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Breakdown: Why most homes don’t have basements in the Mid-South

Published: Nov. 17, 2021 at 3:29 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) -If you have ever purchased or looked at a home in the south you have probably noticed that most homes don’t have basements.

Basements were originally designed as a place for storage of wine and food. Basements tend be damp but thankfully, sump pumps and dehumidifiers has help to get rid of the musty damp stigma that surrounds basements. Now basements have become increasingly used as recreation rooms and spaces to entertain.

90% of homes north of the Mason-Dixon, have basements. In southern states basements are replaced with storage sheds and attic storage.

The main reason that basements are not a thing in the South is the damp soil. States that have a lot of swamp land or wetland territory, as well as those with significant amounts of coastline, just have too much water in the ground to make most basements feasible. When the water table is less than a meter under the ground, the requisite eight or more feet of depth for a basement is simply not possible.

For some drier climates, its not the water but the clay composition in the soil that can make basements impractical or even dangerous. The clay in the soil doesn’t have the high water however if gets enough water in it, it could flood, mold, or rot. This could cause damage to the basement walls. The clay takes on water and then dries out, resulting in significant expansions and retraction that put strain on walls of any type.

The potential shifting of clay rich soil means that the foundations and flooring of the basement could rise and fall dramatically through the various seasons, especially in summer when rainfall and high heat result in rapid expansion and contraction. Some contractors say there are ways to combat this issue by starting the foundation of the basement with a strong soil pack and even consider adding a lime mixture to ground trenches to offset the moisture levels.

Building foundations need to be below the frost line to avoid freezing and cracking in pipes. In cooler climates, the frost line is several feet below the surface, which is why many Northern homes have basements. It’s simply more practical to install a basement if the foundation is already this deep to begin with. In warmer places, like in the deep south, the frost line tends to be much closer to the surface. This is the reason that some builders don’t bother with the extra expense of building a basement.

Also, many Southern states only have a shallow layer of soil over a much harder layer of limestone bedrock. While limestone is soft as far as solid rock goes, it’s still no small task to dig into it. If you want to add a basement, beware it could be very costly, especially in an area where basements are rare.

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