Watching the destruction left behind from yesterday’s storms, my colleague Keva wondered aloud what I’m sure many people were thinking: “Out of curiosity, is there something about the ground in those areas that makes basements impractical?” Surely people living in tornado-prone areas would want to have basements to take shelter in. Why does it seem like every time we see a destroyed house it only has a cement slab beneath it?
Keva ended up finding one answer and I have since found another two. If you have any further insight to offer, I welcome it.
Before I get to the answer Keva found, I should be clear that the first answer is that there are indeed some houses in Oklahoma with basements. So whatever it may seem like while looking at helicopter footage of homes reduced to rubble, they don’t all lack basements.
That said, a lot of them do.
The answer Keva found is that the soil is too moist and the water table is too high. So Oklahoma basements would be prone to mold and smelliness and flooding and also cracking as wet soil can expand. To be honest, that link looked a little spammy to me so I looked a little more and soil wetness does come up in discussionsamong people who aren’t selling basements. And also there’s this:
For quick reference, the salmon color is clay, the magenta is “cobbly loam” and the dark green is just loam. So yeah, moist soil.
But the third answer may be more convincing given the way of the world: building codes. In fact, the question might be better framed, why do houses up north all have basements? The answer would be that building codes require the house’s footing to be below the frost line, so as long as you’re digging down there you might as well make it a basement -otherwise you have to step down to your first floor. Similarly, if a builder doesn’t have that requirement, it’s easier to just lay a slab to put the house on. Having already gone down the Oklahoma soil texture rabbit hole I didn’t look too hard for building code comparisons and settled instead for real estate discussion groups, but it seems as sensible an answer as any other.