Basement or no basement in home?

jasperhobbsJuly 23, 2007

We are looking to build a small home in rural Iowa and wondering if others in Northern USA have built homes with no basements. It is my understanding that homes were built with basements up north due to cold weather and water lines needing to go through basement to avoid freezing.

We are looking at building a very efficient 2 bedroom plus another room for exercise equipment and computer. Possibly a log home but not sure on that. We would prefer everything to be on one level but may go with two level if stairs are not too steep.

The reason we are thinking no basement is to save on cost of house.

Responses appreciated,


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Well, if you build in LOTS of storage room, a place for guests, games, unexpected future entertainment (pool table, home theater) then I'd say it doesn't matter, but if the house now is just 'very efficient' according to your immediate lifestyle but has no room to grow (even if you're downsizing) for any reason, then I'd think twice. Only you can really say what your needs might be.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2007 at 4:05PM
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You don't say anything about what age you are now. If you plan to stay in this home into your retirement years, I'd say go with no basement and only one level. Stairs of any kind can be a major hazard as we age. My older home has a big basement but I never go down there due to the stairs and the asbestos that is still down there.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2007 at 6:47PM
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We are in our middle forties and this would be a house we would live in as long as we could. No kids but would still want 3 bedrooms with one perhaps a computer room.

I am thinking a walkout basement might not be a bad idea, really does add a lot of space and can be efficient in a smaller home which we may supplement heat with wood pellets or wood stove.

I would want the upstairs level to have master bedroom, living room and kitchen/dining area and large bathroom. All large rooms if possible. Upstairs is where we would mostly live and basement for 2 smaller bedrooms a bathroom. exercise equipment, furnace, water heater etc.

Also wonder if double decker garage can be put on with one as main entry into house and lower one into basement.

Just throwing out ideas at this point. Comments and suggestions welcome

    Bookmark   July 23, 2007 at 7:54PM
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The first house we bought, here in Minnesota, was a townhouse on a slab. It was the last house we bought without a basement. Basements are just too convenient -- additional living space (if you want/need it), storage space, a buffer zone for mechanicals (furnace, water pipes, etc.), and insulation between the frost layer and the main floor. And, in Minnesota and Iowa, occasionally it's nice to have a safe place to go in case of straight-line winds or tornadoes. We didn't have problems with frozen pipes, but the floors clearly were colder a few feet in from the perimeter of the house. For us, the benefits much outweighed the disadvantages.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2007 at 10:54PM
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Thanks for all the good advice. I feel a basement is the way to go for the reasons Steve listed. Plan might have large master bedroom and large kitchen, dining and living room on top level and go with two bedrooms, exercise room, furnace and water heater in the basement. Will go with garage on top level so entrance and majoirty of living is on one level.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2007 at 11:07AM
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It depends where you live. If you dont have a high water table and mold problems in the area or if the area doesnt have radon, then a basement could be a good thing. But where I live, basements are a curse. They flood, sump pumps run a lot and if the electric goes off during a torrencial down pour, your basement gets flooded with no sump pump to bail you out and things in the basement mold if there isnt any natural light. Dehumidifiers are also neccessary to keep them dry.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2007 at 6:46PM
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I would never buy a house in the midwest without a basement. I live in Missouri and every spring we have at least a few big tornados. Put a basement in, its only about $5000.00 extra, but totally worth it in safty and resale.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2007 at 9:34AM
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if the area doesnt have radon, then a basement could be a good thing

