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JLeslie's avatar

Why is it better to have a basement?

Asked by JLeslie (59781points) December 27th, 2015 from iPhone

Why are homes up north built with basements? I assume there is some sort of practical reason. Is it to keep the pipes warm? What is it? I was reading up on basements in Ohio, where I am moving, and a huge percentage of them have water trouble. Who wants that worry? Are they cheap to build? What is it?

It’s easier to remodel the main floor I guess if you have a basement rather than slab construction. Is there any other major negative about slab construction in a cold climate? A crawl space can allow for the pipes to freeze I guess. Although, I had a crawl space in a house where the weather went below freezing, although it wasn’t usually below zero, or extreme for many months.

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25 Answers

ragingloli's avatar

that is where you store the coal for the ovens.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

The water table in Ohio is only like a few feet down in places so basements typically will have a sump. I don’t recall that many houses in Ohio with basements but it’s very common in the south. I don’t think I have ever seen one with a sump here. Basements are a very cheap way to add square footage so that is why you see them even in areas where they do not make sense. I have a slab and my next place will have a walkout basement or a crawlspace. Most of the plumbing is under the slab and if you have problems that a rooter can’t get to it’s time to rip up flooring and rent a jack hammer… (: ( )
I would much rather have access to all of the plumbing. A slab will hold and radiate heat well in the winter just like a big rock that sits in the sun all day will. It also keeps creepy crawlies out very well.

Seek's avatar

- Keep your vegetables cool during the summer and not-frozen during the winter
– a good place for the furnace, washing machine, and dryer
– extra playroom for the kids
– potential guest bedroom/workroom/home gym/storage space
– keep you safe from tornadoes/hurricanes

Honestly, not having a basement (because Florida) sucks.

JLeslie's avatar

@ARE_you_kidding_me. Every house I have looked at in Ohio has a basement. I’m in the Akron area. Some do have sump pumps, which only makes me nervous. My friends in MI have basements too, and all I think about is how many bodies of water there are and how flat it is, I can’t imagine they are much above the water table. I grew up with a walk-out basement in MD, and we never had a problem, but water wasn’t so close to the surface.

I’d much rather lose the space and not have the worry, since there is such a likelihood of problems. If the likelihood was very small then that would be a different story.

chyna's avatar

I have a basement. I hate it. I am looking for a one story house. The laundry is in the basement which is a bit of a hassle. Because of all the rain we have had, the basement has had water coming in from the ground up. Even though I have a cement floor, the ground is so saturated that it’s coming up.
It’s great for storage and my entire basement is finished with a family room and carpet. Now ruined because of the water.
Also, I worry about if I ever get hurt or have any issues with walking, I’m going to have trouble going up and down the steps to the laundry and to my car.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

@JLeslie They should make you nervous, I would not want one anywhere near the great lakes region. You dig a hole and hit water in a couple of feet. some of the best dirt in the entire world for gardening though

dammitjanetfromvegas's avatar

Having easy access to plumbing, cables/wires and storm safety are huge bonuses imo.

jaytkay's avatar

I would not want one anywhere near the great lakes region. You dig a hole and hit water in a couple of feet

That’s a sweeping statement that isn’t true. A small number of homes here have flooding problems.

If you are aware of that while house hunting, it’s easy to avoid. You will instantly notice if a house is on high ground or down in a depression by a river.

There are sometimes flooding districts where the likelihood has to be disclosed by the seller.

A basement is great either for storage or workspace. When I was a kid, lots of families finished half the basement for a playroom/recreation room/extra den/home tavern.

Coloma's avatar

Basements have always been a mysterious and cool thing to me. Nobody in CA. has a basement. Maybe some old farm house somewhere but I guess from lack of tornados or something homes in the west just don’t have them for the most part. Maybe because in CA. with earthquakes, a basement would be a death trap if your house collapsed on you. I don’t know.

Pandora's avatar

The one nice thing about basements is the noise element. It’s great for kids to play in and make all the noise they want or watch tv, or teens listen to music and feel like they are in a separate part of the house. Basements also make great private gyms, where you can still go to workout when you have guest visiting. Or a nice sleeping spot for people who work nights and like a dark cave feeling for sleep.
But having lived in a one level home, I do miss not having to haul my laundry up and down steps, or have to go to the basements because the garage is there, and not having to haul my groceries or vacuum up and down steps.

dammitjanetfromvegas's avatar

Not all laundry rooms are in the basement. Ours have been in mudrooms in the last two homes we lived in. The basement was only used for the furnace, water heater and storage.

JLeslie's avatar

In FL we do without basements. Very very few houses had a basement where I lived in TN, almost all house were slab. In NC they weren’t slab, and if the house was on a hill, sometimes people paid for a walkout basement rather than having a very tall crawl space.

@chyna That’s exactly what I read. That in this region of the country water seeps in from the lower ground up as the water table rises from lots of rain or melting snow. None of the houses have the laundry in the basement, I would hate that. In a two story plus basement, I prefer the laundry on the top floor if all the bedrooms are up there.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Basements are a must in Kansas. I wouldn’t live in a house without one. If it’s a good basement it can double as a living area, and, at the least, a convenient storage area.

My house was built over a dirt cellar. I assume they stored foodstuffs down there. It isn’t a fit place to actually live in though, or store much in. But it’s a good place to be in a tornado.

I’d just as soon not have one though. Too many issues are associated with basements.

Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

I’d love to have a basement. Most houses in Australia don’t have them.

