Posted on June 4, 2013 by Mike Means

Editor's Note: In light of the recent tornadoes, we thought this might be handy for your customers to know.

1. "Why don't we have basements in Oklahoma?"

Cost? Something to do with the soil? The lay of the land?

Your assumption is correct in that cost is one of, if not the biggest, overriding factor. They are expensive and require a lot of engineering, excavation, waterproofing etc. Plus, from my old assessor days I can tell you they don't return the value that you put into them. The market here is not big on basements. The land is flat here compared to back east, so excavation is a lot more expensive. Also, I had this conversation yesterday with Curtis McCarty, our representative on the UBCC, and what makes it easier in the North and East is the fact that the footings have to be so deep due to their frostlines. If you have to build to a depth of 6 feet compared to only 18-24 inches, it makes it a whole lot more cost effective to build a basement.

2. How come some of the older houses in historic neighborhoods have full basements?

First we have to remember how young of a state we really are and that early builders in Oklahoma learned their building techniques in the East. Also, prior to the modern HVAC systems, shallow basements were a good way to add heating and air to a home. My first home in Edmond was built in 1920 and had a basement. It wasn't what I would call a full basement and it was only good for the HVAC system, storing canned goods, and adding humidity to the house! I will try to find the resource from Texas Tech, but basically a basement provides no extra benefit if it doesn't have a fortified ceiling (floor) as it will collapse during a direct-hit tornado.

3. What about walkout basements? Aren't they an option on the right kinds of lots?

Definitely an option given the right kind of lot. I know a lot of builders that build them and like them. Mike Gilles/Curtis McCarty are two good resources here.

4. Is this a tipping point? Might builders start offering basements now?

I don't think so. The latest trend is the safe room and the in the floor of the garage storm shelter. Basements are not really the answer. Builders will build them if that is what the customer wants. Affordable housing will go out the window with basements. There has not been a demand, you can't get appraisals, and the financing would not be available.

5. What about safe rooms or storm shelters? Why is that even an option??? Why aren't they as common as indoor plumbing?


I know it may sound funny, but there are some people that don't want to pay the extra cost for a storm shelter or safe room. (By the way, a safe room will cost more than a storm shelter). Some don't think they need them. The market has not demanded them, that is why it is an option. Recent storms will drive up the interest, but then it will wane. Tax credits help push up the demand, but that is only temporary. And by the way, indoor plumbing is common today, but it wasn't in the 50's and 60's in rural Oklahoma.

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