The northern Plains states do have a lot of radon. But forgoing a basement does not eliminate the problem -- it simply collects up against the slab to the house. Same problem, somewhat different location.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2007 at 3:04PM
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I vote for the basement 'cause I've noticed that many owners of homes built on slabs tend to keep adding on rooms.
After a while, the original design of the house is swallowed up by an odd assortment of roof lines, etc.
Also-"they" can say what they want but I've yet to see a first floor built on a slab that actually stayed warm the way one does w/a full basement.
I don't think you'll ever regret going w/a basement but you may regret NOT doing it.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2007 at 8:34AM
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I live in Iowa, am 40 something, and have a raised ranch with walkout basement with a double garage addition on the upper floor. We have quite a few tornadoes go through each year, so I'd want the basement. We had a water pipe burst one cold winter, so I recommend covering your outside faucets or emptying the outdoor lines in the winter. I think you can get special outdoor faucets that eliminate that problem too. We finished our basement and now have 4 bedrooms and about 2000 sq. feet of finished living area. I wouldn't give up my basement for anything.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2007 at 12:36AM
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I agree with Steve O. I live in Iowa, too, and can't imagine not having a basement given all the tornadoes in Iowa. (Just had one touch down in our town a couple months ago.) We actually call ours the "lower level" as it's a walkout basement with patio doors. It's 725 SF of finished space, including two bedrooms, a living area, an office, and a bathroom...and tons of closets. It's the hangout/living space for DH's teenage sons. We have two bedrooms, a living room, dining room, kitchen, laundry room, 1.5 bathrooms, and a bonus room (computer/exercise room) on the ground floor in 1900 SF. Our house, which we closed on a month ago, did test high for radon. The sellers had a radon mitigation system installed and the radon now tests where it should be. I'm not sure if this is true, but I've heard houses without basements are at higher risk for termites. That certainly was the case in the last town I lived in.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2007 at 3:00PM
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We have a smallish house with no basement, and really wish that we had one. I grew up with houses with basements, and the convenience of having one far out weighs the cost of it. As it is, our garage has never had a car in it...the garage has the kind of stuff that we used to use basements for, workshop, rec room, storage, laundry room, etc. You can do stuff with a basement later at additional costs if you want, but the initial cost is pretty minimal per square foot.

This all has nothing to do with tornados, but that adds another dimension as well (*smile*). No place to hide from an earthquake though, basement or no.


1 Like    Bookmark   July 31, 2007 at 7:06PM
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ahh yes tornados, basement good thing.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2007 at 10:05PM
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We also live in Iowa. We raised our home up last year and added a basement. Tornados are scary things. We have a master bedroom with a very large walk in closet to be used as our storm shelter. It has extra wooden supports and no windows. It also has a hardwired phone and a hookup for TV so in case the lights don't go and the storm doesn't knock out our satellite out we can keep an eye on the radar.

We've used the basement several times this year during storms. We have the added benefit of double the living space. We now have a media room, half bath, master suite and laundry downstairs. I'm not sure I'll really qualify to post here within a few weeks when we move down to the master bedroom and make our upstairs bedroom a dining room. We went from 1,100 sq ft to 2,200.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2007 at 9:17AM
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I live in a very large ancient house now with a cellar. No you cannot really call it a basement. But I own a house in town I bought for my daughter so she could live next to my mother, for whom she was a caregiver. I'm talking a small house in the true sense of less than 700 square feet.

The basement, however, was clean, bright, and had exceptionally high ceilings. In it, they had an office, their laundry, a tool bench, and all the other necessary bits, like their heating unit, and their plumbing within easy access. They put racks for out of season clothing storage, had their canned goods pantry and of course lots of shelving units to hold all those items they wanted to keep out of the way in their living area. They have since moved into a lovely home with twice the square footage of this little town house, but it's built on a slab. They had to buy an outbuilding, and really get creative to store all those things they had in that tiny house. The smaller the house, the more it needs a basement. For no other reason than to give the humans who live inside a chance for some privacy. LOL.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2007 at 1:38AM
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Our floorplan came with a basement, we had to pay an additional $1000 because there was so much shale but it was worth it. Our DD lives in Denver and they charge maybe $20,000 more if you want one. They are definately a selling point here in Colorado.................LinnZ

    Bookmark   September 15, 2007 at 9:13PM
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The reason that homes in cold climates typically have basements has nothing to do with running plumbing pipes, it has to do with the cost of heating the house.

