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Wondering Why Homes in the South Have No Basements?

Climate, soil type, building culture, and the high risk of basement flooding are some of the reasons why basements are a rare sight in many southern homes.

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Anyone moving into the southern part of the country may be surprised to know that many homes have no basements or have unfinished ones. This is unlike their counterparts in the north. Given the huge number of homes without below-grade areas, it’s important to understand what’s behind their omission. Read on to find the answers.

basement problems in the south

Why Do Southern Homes Lack Basements?

In many parts of the south from Florida to coastal Virginia and as far west as California, the vast majority of homes were never built with basements. Instead, they have outdoor storage sheds and attic storage in place of basements. There are a number of reasons for this.

Wet Soils

Damp soil is the major culprit in most cases of missing basements in the southern states. Most parts of Florida, Louisiana, and eastern Texas have swaths of wetland or swamps or significant coastlines. So, there’s just too much water underground to make basement construction feasible. 

Water, in some cases, is less than one meter (3.3 feet) deep. This is less than the required eight or more feet for basements. The high water table makes it difficult to construct a basement.

What this means is the soils are going to have unusually high moisture concentrations. Any attempt to build a basement in such areas will make the basement vulnerable to flooding. While it’s possible to use a relief well, it’s not a cheaper option. There’s also the possibility that the well’s pump could break.

Clay Soil

Another reason basements are rare in the south has to do with soil composition. Most of these states have high concentrations of clay. This soil tends to expand and contract depending on the weather conditions. When wet, the soil expands, and when it’s dry, this soil shrinks. Their shrink-swell cycles make them unsuitable for foundation construction as it results in foundational movement that’s damaging to any home.

Foundations ought to lie below the frost line so that piping that runs through them won’t freeze and crack. In cold climates, the frost line is usually several feet below the ground. This explains why northern homes have basements. For starters, it’s easier to build a basement if the foundation goes several feet into the soil.

In some places in the South, the frost line tends to lie closer to the surface. For this reason, home builders don’t bother to construct basements, as the costs are prohibitive.

Shallow Soils

Many southern states have shallow soil layers and harder layers such as limestone bedrock. Excavating such a mass of rock is no small task. You’ll have to get some serious machines and enlist the help of an engineer. If you’re in the south and want to create a basement, you should first get an estimate of the excavation costs before your construction work starts.

What to Do Without a Basement

If you are a northerner who wishes to move into a home with a basement in Orlando, FL, or anywhere south, you will have to factor all the above things before you add a basement to your new home. The costs may be higher, and comprehensive waterproofing including encapsulation may not be feasible.

If your southern home has a crawl space, you can potentially use this area under your home for storage as long as it is properly waterproofed and encapsulated. This is not a viable living space, however, and the tremendous and dangerous undertaking of digging out a crawl space into a basement is a service any good contractor will advise against.

If you want to enhance the health, safety, and functionality of your home’s crawl space, don’t hesitate to talk to the crawl space or foundation contractors serving Orlando, FL, to explore your options. They can provide you with options to keep water and moisture out of your crawl space so it stays safe all year round.

Need Help?

Contact Florida Foundation Authority to schedule a free inspection and repaur quote or to discuss your specific problem with a waterproofing expert.