basements in my area even thought that is way everyone claims.

I cant even find one with a basement on a hill.
To me, not having a basement is just odd and a huge loss of space.
Also you would think houses in the south would be cheaper since they lose half their space compared to a house in the north with a basement, but they are not cheaper at all.

Other odd things about houses in the south is they see nothing wrong with single pane windows and not having gutters.
Even on newer construction homes they still have single pane windows. I did not think you could even buy those anymore.
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robbin
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Leander, TX
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said by r81984:

I'm living in houston and have been looking for a house...Also you would think houses in the south would be cheaper since they lose half their space compared to a house in the north with a basement, but they are not cheaper at all.

Location, location, location.

robbin
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Leander, TX
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1 edit
reply to r81984
I don't know where the idea comes about that Texas has a high water table. It's not true. Basements weren't originally built to provide more living space and in fact it is hard even today to create quality living space out of a basement. True, people create living spaces and use them for storage but that is not their real function. The function of a basement is to lower the foundation to a point below the frost line to prevent frost heaving. That just isn't a problem in Texas or most parts of the south.


Doctor Olds
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reply to IowaCowboy
said by IowaCowboy:

One question I have is why don't houses in the south have basements, especially in those areas that are prone to severe weather/tornadoes like the south

I live in the New England area and a lot of the houses here have basements

North Metro Atlanta, GA (Outside of I-285) here and I have a full basement. So it is Location and Elevation.
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Pacrat
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reply to r81984
I questioned the lack of basements of a business contact in Mississippi some years ago... he explained to me that the clay is very unstable... that it does, in fact, move/creep causing all kinds of foundation problems. He mentioned to me that the only homes with basements were some upscale houses where they could afford to remove the clay for a considerable distance around the foundation walls and backfill with something else more stable. I forget the distance he told me, but I think it was somewhere around 20-30 feet. For most homeowners that becomes pretty cost prohibitive. He called that particular clay Yazoo clay. I don't know how prevalent that is throughout the south, but that might have a lot to do with it.
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nunya
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reply to IowaCowboy
I've often wondered the same thing. I know there are always going to be some situations where a basement isn't feasible.
But, to live in tornado alley and not have a basement is insane.

For one thing, it's a good place to keep all your shit. You can stick all your mechanicals down there and free up living space.

Around here, a basement is the "norm". A house on slab or crawl will have a lower value.

I've noticed other regional quirks. Outdoor breaker panels are a rarity here, but commonplace in the South and West (I guess because there's no basement to put them in ).
Other regional quirks that bug me: No attic, no gutters, no doorstep, shallow water lines, stucco, outdoor laundry, outdoor appliances (water heater / furnace), and no central air (just to name a few).
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ilikeme
I live in a van down by the river.
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Sugar Land, TX
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reply to r81984
said by r81984:

I'm living in houston and have been looking for a house.
People claim its for flooding reason, but at work we just dug out a 25 foot pit and it was dry not swampy. I was nice clay to 20 feet then sand below. The clay would make it ideal for a basement in this area. Worst case is you just need a really good sump pump.
We have concrete pits for machine foundations that are 10ft deep in this area and they never flood. So I dont even think flooding is the real reason for no basements in my area even thought that is way everyone claims.

I cant even find one with a basement on a hill.
To me, not having a basement is just odd and a huge loss of space.
Also you would think houses in the south would be cheaper since they lose half their space compared to a house in the north with a basement, but they are not cheaper at all.

Other odd things about houses in the south is they see nothing wrong with single pane windows and not having gutters.
Even on newer construction homes they still have single pane windows. I did not think you could even buy those anymore.

There are actually some houses in Houston that do have them, mostly older ones closer to downtown. My friends house in River Oaks has one. Also, a lot of office buildings have them.
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ilikeme
I live in a van down by the river.
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reply to nunya
said by nunya:

I've noticed other regional quirks. Outdoor breaker panels are a rarity here, but commonplace in the South and West (I guess because there's no basement to put them in ).
Other regional quirks that bug me: No attic, no gutters, no doorstep, shallow water lines, stucco, outdoor laundry, outdoor appliances (water heater / furnace), and no central air (just to name a few).

