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

Sump pumps are not the ideal way to keep a basement dry. For one thing, they require a sump, so you always have some water/moisture in your basement. Secondly, the pump requires power. If the power goes out, you have a problem.

A better solution is a French drain or foundation drain (consisting of a perforated pipe surrounded by crushed stone that is wrapped in filter fabric) at the base of the foundation outside of the house. This drain is then connected to a low point, such as a catch basin in the street.

A French drain actually lowers the water table immediately outside the house. No water outside means no water inside.

If you have a French drain that works, you likely won’t need a sump pump at all, and your basement will still be dry.

Over time, though, even a well-designed French drain can clog up or otherwise fail. In these cases, water will then appear in the basement. In such a case, the fix is sometimes to then add a sump pump, as that is often cheaper than excavating to repair the French drain. Many older homes have sump pumps, either because they never had a French drain, or because it failed some time ago in the past.

As the guy who asked the question (thinking of the southwest), I will attest that I can see why anyone living below sea level doesn’t want a basement. :fish:

I will also attest that I have just had a permanent generator installed outside to keep my sump pumps (and other household circuits) powered at all times. That was the number one reason for getting the generator.

In my Minnesota home, I had both french drains and a sump because I lived halfway down a steep slope. I also had a Wet-Vac for those early spring days when the snow melt overwhelmed the french drains used to move the water into the sump pit. I live in a condo now. I miss the extra space, but I don’t miss the stress that arrived with the snowmelt.

Having only dealt with French drains in California, does this mean a house would have a french drain to the depth of the finished basement, which may be 8-9 feet? In my experience a french drain is a ditch filled with drain rock with a perforated pipe at the bottom - would this drain be 8 feet of drain rock + pipe - all eight feet?

Huh. Is this why every pool in Las Vegas is like 4.5 feet deep at the most? It’s extremely hard to find a pool here that’s deep enough to actually swim in and I always thought it was bizarre. The shallow water also heats up easily and everyone has 100+ degree pools in the summer.

I’m fairly sure it’s not a water conservation measure, because a better way to conserve water would be to, you know, not have hundreds of thousands of pools here. Also, the big public pools and hotel pools where no one cares about water use aren’t deep either.

No, it only needs to be at the base of the foundation. It consists of a perforated pipe surrounded by crushed stone that is wrapped in filter fabric. They typically use a 4” diameter pipe surrounded by a foot or so of crushed stone. After wrapping the crushed stone in filter fabric to keep out fines, it is then covered and backfilled with native material.

So long as the native material is a sandy gravel, this works out fine. You wouldn’t want to backfill with clay or very fine silt material.

Just have to thank you for posting that. I watched the whole thing, and found it interesting–especially how they had to lay the trackbed in spite of the permafrost, and how they deal with the lack of oxygen at that altitude. Fascinating stuff–thanks again!

Cajun country is above sea level, unlike New Orleans, but it rain like hell, I gawr-an-tee.
It’s been a long time, but I’m sure I remember hitting water when digging the garden. And we had crawfish who burrowed in our back lawn.

Around here (northwest Arkansas), whether you have a basement seems to largely be based on whether your house is built on flat land or not. If it is, then there is likely at most a crawlspace under it. But there are so many hilly areas where it makes sense to build out a bit and have an actual basement, or at least a cellar.

That is what my cousin’s house (which used to be my grandparent’s house) has. There’s no way to enter it from the inside, and it has a dirt floor. They use it kinda as a shed, housing stuff you can keep outdoors, but would like to be able to lock up—like a lawnmower, out door chairs, weedeater, gardening implements, etc.

Here in Canada basements are pretty much a requirement because of frost issues – the foundation has to be below the frost line. Country cottages might be built without basements using a different construction style, where they sit on posts instead of a foundation, more like a deck, with the posts themselves going below the frost line, but not city houses nor larger, more substantial country places.

