View Poll Results: If you live in a house, does it have a basement?
Yes
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No
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Basements

Old Jul 24th 2015, 9:47 pm
  #1  
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Default Basements

I notice when I'm in the US that houses usually don't have basements. At least ones built in the last 40 years or so.

I was just wondering if there was any reason for this or whether it was just a cultural phenomenon.

My house here in Calgary is modern and it has a basement and everywhere I've been in Canada houses have basements. It is in fact a major Canadian thing to have your basement done up and have a wet bar, walkout (I call them "break in") basements, etc.

However I was in Austin recently visiting a friend of mine and I had a look around the houses being built, in fact I went to one estate where the houses looked totally identical to the ones around me here, the only major difference externally was an AC compressor and instead of being occasionally brick clad they were clad with the local limestone rock or whatever it is called - but... no basements.

I asked the sales people and they were a bit vague but said something about the ground not being suitable for basements. Which turned out to be total bullshit as my friend lives in a house near downtown which was built in the 1950s and it has a basement, plus he has his own home improvement business and couldn't really figure out what they were on about (moreover he works from his basement).

I can understand why a house in Florida wouldn't have a basement but generally...?

Got another friend who moved from OKC to Houston and she thought the reason houses in Oklahoma all had basements was for protection against tornadoes!

To me it just seems to be a cost cutting measure. Even bungalows for oldies in Canada have basements, which I always think rather defeats the "no stairs" purpose of them.
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Old Jul 24th 2015, 9:54 pm
  #2  
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Default Re: Basements

The bit about the ground is partially true. My understanding is that the foundations of the house have to go low enough to get below the frost level or to bedrock otherwise the frost can heave up the foundations.

Here in Phx there isn't really a frost issue so most houses will not have a basement.

Perhaps building techniques have changed so rather than building a full basement, they just sink piles down to the required depth and build on them.
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Old Jul 24th 2015, 9:58 pm
  #3  
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Default Re: Basements

I think pretty much every house in the New England area has a basement of some kind.
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Old Jul 24th 2015, 10:08 pm
  #4  
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Default Re: Basements

I've lived in three houses in CT and each has had a finished basement. The current house is built on three levels to accommodate the terrain, so the basement is of the "walk out" variety, leading to the garden.
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Old Jul 24th 2015, 10:41 pm
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Default Re: Basements

Originally Posted by sir_eccles View Post
The bit about the ground is partially true. My understanding is that the foundations of the house have to go low enough to get below the frost level or to bedrock otherwise the frost can heave up the foundations.
So it is a cost cutting measure because they could put in basements but they don't have to.

Here in Phx there isn't really a frost issue so most houses will not have a basement.
But do any of them have a basement? I've never come across one in Phoenix. Actually the reason I was given by a realtor in Phoenix was because of termites. Which sounded a bit ridiculous as you can surely protect a concrete basement just as well as a concrete pad.

Perhaps building techniques have changed so rather than building a full basement, they just sink piles down to the required depth and build on them.
But you could do that in Calgary. Thereby avoiding the frost issue. But no-one does.

I've been in plenty of houses in the Fraser Valley that have basements too and it doesn't get that cold there and they're at sea level. Moreover, it's an earthquake zone.

Some sort of cultural thing that was perhaps at some previous point in time rooted in the prevailing construction method?
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Old Jul 24th 2015, 10:46 pm
  #6  
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Default Re: Basements

Originally Posted by Bob View Post
I think pretty much every house in the New England area has a basement of some kind.
I agree. All our New England relatives have basements, and the three houses we've lived in so far this time have full basements. In all the many, many houses we looked over in our househunt (PA, CT, RI, MA), we only saw one without a normal cellar--that was a brand-new build that for some odd reason had a half-height basement, i.e. around 4 feet high, that you had to crouch down to walk around. (Needless to say, we were not interested in buying that house.)

When we lived in Houston many years ago, our house had no basement. Just a (very small) crawl space under the ground floor. My husband had to do something down in the crawl space once, and he said it was truly claustrophobic--more a "slither space" than a crawl space. Our present place has a nice large cellar with a walk-out door. The house is built into a slope and has three levels like Nutmegger describes.

My husband loves our basement. And I must say I like it too. It's not finished at all, but it's good for storage, for the washer & dryer, and is deliciously cool in the summer....

Last edited by WEBlue; Jul 24th 2015 at 10:50 pm.
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Old Jul 24th 2015, 11:15 pm
  #7  
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Default Re: Basements

Originally Posted by Steve_ View Post
But do any of them have a basement? I've never come across one in Phoenix. Actually the reason I was given by a realtor in Phoenix was because of termites. Which sounded a bit ridiculous as you can surely protect a concrete basement just as well as a concrete pad.
There are some with basements, it's basically a time and cost issue to put one in. Why bother if code doesn't require you to dig down.

