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Why no basements in California?

Q: I’m moving from Colorado to California soon. While living in Colorado, I’ve really enjoyed having a basement with lots of extra space for storage. However, I’ve never seen a California home built on a basement foundation. Is there a reason for this? Could I or should I put my California home on a full basement?





A: Thor Matteson, a P.E. in San Luis Obispo, California, replies: The biggest reason why houses are built on basements in areas such as Colorado and the Northeast is to get the footings for the house below the frost line, which can be 3 ft. or 4 ft. down, depending on where you are. The logic is that if you’re digging that deep, why not put in a floor and use the space?

With no danger of frost in much of California, those footings need only be a few inches down. As for getting extra storage space, out here it’s generally cheaper to build at ground level and to use a little more land area, unless real-estate prices are extremely high where you want to build.

Many houses in California are built into hillsides and have the opportunity for at least a half-basement. But even if a basement is built, there are often no stairs connecting this space to the main part of the house, even if the space is usable. (Stairs are expensive and take up space, and most California housing has been built to maximize profit.)

You can, of course, include a basement in your floor plans. But if you have a flat site, I bet that nine out of ten contractors will try to talk you out of it. Most of them do not want the worry of waterproofing a basement.


From Fine Homebuilding 119, pp. 20 November 1, 1998