Also I’ve never seen a house with a sump pump, though I’m sure they exist. Weeping tile (aka French drains) are pretty much routine. (Incidentally, French drains have nothing to do with France – the guy who invented them in the 19th century was named French.)

As for basements being dark dingy places, I suppose some are, but many are bright, spacious, airy places. My parents’ last place was built at a time and location where a finished basement was part of the house design and done by the builder, providing architectural integration with the rest of the living space, such as an open staircase going down to a large family room. It may be that with such a design more care was taken regarding waterproofing the foundation. We certainly never had any water down there, nor was it even noticeably humid that I can remember. It was basically just another level in the house.

It’s cheaper to pour a slab than to excavate a basement. QED

One curious thought that occurred to me concerned what is known around here (where, as I said, every house has a basement) as a split-level bungalow (may also be called a split-level ranch or raised ranch), which basically looks like this – they were quite popular in the 60s and 70s:

The lower part on the left is a sort of half-basement, just slightly below ground level. Underneath the part on the right is a full basement, another half-story down from the half-basement. I was going to say that the half-basement is typically a family room and is the kind of integrated basement living space that I was referring to above.

But AFAIK, from all the splits I’ve seen, there is never a basement under that leftmost part, even in northerly areas. This would seem to resemble the construction style of frost-free southern areas, but I think the difference is that the foundation footings must be below the frost line, and the foundation walls sit on them, but no basement is excavated in that section. That would be an example of at least part of a house in a northern area with no basement under half of it. I’m not sure of the exact construction details, though.

My aunt and uncle owned a split-level that looked almost exactly like that, in Green Bay WI, for about 15 years; the house was probably built in the '50s or '60s. The “lower level” on the left, partially below ground level, was a family room, which had a half-length stairway leading to the actual basement, which was beneath the “ground level” side of the house (on the right side of the picture above).

There was no basement below the “lower level” on the left side; my guess is that, since several feet of that structure were below ground level, its foundation was deep enough that it was below the frost line.

I think the exact construction details make a difference , though. Looking at that house, it’s seems entirely possible that the “half- basement” goes as far underground as my basement does and the difference is that only 12-18 inches of my basement is above ground. I’m trying to estimate how much of that half-basement is above ground, and I would say three feet or less - but if it goes 5.5 feet underground, that give you 8.5 feet for the height of the ceiling and 5.5 is just as far below below ground as my basement is.

@doreen and @kenobi_65, you may have a point that there is little mystery about the non-basement part in a split. Doing some checking, the frost line in Ontario is between 36" and 48". My experiences are all in southern Ontario, so probably just 36" or so around here. So it’s possible that the half-basement part is just a poured foundation that is below the frost line. I haven’t been in a house like that in a very long time and I just don’t remember how far down the family room was, except that it was roughly a half-story down from the main living level.

I suppose the reason that most houses have full basements throughout is that if you have to dig down at least 4 feet to have a good foundation with a safety factor, with some sort of crawl space with a concrete floor (no one in this market would settle for a dirt-floor crawl space), may as well dig another 4 and have a full-height basement, doubling your available floor space, even if it’s unfinished, for minimal added cost. Everyone around here expects a full basement, and it’s extremely common to finish most or part of it sooner or later, so the market demands it.

Water table was absolutely an issue when people who’d grown up with basements started building houses in Arizona. If you ever get a chance, have a look at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum in Tuscon.

Water table is lower now, but land is cheap and the custom is established.

In my home, this drain was placed below the concrete floor just inside of the house frame, it was set to move water to a pit where the sump pump was placed. The sump would turn on when the water reached a certain level, and pump the water up and out away from the house to continue its way down the yard. Externally, there were rock washes below the grass to help move the water to the street level. Hard rains would cause the street to flood as the storm sewers struggled to take all the water, but that flooding never reached the level of the home basements.

I like having a basement because it allows easy access to water pipes and electrical wires. Now that goes away when people “finish” them and drywall the celings.