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Oklahoma tornadoes: Cost, custom keep basements scarce

Oklahoma's lack of home basements made national news this week after tornadoes left another wide swath of destruction. Oklahoma City builders explain the ins and outs of basements as an option in new houses.
by Richard Mize Published: May 25, 2013

“That's one of the top questions we get when builders from other markets visit Oklahoma City. I'm not sure there's one definitive answer. Different people will tell you different things,” Shoemaker said. “Our red clay soil moves quite a bit with the moisture level, which can cause a variety of issues. There are cost issues as well, not just with installing a basement, but the upkeep over time.

“Finally, there is a trade availability issue. There simply are not a whole lot of contractors in our market that have a great deal of experience. In the end, it comes down to consumer preference and expertise within the market. Given the choice, many of our buyers would prefer more space in the home that is more functional than a basement.”

Still an option

But misconceptions cloud the reality that basements still are options for houses in Oklahoma, said Edmond builder Caleb McCaleb of McCaleb Homes.

“I think there are many myths about why we don't have basements in Oklahoma. The main ones are that our water table is too high and that our soil has too much clay in it,” McCaleb said. “If the basement is designed correctly, then water intrusion and ground movement are not problems with a residential basement. The walkout basements that we put in some of our homes are finished living spaces that look and feel just like the rest of our new homes.”

Call Mike Hancock the Oklahoma basement myth buster — because he's a basement builder. His Basement Contractors Inc. in Edmond has built more than 500 basements the past 15 years.

Engineering first

“Building a home with a basement in Oklahoma is not that different than in other areas of the nation,” said Hancock, an engineer and former Kansan who moved here with basement-building already under his belt. “With proper engineering and design, a basement can be adapted and constructed on any building site.”

On the Basement Contractors website, Hancock outlines three points he has been making for years:

•  “Basements leak” — “Not necessarily ... improperly installed basements leak. In the past, many basements were installed with either no waterproofing or ineffective waterproofing. Today we use state-of-the-art, spray-on polymer liners and drainage systems that ensure your lower-level living space will remain dry and comfortable.”

•  “The clay soils will cause my basement foundation to fail” — “No matter where a basement is located, soil condition must be addressed. The use of properly installed waterproofing methods and the reinforcing steel we use in our walls help prevent any potential problems later.”

•  “Basements are dark and damp” — “A properly installed heating and cooling system can prevent the damp feeling and wall sweating that was common in older basements.”

by Richard Mize
Real Estate Editor
Real estate editor Richard Mize has edited The Oklahoman's weekly residential real estate section and covered housing, commercial real estate, construction, development, finance and related business since 1999. From 1989 to 1999, he worked...
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