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Why Are There No Basements in California? 6 Main Reasons

San Francisco California

Fully finished basements are a staple of American culture. While they were initially used primarily for storage, modern homeowners transform the below-ground structures into guest rooms, game rooms, home gyms, or even basement bars. So, why are there no basements in California?

If you are relocating from Midwest states like Oklahoma, Nebraska, or Missouri, you may find it a little awkward that there are no basements in California. Residents only have mini basements primarily designed to house ductwork, pipes, and bulky home appliances like boilers and furnaces. Here are some main reasons there are no basements in California.

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The 6 Main Reasons Houses in California Don’t Have Basements

1. The Frost Depth Factor

Compared to states like Texas, with a frost line of 10 inches, and Mississippi, with 8 inches, the depth at which soil water freezes in California is only about 5 inches. Because of the warmer climate in California, the frost depth sits closer to the surface.

Even if you construct a basement, you must protect it from water degradation, which can be expensive. From cracked walls to water seepage into the foundation walls and floor, the problems that call for recurrent renovations are endless.

white house with brown roof
Image By: Pavel Neznanov, Unsplash

2. Overexaggeration of Earthquakes

California sits on numerous active fault lines, including the San Andreas Fault System, the boundary between the North American and Pacific Plates. However, this does not imply that the state will fall into the ocean. While an earthquake in California will not necessarily make news headlines, some believe a basement increases the risk of earthquake damage.

It is factual that California is prone to earthquakes. However, the notion that a basement increases the risk of a house collapsing during earthquakes is merely a myth. Unfortunately, it’s a widespread myth that deters most people from building basements in the state.

3. Even Your Neighbors Don’t Have a Basement

It is common for people to construct their homes according to the trending architecture. People seek inspiration from the homes they see around or those they have visited within the neighborhood. Because not having a basement is the norm in California, not even the best architect within the area will suggest plans with the below-ground structure.

two-storey brick house with brown roof
Image By: Jarad Lee, Unsplash

4. The Cost Factor

With a shallow frost depth, building a basement in California is more of a luxury than a necessity. You need a budget of approximately $50,000 to install the structure and obtain the necessary building and finishing permits. Building an attic makes better economic sense if you want extra storage space or a guest room.

5. Pipes Don’t Freeze In the Winter

California winters experience cool to mild temperatures. On average, the temperature ranges between 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, which is still too warm to pose any significant risk of your pipes freezing and cracking. In states that experience colder winters, residents must bury their pipes deep in the ground, making it practical to install a basement after excavating the land.

street photo of california
Image By: Paul Hanaoka, Unsplash

6. Climatic Hindrances

California is generally warm all year round. In summer, temperatures can have an average high of 86 degrees Fahrenheit and lows of 71 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, the climatic conditions affect the relative humidity (RH), which can go as high as 82.31 %.

Generally, a scorching day will always result in a cold night. In most counties, the law requires you to insulate the foundation walls, including the basement. The day and night temperature differences cause condensation, and insulating your basement can be challenging and expensive. You must add a vapor barrier to protect the insulation from water divider

Final Thoughts

In California, residents excavate shallow holes beneath the house to create mini basements that can barely be transformed into a living space. However, basements are not illegal in the state as long as you have the required building permits and abide by the local building codes.

Generally, constructing a home with a basement in California is not economically practical. Any basement in the state will often be below sea level, making it ridiculously expensive to implement measures to prevent flooding and water damage. If you want a home with a basement, make sure your wallet can take the hit.

Featured Image Credit: Maarten van den Heuvel, Unsplash


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