In the UK, in large houses, the basement/cellar would be where the servants worked and the workings of the house took place. In smaller houses, they would be places for storage (I’d guess!). We never had one. I always wanted one. Are the houses you’re looking at places where they would have had live-in servants?

JLeslie's avatar

@Dutchess_III Good point about tornadoes. In TN I had an underground shelter.

@Earthbound_Misfit No servants in these houses. Some are very modest, as small as 1200 sq ft (I’m not sure of the metric, maybe that is about 110 sq meters?) relatively inexpensive with additional basement below. I’m not looking at houses that small, but there are many that are less than 2000 sq ft.

You’re right about servants preparing the food back in the day at the basement level. Some of the 100 year old mansions in the northeast of my country have extensive basements with full kitchens, and dumbwaiters to bring the food up to the main level.

Some of these houses have no easy escape out of the basement. If a fire starts near the stairs you’re trapped. That bothers me. Also, too many houses have 7–8 foot ceilings down there. That’s one thing in an apartment, in a building, on the 2–30th floor when you can see out for a mile. Below ground it’s a lot better to have a 9 or 10 foot ceiling, but a lot of people don’t bother adding the foot. I don’t want my basement to feel so subterranean if it’s actually finished. I’ve been in homes that are 4,000 sq ft above ground, $650,000, an additional 2,000 sq ft basement, and they have a low ceiling in the basement.

Just to add insult to injury, a lot of the houses built in the last 20 years have two story foyers and great rooms (informal living rooms) so all the heat can drift up way above your head in the winter time. It makes no sense to me. I like a high ceiling, but 12ft would be my max for practical reasons. 10 ft really is plenty in such a cold climate.

I’m trying to get used to the style of houses.

ragingloli's avatar

they should reintroduce the Roman Domus.

msh's avatar

One of the Ohioans, here. :) Here mid-state, everyone has a basement. It’s usually a dry game. Sealant is sometimes wise on walls after house is older. The family house has a ‘floating floor’, which at the time last century, was a trial. It’s never failed to be dry- even when hurricanes broke up inland. More often, basements are good safety for tornadoes. A must, without, you get to a shelter near by.
In Columbus, all of my apartments each had their own dry basements.
A dehumidifier is usually a good idea to take out the charming humidity we enjoy… ( blech )
When I moved over to Dayton, apartments had basements. Always dry. No sump pumps, just your own humidifiers.
I never had to deal with a sump until I purchased my house. It always worked, despite My breaking it once, inadvertently. I had to learn its care on my own- and I did! I could judge the rain by the firing of that baby, bless its little mechanical heart.
A couple of neighborhoods in Dayton don’t have basements and are on cement slabs, due to a sandy area base soil in that terrain. Slabs are cooler in the Summer, but cold in the winter, to me.
Some places in both cities have crawl spaces. No thank you. Yeeks!
I wouldn’t give a basement a second of worry.
Laundry, drying lines, etc., storage, finished rooms, etc.
Oh- have a clothes- shoot put in if laundry in basement. Not having to carry stuff- priceless.
Welcome, Sweetie!

ucme's avatar

The house staff have to sleep somewhere.

dxs's avatar

Why is it better to not have a basement?

If you’re in the tropics, because of flooding.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@Seek‘s list is pretty comprehensive. Our basement growing up was part guest room, part workshop, part laundry room, and part cold storage for root vegetables and canned food.

If you see a sump pump in a basement while shopping for a house, count on that basement flooding regularly.

JLeslie's avatar

@msh A few houses had humidifiers running and they smelled like mold. I know some people say smelled “damp” but water doesn’t smell, mold does. Most houses seemed ok though.

I grew up in NY and all the buildings had basements. The laundry was down there, sometimes storage, and offices. My feeling is buildings are made with better care and attention to these things. I don’t trust residential home builders nor the county/city to ensure water will drain correctly. Residential buyers are not “experienced” buyers, and the builder can be totally incompetent. Especially, in places where flooding is common they just take it as par for the course. That’s bullshit. I’ve dealt with incompetence too often. It’s annoying.

bossob's avatar

I was born and raised in Akron. Basement dampness seemed to be a problem for a lot of folks.

Why have a basement? The frost line-which used to be 3–4 deep in Akron. The footer of the walls that hold the house’s weight needs to be below the frost line to avoid the normal heaving of the ground due to the freeze/thaw cycles which could damage the rest of the structure. If you’re going to dig a hole 4 feet deep, you might as well make it deep enough to stand up in. As mentioned, it’s relatively cheap extra space.

It took me awhile to adjust to the lack of basements in the rainy side of the PNW where there is no frost line. It’s just plain cheaper to build a stem wall. I believe the current code for stem walls is a minimum of 24”, and that is so there is an accessible crawl space in which to access the bottom of the first floor. Current codes require that first floors over crawl spaces be insulated and all exposed water pipes be insulated. Many attached garages here contain the water heater, furnace, and washer/dryer along with all the storage stuff that people usually put in basements. Many families here couldn’t get their car in their garage without having a serious garage sale.

canidmajor's avatar

@JLeslie, there may have been mold in the dehumidifiers, but even if not, water does have a distinctive smell of it’s own.

I have always had basements, and @msh has an excellent point: slabs can get much colder in the winter. The deep air pocket under the house is an excellent temperature regulator.
If you make a point of avoiding basements you seriously limit your choices.

Dutchess_III's avatar

My basement.. I make a point of avoiding it!
The kids avoid it because it’s haunted by the ghosts of slaves who were chained up down there at some point. So they swear.

JLeslie's avatar

@canidmajor I’m not going to avoid buying a house with a basement. It’s almost impossible there anyway.

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