Why Are There Fewer Homes with Basements in the South?

A basement is an underground area that creates additional living and storage space. Despite the many perks that come with having a basement, most homes in the south do not have one.

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One of the first things most people notice when they move to the southern parts of the U.S. is that many homes there don’t have basements. This can be quite confusing, especially if you’ve lived in an area where basements are a common sight. Here, we explain why southerners rarely have basements and show you what you must do to create one in your home.

waterproofed basement in the south

Why Don’t Homes in the South Have a Basement?

There are many reasons why most homeowners in the South opt to build their homes without a basement. The most common include:

Frost Line

This refers to the depth at which groundwater can freeze. Building codes generally require that contractors build foundations below the frost line. This helps minimize the effects of frost heave, which can damage the foundation as the soil swells up due to an increase in the presence of ice. A region’s frost line determines how deep into the ground residents can build their foundations. 

This is why basements are more common in the colder states of the nation, where the frost depth is not less than four feet below the ground. Also, homes in these regions typically have central heating systems. A basement serves as excellent storage for these systems, making it extremely practical.

However, in warmer states, the frost line often doesn’t go beyond 10 inches, especially in the southern states. So, it’s not a must for you to establish a deep foundation. Plus, homes in warmer states rarely need dedicated heating systems. As a result, there’s less motivation to build basements in these areas.

Expansive Clay Soil

Most southern states tend to have wet clay soil, which is not easy to build a basement in. Clay soils are highly expansive, meaning they expand and contract as the seasons change. Without proper precautions, structures built in clay soil can sink when the soil contracts or pushes upward. This shrink-swell cycle can lead to structural damage.

High Water Table

Historically, the water table in most southern states has been very close to the surface. In Columbia, SC, for instance, you can strike water just a few inches down. The water table is very close to the surface, making it difficult to sustain a dry basement. A high water table also increases hydrostatic pressure on your foundation walls and floor, making it vulnerable to leaks.

Building a basement in an area with a high water table makes it extremely susceptible to floods and water damage. Still, homeowners can choose to install a relief well to help mitigate these issues. It is a very expensive option, and bigger problems may arise if the well’s pump breaks.

Expensive to Build

Building a house with basements in South Carolina can be quite expensive. As a way to cut down the cost, builders are opting to do away with the basement. Also, the land is relatively cheap in southern states, making it easier and less expensive to build separate storage spaces above ground.

Can You Build a Basement in the South?

It’s possible to create a basement in your home in the South. However, you’ll have to implement some measures to prevent water damage. If your area has a lot of clay soil, consider adding lime to the dirt before laying your foundation. This will help minimize foundation movement, especially during the summer when the soil gives up its moisture and contracts.

When building a home in the South, you’ll have to waterproof the foundation. Some common waterproofing solutions include:

  • Installing an interior drainage system: This helps relieve the foundation walls of hydrostatic pressure that tends to build up when it rains. It also intercepts any leaking water and channels it to a sump pump so it can be removed.
  • Get a sump pump system with a battery backup: Pairing your interior drainage system with a sump pump is essential, as a functional sump pump is an integral piece in protecting your basement from flooding. It will move water out fast before it causes water damage and other problems. 
  • Insulation: Next, insulate your basement using closed-cell spray foam or expanded polystyrene foam panels. They are moisture-resistant and will protect your basement against water infiltration. These methods also can be paired with a vapor barrier placed on your basement walls to help prevent water and vapor intrusion.

Need professional basement waterproofing? Contact Mount Valley Foundation Services today to schedule a free basement waterproofing inspection. We offer a range of basement waterproofing solutions, including a reliable sump pump system and drainage installation.

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