Why Basements?

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Old 02-19-09, 11:17 AM
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Why Basements?

Having lived most of my life in areas of the U.S. where houses don't have basements I sometimes wonder why houses have basements at all. It has got to cost more to dig a big hole in the ground and construct (hopefully) water proof walls then use a slab or block and beam. or even pier and beam. Then there is the extra liability of possible flooding.

Sure if these were intended to be a part of the living space on a very small property I could see it but usually they are primarily used just to hold the mechanicals. in a house built on adequate sized lots. In the areas of the country I have lived in there seems to be no reason to go to the expense of digging a costly hole in the ground just to have a place to put the washing machine or water heater or furnace so why are there basements?

(Ok in very old houses originally built for coal fired furnaces I can see it but even modern houses are being built with them.)
 
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Old 02-19-09, 11:34 AM
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Why Basements?

If you only live in limited areas you would logically ask that question -

In most of the U.S., you have to do at least a minimal amount of excavation unless you can get by with a "pure" slab on grade construction.

If you are in areas that require a certain amount of excavation to get below the local frost level, then a basement can be the cheapest or lowest cost living area from a construction and energy basis.

It makes little sense to go down 3' for frost footings and get a damp crawl space. If you go deeper, you can economically get an area equal to your building footprint that can be used for living space, utilities and very importantly, to access to the utility equipment that can easily be maintained, modified and access to plumbing in a protected area. - there is also a small benefit from the thermal inertia of the soil.

The cost of drain tile and waterproofing is not great if done properly during initial construction. One of the biggest problems with a crawl space is moisture, humidity, access and moisture/mold into the structure.

It all depend where you are located. In a cool climate a slab will always be uncomfortable. In warm climates, it can be a minor benefit because of the natural temperature of the soil.

Dick
 
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Old 02-19-09, 02:32 PM
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Back in the day, it was a cool spot to store fruits and vegetables in the winter months.
Also served as a tornado shelter. With coal furnaces it provided a spot not only for the furnace, but for the storage of coal.

Today, it adds usable square footage without increasing the footprint of the house. Someday we may finish a portion of ours, but it still serves as a utility area, work shop, and general junk storage area.
 
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Old 02-19-09, 05:59 PM
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Here in the mountains it is a minimal effort to have a basement, since half of your house is poised over a precipice and you need to have something to hold it up, so it may as well be a basement. We pour monolith walls and waterproof them pretty thoroughly prior to backfill, so leaking basements are a thing of the past (hopefully).
I had to give an estimate to finish a basement for a client, and upon looking over their driveway wall, I was astonished to find the "basement floor" was 27 feet above grade! That was some pour.
 
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Old 02-19-09, 10:41 PM
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Strange. I am still getting used to houses in the states not having basements. I still wonder how people live without basements. Its a no-brainer to me. Double your square footage.

I have 8'6" ceilings in my basement with 5 windows. I have it framed insulated and wired. It will be almost identical in finish to the upstairs. Two big bedrooms, bathroom, great room, laundry and storage room. Its an R2000 house, which means it high-effeciency. The basement is completly integrated with the hvac.

My upstairs is a 1430 sq ft bungalow. With the basement I will have 2860 sq feet. Quite comfortable. We downsized to this house. Its considered relatively small.

How can anyone live without a basement? Too cramped for me.
 
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Old 02-20-09, 04:02 AM
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I think making the basement a part of the original construction is best, rather than making it an afterthought. Although a mainstay of my business is remodeling basements. You integrate, as you said, the HVAC, plumbing, electrical, etc. It is cheaper to do it at the onset than to have me come in and do it 2 years later. The basements I see here are quite comfortable and afford plenty of added space.
 
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Old 02-20-09, 07:01 AM
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As a resident of Tornado Alley, I cannot comprehend living in a house without a basement (or a safe room). Like everyone else has mentioned, basements provide for a more solid foundation than mere footings, they can double your square footage of living space, and they make installation and servicing of utility systems much easier. I'd never own a house without a basement.
 
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Old 02-20-09, 10:17 AM
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Another benefit of basements can be the stairs. If you happen to have cats and a dog, it is a good idea to make the cat food inaccesible to the dog. So what was done in my house is a braced in space in between a couple of stairs on the back sice to put a food bowl in for the cats since they are flexible to get in between a couple of steps.
 
