So in places where it gets good and hot, why wouldn’t you have a basement?

As someone originally from Texas (where there generally are no basements) who now lives in New England (where basements are ubiquitous), this was always an interesting question for me as well.

The reason is the frost line (i.e. how deep the ground freezes in winter). You don’t want the ground to freeze below your building footings, or it can result in frost heave and structural damage. So you have to excavate down deep enough to pour your concrete footings below this point. In Texas, this may only be a foot or two. In New England, it’s more like 5-7 feet. And in New England, as long as you’re excavating that deep to place the footings, you may as well excavate the interior portion as well and voilà!: there’s your basement.

There’s also the cultural reason that people now expect basements in northern climates like New England.

The only house basement I ever saw in Texas was in Army housing at Fort Sam Houston, probably as a result of builders not from the region who didn’t know any better. It actually was great to have, because we didn’t have A/C, and it was the coolest place in the house.

Good answer. That makes sense.

I have seen water table suggested a lot which was clearly incorrect. As plenty of place where the water table is fairly high have basements with french drains and/or sump pumps.

Basements are rare (but not unheard of) in the desert portions of Arizona. Generally for the same reason as Texas: there’s no need for a deep foundation, so rarely does anyone pay for one.

Water table is certainly not an issue.

Other reasons: the ground is very difficult to excavate thanks to the caliche layer. Doesn’t stop people from putting in pools, but those are frequently only 4-5 feet deep.

Termites are common. Concrete slab construction means less termite food.

On top of the other geologic and climactic considerations, there’s probably also a pure economic play.

It costs money to build a basement. In some markets, this can put pricing higher than the developer wants, and/or cut into profit margins.

Hey thanks, robby. Texans, if you’ve never experienced the temperature drop as you walk down a flight of stairs, you don’t know what you’re missing. And yes, water must be allowed in (sump pit) and then pumped out, which can be a real pain if the pumps fail.

I spent most of my first 38 years in Texas and had always thought it was because of the shallow depth to bedrock. Basically, it’s just too damn much work/expensive to excavate once you hit solid rock and the soil layer isn’t deep enough in most places to allow for a basement. Judging from this Southern Living article (not the best source, but the information seems legit), it’s a bit of all of these explanations.

Basements generally aren’t an inviting place to hang out. They are underground and don’t have a lot of natural light. Most people would prefer to stay in the main house and use the AC rather than go into the basement. In hot states, just about every house is going to have AC, so the coolness of the basement wouldn’t be needed. The only houses which won’t have AC will be the really cheap houses, and they’re not going to take on the added cost of putting in a basement for the coolness.

Are there any places which routinely build basements for discretionary reasons? I think most basements are built because the basement is needed for the construction of the house. The fact that it’s cool and offers additional space is just a bonus.

My understanding is that while basements are pleasantly cool in the brutally hot, humid summers in Connecticut, they’re more useful for reducing your heating bill in winter. Part of my parents’ house is over a concrete slab and that part of the house was always harder to heat than the part over the basement, where there was a constant fifty-something degree temperature.

Since you bring it up, let me tell you the story of that Army housing in Fort Sam Houston that I lived in when I was in 7th grade.

First off, it was very old, and didn’t have central A/C. We moved in for six months in January 1981 so my new stepfather could take an Army training course, and it had to predate WWII.

What it did have were window A/C units all over the house. It turns out that residents of this particular house had repeatedly sold them from one resident to the next. My stepfather was offered them as well. I’m sure they were relatively cheap, but he was even cheaper, so he refused them. :face_with_raised_eyebrow:

The previous residents looked at him like he was crazy (which he was). I guess as he stood there in January in the heart of Texas, summer seemed a long way away. Plus, my stepfather was from California, and he had no conception of what Texas heat was like. :roll_eyes:

They tried to get him to reconsider, but he wouldn’t. The previous residents couldn’t clear inspection if the next residents refused to accept them, so the previous residents had to physically remove every single one of these massive A/C units.