Around Dallas and Houston outdoor panels are more common on older houses rather than newer ones. Usually houses built after the 60's-70's have them in either the garage or laundry room, and occasionally outside.
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EGeezer
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reply to IowaCowboy
I'd think the clay soil that's prevalent in the south and southwest would cause problems with basements. It swells with water and shrinks with drought, causing foundation cracks. Where there is rock, building a basement can be difficult and expensive.

In low country and coastal areas, high water tables and sandy soil make basements impractical.
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Beezel

join:2008-12-15
Las Vegas, NV
+1

That's why don't hardly see basements here in Las Vegas.

Liberty

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Tucson, AZ
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reply to IowaCowboy
I was raised in Kansas and I can't remember a house that didn't have a basement

Haven't lived there in over 40 years so not current with newer homes but I recall hunkering down many many nights down there as tornados threatened

Here in Az basements are very rare and could be a great place to sleep on extra hot nights
Definitely would be a lot more expensive to add a basement when the frost line is 1/8"

MaynardKrebs
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reply to robbin
said by robbin:

The function of a basement is to lower the foundation to a point below the frost line to prevent frost heaving.

Plain wrong.

You don't NEED a basement to get the foundation below the frost line. Simply excavate a trench wide enough to work in and form/pour the footing. Then add the foundation wall on top of that. There is no need to excavate an entire basement if you don't want to.

Basements, if properly built and waterproofed, can be built well below the water table.

Austinloop

join:2001-08-19
Austin, TX
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reply to IowaCowboy
At least where I live in Texas, I am on top of almost solid limestone and flint rock (6 inches under the top of the dirt) . The expense would be quite high and the use of dynamite (or other explosive) would probably be required.

I had to rent a jack hammer when my children were young so that I could put the legs of their jungle gym 18 inches deep in concrete.

medbuyer

join:2003-11-20
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reply to nunya
said by nunya:

I've often wondered the same thing. I know there are always going to be some situations where a basement isn't feasible.

But, to live in tornado alley and not have a basement is insane.

some have resorted to installing tornado shelters inside their garage...

»www.tswstormshelters.com/customerphotos.html

»www.stormsheltersoftennessee.com···ers.html


chamberc
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join:2008-08-05
Irving, TX

1 recommendation

reply to IowaCowboy
It's the clay soil. As folks have mentioned, it can appear dry and then completely swell and saturate.

Sump pump bills would be huge and are for those buildings that have them.

In the north central part of Texas, you want pier & beam housing anyway, as shifting soil is just a way of life.


gatorkram
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reply to IowaCowboy
I remember living in West Virginia, and not every house had a basement, yet some had not only a basement, but a sub-basement too.

It had to do with getting a solid foundation, as everything that had basements and sub-basements were built into the side of hills.
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HarryH3
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reply to Austinloop
said by Austinloop:

At least where I live in Texas, I am on top of almost solid limestone and flint rock (6 inches under the top of the dirt) . The expense would be quite high and the use of dynamite (or other explosive) would probably be required.

I watched crews "dig" basements in solid granite when I lived in Massachusetts. They would drill multiple holes into the ground and drop in explosives. Then a crane would lift and place huge "rugs" (for lack of a better term), made of woven steel cables, and place them on top of the blast area. There would be a loud boom, the earth would shake a bit, the rugs would jump up a few inches and some dust would be kicked up through the rugs. After the crane removed the rugs, a backhoe would dig out the rubble.

If they do it in granite that easily then it seems to me that creating a similar hole in our Central Texas limestone would be trivial.


Jan Janowski
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join:2000-06-18
Skokie, IL
reply to IowaCowboy
In Mountains of N.C. you can't have basements, because of underground streams.... Here this year, off to left -- next year, etc....
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jrs8084
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join:2002-03-02
Statesville, NC
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reply to IowaCowboy
I have lived in three homes in NC and all of them had basements.

Current place-no sump pump, and used to use shallow well that hit water at 17'. Never had a problem in basement.


stevek1949
We're not in Kansas anymore
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join:2002-11-13
Virginia Beach, VA
reply to IowaCowboy
Virginia Beach, VA...does the area nickname of TIDEWATER mean anything? When you hit water when digging a posthole, basements are not even an afterthought!