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Old 02-20-09, 12:09 PM
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I used to live in fla where the majority of the houses are built on a slab. Fla has a high water table and it would be a nightmare to have a dry basement. I hit water with a post hole digger on the lot I had.

I grew up in the north and it was my understanding that the first floor had to be so many feet above the ground to keep it out of the snow. The footer had to be down so far. You add the two and you about have the desired height for a basement.

Chandler, I painted some interiors in N.C. Street side they were 1 or 1.5 story homes with a basement. The basement slab was 30' above the ground but because the ground kept falling, a 60' ladder would barely reach the basement windows. The exterior painters screwed brackets on the siding and then slid a walk board out the window so they could paint the outside.... I was glad I was working inside
 
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Old 02-20-09, 12:26 PM
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I agree with the majority, basements make a great deal of sense.

I have lived in four houses during my fifty eight years, all of them in the greater Seattle area. The house I grew up in had a basement. We would have been in a real squeeze without. I don't remember the square footage or even most of the room sizes but it was a fairly common house for turn-of-the-century (nineteenth to twentieth century ) construction and most of the houses in the neighborhood were similar. My parents house originally didn't have a kitchen or bathroom, these being added in a major remodel around 1930. As a result the basement consisted of two thirds mostly finished space and one third crawlspace. While still a kid my dad and I built a darkroom in one corner (approximately 6-1/2 feet square) and later a hobby/electronics room in the adjacent corner. The rest of the basement was open and contained the water heater (electric) the laundry area and a barrel stove for burning trash paper and scrap wood. I have many not altogether memories of unloading, packing, sawing, packing and burning of scrap wood to heat the basement and the kitchen upstairs during my youth. The house did not have central heating and family was on the low end of "middle income" with my daddy as the only wage earner.

As I stated the basement was semi-finished. The ceiling was covered by 1X8 clear fir planking with battens over the seams. Most of this planking was eight to ten feet long. It makes me sick to think that beautiful wood, which would cost a truckload of money today was likely destroyed by a bulldozer and trucked to the landfill when the house was torn down. The walls had all been covered with a plaster scratch coat and there was a concrete floor.

When in my early twenties I designed and installed a hot-water heating system in that house. While in my late teens my younger brother, dad and I broke a full sized doorway into the crawlspace and partially excavated that area. After a couple of years of a behemoth boiler taking up muchof the clear space of the original basement I installed a smaller boiler and the water heater in what was originally the crawl space and that gave back the space in the original basement.

Not all of the houses in the neighborhood had basements but there were several homeowners that made basements from their crawlspaces. Most of the lots were only 5,000 square feet and the design of the houses left little room for above-ground expansion. They were also modest homes in comparison to the 2,000 square foot (or larger) of today. If nothing else the basements served for desperately needed storage space.

Nor was there any water problems. I didn't understand what the heck a "sump pump" was for when I saw them in the Sears catalog. Remember. this is in Seattle where it rains nine months of the year. The primary reason there was no water was because the water table was at least twenty feet or more below grade. They didn't build in the swamp areas back then.

Neither my current nor my previous house have a basement and I miss it dearly.
 
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Old 02-20-09, 12:32 PM
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Sixty foot ladders? I thought forty foot ladders were long, definitely too long for me. My daddy would tell me about moving forty footers by himself while they were extended (he was a painter) and I would just shake my head. He would also tell me of working from spider stages and when he painted the towers on the Tacoma Narrows bridge, after they replaced "Galloping Gertie".

I'm not afraid of heights but that's too much for this kid. Glad I never wanted to be a painter.
 
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Old 02-20-09, 01:11 PM
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A 60' ladder is smiliar to a 40' except it was 3 sections instead of 2. I've only used one once - about 2 times more than I cared too

While I've moved extended 40' alluminum ladders by myself, they're light weight compared to the wooden extension ladders that were slowly being phased out when I was an apprentice. It took a real man to move a 40' wooden ext ladder without help!
 
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Old 02-20-09, 02:33 PM
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Originally Posted by marksr View Post
I hit water with a post hole digger on the lot I had.
I hit a giant conch shell.
 
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Old 02-20-09, 04:30 PM
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Ok. Thank you all for your carefully thought out replies. Guess not so strange. Guess I'll file this with that strange critter, a baseboard heater, something else you will never find in a house around here.
 
