Basements aren’t common in Oklahoma. And the reason why is because basements aren’t common in Oklahoma.
I know that’s not really an answer, but believe it or not, that’s part of it. I often talk to people who wonder why it’s so expensive and rare to build a basement in Oklahoma. Here’s my perspective on it, as a builder.
But first, let’s dispel the myth that a basement makes a good tornado shelter. Unless it has a reinforced concrete roof, a basement won’t substitute for a tornado shelter. If your basement has a typical wood-framed floor above it, anything heavy that a tornado drops in your house will come right through that basement ceiling.
That said, here are a couple of reasons why you don’t find a lot of basements in Oklahoma.
Here in central Oklahoma, we don’t have to dig too deep to make sure a home’s foundation won’t freeze in the winter. Home foundations need to be dug deep enough that they are below winter frost, and in our part of the world, that’s only about 18 inches.
Travel north to Wichita, for example, and you’ll find you have to dig twice as deep to avoid the frost. If you’re already excavating 3 or 4 feet of dirt just to make the foundation safe, you might as well go another 4 feet down and build yourself a basement.
We don’t have to automatically dig out half the height of a room in order to lay foundation, so it’s much less cost-effective to build a basement here than in Wichita.
High cost, low value
Speaking of cost—the market in Wichita has come to expect a basement under every home, so there are plenty of contractors who can build them. When something is as common as, well, dirt, it becomes inexpensive.
The Oklahoma market isn’t like that. There’s generally a low demand for basements in our market, so there are very few contractors who can build basements. The contractors who are able to build basements can charge more because there are fewer of them.
A basement will add square footage to your house, but at a very high cost. It’s a lot less expensive in Oklahoma to build out or up than down, because our soil doesn’t require deep foundations and we don’t have a lot of contractors who can build basements.
The high cost of building a basement turns most people off from building one. If it’s still worth it to you to put a basement in your home, we’d be happy to talk with you about how to plan for it. But it might not be the most effective investment of your money.
And if you want a safe place to hide from a tornado, get a FEMA-approved shelter. That way, you can put your basement money in the bank.