Snakeoil
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Mentor, OH
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reply to IowaCowboy
I've seen houses built in the North without basements. In some cases it's the builder not wanting to build a basement.
The house I owned in GA had a "partial" basement. The house was on a hillside and the garage was built under the house. It was an odd situation, so we never used the garage to park vehicles.
The rest was a crawl space that would turn into mud when ever it rained. And of course when we tried selling the house, Black Mold was discovered.

Which tells you to get a mold inspection before buying a home. Mold treatment can be very expensive. The quote we got started at 20k.
So if buying a house with a crawl space look for evidence of water seepage. Or see if the crawl space has a thick moisture barrier laid down.
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djrobx
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Valencia, CA
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reply to nunya
said by nunya:

I've noticed other regional quirks. Outdoor breaker panels are a rarity here, but commonplace in the South and West (I guess because there's no basement to put them in ).

I live in an area where the outdoor breaker is the norm. I don't get it either. Around here the service entrance is almost always located on the outside of an attached garage, it would be just as easy to put the panel on the inside. I think it's mainly because they can put the breakers and meter pan in the same box (cheaper), and well, the power company used to need to read the meter.
said by nunya:

... no gutters ...

Our current home has no gutters. Some neighbors have added them. I haven't figured out a good reason to add them to this house. If I did, it would just be something else I'd have to clean the debris out of. The majority of the water comes down from the roof onto cement walkways with drains, and there's no basement to worry about flooding.

For one thing, it's a good place to keep all your shit. You can stick all your mechanicals down there and free up living space.

We store our shit (and some mechanicals, if attached) in our garages. It's extremely common to see two car garages with only room for one car to park.

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GusHerb94

join:2011-11-04
Chicago, IL
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reply to IowaCowboy
Another reason houses had basements back then was for heating. Back before electricity was common, hot water flowed by gravity through real large pipes, you used steam, or you had "gravity hot air" which used massive sheet metal ductwork attached to a giant cast iron furnace aka octopus (because they looked like that with all the ducts coming out of it)

I think after that it just stuck for convenience reasons. There is a good number of houses around here that don't have basements. Basements stopped being an absolute "requirement" around 1950. There was ALOT of tract housing built in the 50s without basements, they all had forced air heating too.

Nowadays town homes and small tract homes mostly are on a slab, single family homes are still built with basements 95% of the time. There is a neighborhood near a river that they recently required that any new home not only not have a basement but be built a considerable height above the ground. It has a huge history of flooding, all the existing homes built in the 50s and 60s have basements and you have to be very diligent about water proofing or you'll always have seepage or worse.

As far as the south goes alot of the differences you see are cost cutting differences! I personally don't like having breaker panels outside, HVAC equipment in attics, romex wiring instead of metal conduit, single pane windows, etc etc. Whenever I mention how they should build like we do over here I get the line "but that's dramatically more expensive!"......yet somehow we've been building that way forever and have managed to pay for it. Sadly I do see more Romex wiring and Pex pipe for plumbing around here these days though.

I would like to build a house in the South to the standards I'm accustomed to up here in the Midwest, including having a basement. Also another thing which I think is ironic is that bad quality HVAC systems are RAMPANT in the southern states, which also happen to be the places that need A/C the most! Up here a majority of homes have more then enough cooling capacity to freeze you to death on a 110 degree day. (it shouldn't be that way but people like to oversize equipment, which runs up bills and decreases comfort)


Boricua
Premium
join:2002-01-26
Sacramuerto
reply to IowaCowboy
When I used to live in Philly, we had a basement. My mother kept chickens down there (of all things). I remember the washer and dryer there as well. I miss having a basement .
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Beezel

join:2008-12-15
Las Vegas, NV
reply to gatorkram
said by gatorkram:

I remember living in West Virginia, and not every house had a basement, yet some had not only a basement, but a sub-basement too.

It had to do with getting a solid foundation, as everything that had basements and sub-basements were built into the side of hills.

Some were because of that, but also a basement on flat ground usually had water seeping issues over time and required sump pumps.


Drex
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Not There
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reply to IowaCowboy
Below sea level, soft soil, humidity...

We just have to get people to stop living in trailer parks...that's where the tornado's always seem to land.
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