When s structure is built on slab in a cold climate the cold can permeate the slab, which causes the floors to be colder and it increases heating cost. By digging a basement the floor of the basement is now well below the frost line and into the natural geothermal layer of the soil. Although the basement still feels cool it will remain 55 to 60 deg even in the harshest winters which reduces the cost of heating the structure above it.

The bottom line, you could save money during the initial build by not building a basement but the trade off is that you will be paying more for heat for the life of the structure.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2007 at 10:31AM
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We build basements because you have to have a certain depth anyhow for throw on another four feet and make it a basement. Basements don't add cost; they actually save money by giving you cheap square footage that'd cost more to build above ground.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2007 at 1:17PM
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I'm looking for a small house in the country with main floor living here in Ohio. 80% are on slabs. I have a herniated disc and cannot do a slab. It really affects my back. Anything with a basement - they add on 60,000.
I've never lived without a basement and don't want to. I hate the market here.
At least go with a crawl space.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2007 at 7:29PM
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I live in Wisconsin ...... some houses have basements and some don't. I suppose there are all different reasons why. I don't think I could live without a basement. There are drawbacks , though. WATER...... DAMPNESS... ugh ! It all depends on the water table that's under your house. My last house was built - on an old swamp. ( Common in that area) When it rained hard - the water would rise and seep through everything - there was nothing we could do. The house I'm in now ... has a totally dry basement. It's great. If I Were to build anew house - it would definately include a basement no matter what the cost. Good luck to you !

    Bookmark   September 26, 2007 at 8:39PM
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I live in Ohio and in the area I'm at, it's almost unheard of to find a house built on a slab. They all have basements. Basements might not be built for plumbing reasons, but I surely wouldn't want to think of tearing up floors or walls to work on plumbing when all we have to do is go downstairs and address the pipes. I've seen homes on slabs with leaky plumbing and it usually involves damaged floors.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2007 at 12:53AM
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Calliope - what Ohio region are you in? Have you looked at rural properties? I do tend to think that rural properties have more slabs. And ranches have more slabs I think. (1) More expensive to build in the country and (2) ranches are usually more per sq ft.
I;m in the Dayton area and am only looking at rural properties. Turn of century houses have "cellars" (dirt floors), a few houses have "partial basements" something I've never heard of and haven't actually seen yet, quite a few have crawl spaces, and over most of the ranches (50 years or newer) are on slabs. Now the same age and size ranches built in subdivisions often have crawl spaces or basements.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2007 at 8:44AM
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I live on country property, actually and am located in the appalachian plateau in S.E. Ohio. We have a cellar in this house, and it's only under half the house. It likely would have been under the entire home, save the house is 200 years old and was built by brick fired on site and the first section was built for shelter and as quickly as a farmer could build one. It was a step up from the typical log cabin. The second section probably built a couple decades later by the same owner. They had time to dig the cellar and I used it for a root cellar many years until my husband ran heat to it. My kids both have or had farms and both of them have basements. It's just how homes are typically built here. Even people who put up manufactured homes often have them set on cellars.

I own two houses in town and both have lovely full basements. I have never lived in a home on a slab in this state. They've all had basements or cellars. My sister, however, lives in the northern part of the state and her home is slab built.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2007 at 2:17PM
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An update: Our small home positively feels like a mansion now that we've moved the master bedroom down to the basement. We have everything in a spot that it belongs (other than paint cans, drywall finishing stuff and moulding for the two rooms that remain unfinished) Upstairs is like a different house. All the mess and junk we stuck in DD's room to store is gone, all my crowded closet stuff is down in my new closet.

I would SO recommend to everyone to not only have a basement in a smaller home but to finish it and use it. It's wonderful! I haven't been able to be organized for the past 9 years and have blamed it on working. It's because I didn't have places for things.