I can personally tell you how small the crack needs to be for termites to find their way through the slab and to start munching on your bamboo floor.

I wish I had a basement. That said we'd probably just fill it with junk.
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Old Jul 24th 2015, 11:57 pm
  #8  
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Default Re: Basements

In the threes house we have had here, one was an un-finished basement, MA, one was a fully finished basement, CO, and this one has no basement, CA. I did like the fully finished one best as we could hide down there when the tornado sirens went off. No basement here because of possible earthquakes.
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Old Jul 25th 2015, 12:00 am
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Default Re: Basements

Can't say I have ever seen a house in So. California with a basement, my dad's house and sisters house and every other family members house certainly don't, they were built anywhere from the mid 1940's to recent.

WA state older homes tend to have basements where newer homes tend not to have basements, doesn't seem to be an agreement as to why they don't, some say because of rain, soil, and liability, so who knows.

They are more common in the US in the midwest and east coast, So. California tends not to have them according the article below, because most were built post-WW2 and were tract homes, and builders could build them faster without a basement, so that is what they did, and builders just kept it that way over the decades.

The article says the earthquake issue for no basements in CA is a myth and that having a basement is apparently safer.

Why basements are scarce in Southern California - LA Times

"In addition, fear of earthquakes was often cited as a reason for the dearth of basements in the Golden State. But that, architects and contractors say, is something of a myth. In fact, says Jonathan Weinstein of basement-retrofitting specialist Weinstein Construction Corp., "Now we know the opposite is true. Building a basement to code upgrades your home to the safest level of protection for earthquakes, because you have a much stronger foundation for the whole house. A basement will have poured concrete walls and strong foundations set very deep.""
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Old Jul 25th 2015, 1:29 am
  #10  
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Default Re: Basements

Originally Posted by WEBlue View Post
I agree. All our New England relatives have basements, and the three houses we've lived in so far this time have full basements. In all the many, many houses we looked over in our househunt (PA, CT, RI, MA), we only saw one without a normal cellar--that was a brand-new build that for some odd reason had a half-height basement, i.e. around 4 feet high, that you had to crouch down to walk around. (Needless to say, we were not interested in buying that house.)
Half-height basements are usually so you can get at the furnace.
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Old Jul 25th 2015, 1:33 am
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Default Re: Basements

There may be an even simpler reason for the absence of basements: custom. "For some reason, it was not done in the beginning," says architect Douglas Teiger of Abramson Teiger Architects. "And it stayed that way."
Hmm, so it's a tradition. Which is what I suspected.
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Old Jul 25th 2015, 2:12 am
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Default Re: Basements

Ha, I always thought California didn't have basements due to earthquake risk.

I have a full basement and it's finished other than the laundry room.
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Old Jul 25th 2015, 3:52 am
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Default Re: Basements

House I live in 9 years old and it has a basement. At first I thought basements were great but now I am leaning towards not wanting 1 if I ever build a new house. Rather have the ground floor act as the basement and the 1st floor and above the living areas.

1 positive of a basement is how cool it is in summer .
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Old Jul 25th 2015, 7:45 am
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Default Re: Basements

I've always assumed that houses in the northeast in the US usually have basements so that you can get the water in and the waste water out more easily, in a climate where it is way below freezing for months at a time. Although whether this really applies to older ( pre plumbing era) houses I'm not sure. Our house was built in 1865, and I'm pretty sure they didn't have indoor toilets then, in a rural farmhouse, and not sure what the well and kitchen tap situation was then.

We have a cellar under the whole length of the house, that keeps well above freezing since the furnace and hot water heater are there. The water from the well enters below ground level, and the waste water leaves to get to the septic tank below ground level. All the water pipes and waste pipes are easily accessible, throughout the cellar.
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Old Jul 25th 2015, 1:03 pm
  #15  
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Default Re: Basements

I voted no but wish I had voted "yes". My house has a "walk in crawlspace", which means that about 80% of the volume needed for a basement exists under the house, but it needs a little more digging, and a concrete slab laid. To achieve this is a little tricky, though not impossible, when the house has already been built on top of it. It would likely be cost prohibitive to do this now. Curiously two neighbouring properties have exactly the same issue, including one that has part of the crawlspace so high (deep?) that the owner needs a ladder to work under the floor at one end of the house - it was built on a knoll and the crawlspace is 9-10ft high at one end.

To answer Steve_'s question, the depth to which foundations have to be dug is dependent on the frost line, and the frost line also determines how deep the water and sewer lines are buried. In Canada and the northern US states the foundations have to be so deep that you might as well have a basement because much of the digging has already been done and you also have most, if not all, of the walls required for a basement, so the marginal cost of adding a basement is quite small.

In some parts of the US, most notably Florida, a house with a basement would very quickly develop an indoor swimming pool without perpetual pumping.
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