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Old 02-20-09, 04:40 PM
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I haven't lived in a house with a basement in 30 yrs...guess thats what happens when yer in the Navy...they always put you near water...lol.

I'd like it for the extra living space, but I don't think I could turn it into a workshop...maybe a reloading room though.
 
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Old 02-20-09, 05:45 PM
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Why Basements?

Gunguy -

You can always install a target range depending on what you are shooting. - The neighbors never know and never worry.

Dick
 
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Old 02-20-09, 06:08 PM
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Basements are good for a lot of things. An acquaintance actually has a bowling alley in his! Regulation length and all!
 
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Old 02-22-09, 07:10 PM
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my inlaws live in mich, the frost line is 52" so after digging down below the frost line it doesn't leave much to have a basement, always made sense to me to have one even though i live in Ok where basements are some what of a rarity, my wife and I have been planning a basement and talking to builders around here has been a eye opener when we say we want a basement. Most say too expensive, which is dumb as properly built they add a lot of value to a house, especially with this being tornado alley,
I live only about 10 miles from where the May 3rd 1999 tornado decimated moore and south okc.

life begins when the kids leave home and the dog dies
 
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Old 02-22-09, 07:27 PM
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What seems really dumb to me is building on a slab. No way to get the underslab utilities when (not if) there is a problem.
 
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Old 02-23-09, 04:04 AM
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In some areas, a slab is the best way to go. In fla you can't dig a basement because of the high water table. Termites are bad to eat the framing on the houses with crawl spaces.... unless you set the house high off of the ground. A slab is also cheaper than conventional framing.

They experimented with putting the plumbing in the attic but a small leak can cause a lot of damage. I used to know 2 drunk plumbers. They specialized in tunneling under slabs to fix leaks [they had some kind of detector to locate the leak from above the slab] I'll always remember them telling me that they were so far under 1 house that they had to put a fan in the tunnel to keep the torch lit. If there isn't enough air for a torch to burn - is there enough for you to breathe
 
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Old 02-23-09, 08:34 AM
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Originally Posted by furd View Post
What seems really dumb to me is building on a slab. No way to get the under slab utilities when (not if) there is a problem.
On that I won't disagree. Utilities here are always in the attic. As Marksr said it is a mess when they fail. The number one reason though the tops of the slabs are normally less then eight inches off the ground. Every time it rains a little harder/longer then usual you get standing water. It's usually less then a foot but the slabs are so close to the ground the houses flood.

For years I have said either the slab needs to be elevated 18" (using fill method) or house should be block and beam. Only now are home builder associations here starting to encourage block and beam. Ironically that used to be standard. One weird problem in the new built block and beam in my opinion is they still put the utilities in the attic.

Me. mine is block and beam. I've had a foot of water in my yard. Had the house been on a slab it would have flooded. Yes, I have had water pipes burst but the house was built in '47 before pipes in the attic so again no problem.
 
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Old 02-24-09, 10:55 AM
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Utilities here are always in the attic.
Um, does that include sewer piping?

I had a friend that built an EVAC (cave spelled backwards, i.e. an earth-sheltered home) home on a slab and the only part he contracted out was the rough plumbing and guess what? It was only the rough plumbing that was done incorrectly. He had to get 10 inch rough-in toilets because the plumber didn't allow for the wall finish.

My previous house was built using what we in the northwest call post and beam construction. Since it was a subdivision built in the early 1950's and most of the houses were the same, albeit some were mirror images or didn't have fireplaces, I don't think any of them were built with conventional floor framing. I know that my house had 6x6 beams on seven foot centers running the length of the house and then 2-inch double tongue-and-groove "car decking" as the subfloor with either 1/2 or 3/4 inch plywood over the car decking. It was a really springy floor and soon after moving in I added 4x6 beams between the 6x6's. Of course I couldn't put in full length beams (neither were the 6x6's full length) and when I got through the crawlspace looked kind of like a forest of pier blocks and posts.

Some time later my neighbor asked me if it was wet under my house and I replied that I had to cover the existing roll roofing that had been used as a vapor retarder with 6-mil plastic because we found a small amount of mold in one room. He said that house had always had a wet crawlspace because it was built over an underground river! I found out the hard way that the water table in my back yard was maybe eighteen inches deep.
 
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