No tornados since the move downstairs but there was a severe tstorm that we slept through.

p.s rogerv Probably the last place you'd want to be in an earthquake is in a basement. You should find a door frame to go to, ideally one without a house on top of it. :~) I may live in Iowa, but I grew up in Los Angeles.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2007 at 8:20AM
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If I were to move a room downstairs to a basement area, like you, if I could get proper egress, it would be a bedroom. It only makes sense that is the one room where lots of daylight can be a detriment. I worked night shift many years, and I had to take a very light and airy bedroom and outfit it in heavy, lined draperies and darker wall and floor coverings so I could sleep in daylight hours, and the rooms on the ground floor and above were especially prone to higher noise levels from the road and people across the road who had an adult son who liked to sit in their garage and rev his motorcycle. LOL. To me, basements are really a very economical way to add another floor to a home and especially when building (as opposed to retrofitting) can be made to be quite user friendly.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2007 at 12:29PM
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Our contractor told us that the basement is the most economical part of a home to build. We did.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2007 at 6:34PM
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About four years ago, we were looking for a home in Mssachusetts. We worked with several realtors in he process. I'd told them our requirements - including that the home must have a true basement.

However, one of them called about a slab-built home he had available. Even after I reminded him it was a deal-breaker, he insisted on pushing us to take a look. After five minutes on the phone, we were both frustrated. Finally, he had the nerve to ask, "Why do you need a basement, anyway". My deadpan response: "I need a place to hide the bodies".

I never heard from him again.


    Bookmark   November 1, 2007 at 8:41AM
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I've lived in Ohio all my life, from the extreme eastern Appalachian counties to Central and Northern Ohio and the standard here is to build with a basement. Only the most inexpensive starter type homes are built without a basement here to save money. We're building in Ohio Amish country right now and would never build without a basement. We're using 10 ft poured walls with a walkout and most builders here see that as the norm. As someone said, it's the cheapest space to build and it's not something that can be changed or added later.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2007 at 9:01AM
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Our little home is built on a slab and, while I love it and wouldn't think of moving, I would LOVE to have a basement! Oh, the things I could do in a basement!! I could have my little "messes" down there like wrapping paper, and my computer and desk. Now, I have a "junk room" for all that "stuff" and close the door when company comes...

    Bookmark   November 2, 2007 at 9:15AM
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I have to say that I glad I found this post. I recently decided that I want to build a house and I was debating if I wanted a basement or not mostly because of the long term cost of heating the house then the upfront cost of building. After reading this I decided that I defiantly want a basement. So happy that I found this post. Thanks

    Bookmark   February 9, 2014 at 1:23PM
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New girl, you may want to do some more research. An insulated slab in a tight home with good indulation is often more energy efficient and cheaper to heat than an equL sized home with basement. Cooling a house on slab is usually cheaper. Ive found that year round the slab house can be more economical... It's also why slab homes are often used in passive solar homes or other green building projects.

There are plenty of reasons to choose a basement year round utilities cost don't majestic our top 10. Were currently trying to decide between insulated slab icf home or a icf home with basement. I think were leaning towards slab.

The biggest drawbacks I've read have been: hardness of floors on joints, need for separate mechanical room, extra engineering so hvac is not run through attic, accessibility issues to plumbing etc although I've seen plenty of work arounds for this.

Good luck on your build. You may want to check out the building a home board. I'm learning so much over there!!

    Bookmark   February 10, 2014 at 3:33AM
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Another thing to consider is resell value. My dd lives in an area where houses on slab are harder to sell.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2014 at 1:09PM
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Marti- exactly. Not denying that basements are the right choice for many. Just that heating cost isn't necessarily the best reason to build one?

    Bookmark   February 10, 2014 at 4:55PM
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Where I live, Colorado, it's definitely a selling point to have a basement....our last house had a finished one when we bought it and the house we had built in 2005 has one we left unfinished.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2014 at 5:09PM
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