I was in shock when I first went to Texas and found no basement in a house. I thought it was an anomaly, but I couldn’t see in any home that I went. Are you surprise too? In fact, some in southern states wonder why do houses have basements.
Why basements? Well, the history goes way back. Basements were initially cellar space to store wine and water, and then it became a storage space for everything else. Sump pumps, moisture barrier papers, and other technological advancements made it a useful living space.
When basements where originally conceived as a storage space, it is not like what you see today.
Since it was an unfinished, damp and musty underground location, everything was, in fact, stores in tin containers. Just to protect the substance stored.
Why Do Houses Have Basements
At the same time, we started expanding our expectation toward space requirement.
I live in a house that had 4 bedrooms and 1 bathroom. And something like 5 kids grew up. Some of those bathrooms were 5-by-8 or lesser.
Check this post to see how you can take a really small bathroom and make it look bigger, without breaking the walls.
But today, forget that. There are 5 bedroom and 7 bathrooms. So, it’s evident that we are utilizing more space than what is need -or- was originally used.
That need for extra space pushed us to utilize the basement as a fully functional space like rest of the home.
So, the once musty, damp dungeon transformed into recreational space, in-law suite, gym, kid’s play area, laundry room, wet bar, extra bedroom etc.
You have a basement space.
Where are Basements Common and Why No Basements in the South?
The essentially brings us to the dichotomy.
Builder sweat by having a basement in some states and others clearly hate them in a few other states.
So, if you are from one of those states where you had a basement, you would rave about it and tell how useful they are.
Whereas, if you are from the southern part of the US, you will see no value, and will view the basement as nothing more than an underground storage (if that).
Basements are an expectation in all the states above the Appalachian mountain range.
Think about it this way. Basements are a common thing in a cold climate. Where the frost depth is four feet or more.
In fact, you will see the trend right from the borders of Pennsylvania and Maryland (by the Mason-Dixon Line) itself. Even though you see home both with and without basements in Maryland and Virginia.
That imaginary line stretches all the way from PA to California.
Any states above that line seem to accept and adopt basement in the construction.
And most states below the line tend to exclude them.
Especially, as you go more south, basement disappears completely. To compensate for the lost space, attic storage and outdoor sheds are popular.
Reason for Not Having (and having) a Basement
For not having a basement:
The single biggest reason is this:
Southern states tend to have damp soil and it is not easy to build a basement in the damp soil.
If the soil has a high water table it is just too difficult to build a basement and keep the basement dry.
States by the coastline have this issue and basement is not a solution at all.
And places in Florida seem to have a lot of wetlands and swampland, which makes it difficult to dig the land and not see water ooze in.
In some places in Florida, water comes off in a couple of feet easily. So, there is no way a builder can even start to dig, let alone build a basement.
What about states in Carolinas?
Right, they might not have water just a few feet below the ground.
However, remember they are all sitting in gluey clay soil.
Clay soil might not retain water and that is not the issue we are talking. Here, we are looking at the type of soil that can affect the building.
The Clay composition has a lot of giving. It expands and contracts as it attracts and releases moisture. That, my friend, is not good for your foundation.
Builders can, however, work around this issue.
By adding lime to the soil (a lot of it) they can change the composition of the clay soil and then build the foundation on top it.
That will ensure that the foundation is not moving – especially in summer with the soil contracts so much.
For having a basement:
In colder climates, for the foundation to be strong, you need to have the foundation below the frost line.
So, if you think about it, where you have 4 feet or more of frost line (below the ground level), you will see basement or at least cellar space.
In fact, I am assuming this is what happened.
When builders started excavating 5 feet (for foundation reasons) they had an epiphany.
Why don’t we go another 2 feet extra and we have a good 7 feet for anyone to easily walk in and out.
And that gave the ideas of a storage. And technology changed it into a living space
But, some of the pre-war houses have a 5 feet cellar, with a dirt floor. It’s just left as is.
Hey, if you are in a house with just 5 feet high (which is in between crawlspace and basement), I have good news for you.
You can convert that space into a livable space. It’s not cheap, but cheaper than building out an extension.
Check out my blog on digging out a crawlspace to add a livable basement.
States That Have Basements and That Do Not
All Northern States have a basement, where it gets really chilly cold. Even if there is no basement, you will likely witness a crawlspace.
Southern states such as Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Texas, Arizona, and California have very minimal to no basements
I wish to take time to put all 50 states and then identify if the homes in that state have basements or attic.
But that’s a time taken exercise. Check back later, I might just that updated sometime.
Do Georgia Homes Have Basements
Places like Georgia and South Carolina, the frost line is at the surface. So, there is no need for digging 4 feet below the ground for the foundation.
That puts the builders at an advantage. They don’t have to excavate and build a basement.
Can You Have a Basement in California
If you look at the house from some 60s house, you might even see houses with basements.
However, there is no need for it now.
As such the houses in California are super expensive. Builders are finding ways to cut anything that can reduce the construction cost.
Basement is a luxury so that is out.
Is It Illegal to Have a Basement in Florida?
Yes and No – let me explain.
I think it is legal to build a basement in Florida.
However, since the majority of the coastal land is at or below the sea level, it’s foolish for a builder to put a basement and keep it safe.
So, from that angle, you might not get a permit to begin with.
And, if you build a basement without a permit, it is considered illegal.
Types of basement
There are a few different things you need to know. I wouldn’t call them as types.
However, if you are in Canada or the northern part of the USA, you may see basement types as a field in the Multiple Listing Services (MLS) entry.
The different kinds of houses and basements are:
- No Basement
- Full Basement
- Partial basement
In addition to this, if you have a basement – partial or full, the exit out of the basement level is worth noting.
Well, I am not talking about the stairs coming into the main living area – that is the stairs connecting the basement inside to upstairs inside.
What I am talking about is the exit that leads to mostly your backyard.
If you live in an area that looks hilly, then it’s easy to find a spot that takes you outside at the ground level.
Even if you land is not so, builders might do the excavation in such a way to get it graded for a walk-out level.
Anything else, where you must walk up a few steps, at the minimum, is consider a walk-up basement.
Walk-up basement usually has all four side of the basement completely under the ground level by a few feet, at the least.
Whereas, the Walk-out basement has at least one side at the ground level.
The choice to build a basement or not is purely based on the need and building code.
The Northern States are in a colder climate with frost line 4 feet or below the ground level.
That makes digging more than 4 feet a necessary. So, builders have found cost-benefit worthwhile to excavate another 3 more feet and leave a walkable basement.
The basement once was just a cellar to store wine. Due to technological improvements, builders have found ways to expand the cellar to living space.
Southern states have no need for a basement. Besides, some places like Florida have water just a meter below the ground level, which makes building basement just impossible.