We then moved in. Things were fine for first month or so. By early March, though, temps were in the mid-70s. By April, they were in the 80s, and by June they were in the 90s. I still remember the 4th of July in that house. It was an inferno.

Anyway, back to basements. I spent most of my time in the basement after around April or so.

I wonder if Texas’ lack of basements is due to unstable soil. There are about as many foundation repair commercials as car commercials here, and I assume the soil has something to do with it.

I have a neighbor who had a basement in his house. It was a constant source of repair, cracking, water intrusion, etc. He really wished he hadn’t included it in the original house design. If it matters, he was a native Texan, not a transplant from areas where basements are common.

It is, indeed, often about the groundwater level.

I live in a place now where sump pumps and french drains are often necessary to keep our basements dry. But I grew up in Florida. Building a basement there would be more like putting the bottom floor of your house in a swimming pool.,amp.html&ved=2ahUKEwio8amA5IrtAhW0KH0KHSXxBYYQFjATegQIGBAB&usg=AOvVaw0qiFdKv2plI2N7E6ID_t5a&ampcf=1

Much of the state of Florida is barely above sea level.

I know that in the Houston-Galveston area, groundwater withdrawals over the decades from regional aquifers have resulted in significant land subsidence.

This ended up cracking the driveway and then the slab of my grandparents’ house. The cracked slab led to major structural damage to the house.

To clarify my point, it’s not impossible to build a basement in Florida, it’s just very expensive, especially compared to building a house of the same size without one.

In California, there are almost no houses with basements. Almost none…

I was about to say, pumping here would be crazy expensive. I’ve heard legends about hills in Clermont, though. Maybe they have basements there?


When my parents built their house in 1963, it was a virtual clone of the house next door (same builder.) When my father found out a basement would add about 5% to the cost of the house, he told the builder not to put one in. The house is still there, on its slab foundation.

Down here in Oz it “gets good and hot” during summer but basements are very unusual, and in homes built since the advent of air conditioning virtually unheard of.

Cellars are sometimes seen for storing foodstuffs from a time before refrigeration rather than living quarters.

Strategies to make home livable over summer include:

  • Build the home raised in the manner of the classic “Queenslander” style
  • Verandahs
  • High ceilings
  • Wide corridors
  • Align the building precisely north-south

The PT family homestead was built at the turn of the last century and has wide verandahs around the house. Virtually no direct sun gets into the house during except at sun rise and sunset. The rooms have 12’ ceilings, the formal rooms are 14’. There is a 10’ corridor running the length of the building with two cross corridors.
Not a typical family home but still would get toasty in the peak of summer until aircon arrived.

An uncle of mine in California, who lives literally right on the beach, nonetheless insisted on including a basement in the house he designed for himself. I’ve no idea how he managed to make it work (beyond the obvious answer of “at great expense”), and I wouldn’t be particularly surprised if the house were to someday collapse into a four-dimensional tesseract.

I’ll let you make the call about whether or not central Nebraska has “good and hot” summers. I currently live in a small home with a basement and no air conditioning. Not even a window unit. In my humid summer climate, a non air conditioned basement is miserable IMHO. We get a couple of months every year that make me want to get an AC but most of the time I consider it more expensive and more trouble than it’s worth.

It’s in my medium term (two-three year) plan to move from this home into an even smaller, brand new, custom home built to my specifications. This potential new home of mine will have no basement and may not have central air. I’m not worried about the lack of basement from a temperature standpoint. The lack of a well constructed basement tornado shelter is of slightly more concern to me but I’ve lived in the area for over fifty years and I’ve never lost sleep over them.

When I was growing up in Pennsylvania, we had a basement. My dad turned half of it into a rec room. He put in paneling along the walls, put in a drop ceiling with light fixtures, and we put a pool table and TV in there. It became a very inviting place to hang out when it was finished, like a man cave.