Why Don’t Houses Have Basements in Oregon?

basements in Oregon

Well, some houses in Oregon do have basements, but it’s far from the standard.  If you want to be really specific, realtors have six types of “basements” in their vocabulary:  crawlspaces, dugouts, full basements, part basements, walkouts, and walk-ups.  While many homes have crawlspaces (enough room below the house to crawl for maintenance purposes), that’s not what people are referring to when they’re discussing basements.

basements in OregonWhen they hear “basement,” the picture that most people have in mind when they hear “basement” is a walled area beneath the home accessible by a staircase.  Finished basements are fully functional living environments that provide extra space for entertaining, relaxing, or storage.  Unfinished basements are a bit more creepy and might not be fully waterproof but often offer extra areas for laundry or tool storage.  These types of basements are almost non-existent in Oregon homes.

One of the reasons behind the lack of basements in Oregon is related to the reason basements exist at all.  Basements became a part of American homes as people developed standards for house foundations.  Housing codes require the foundation of a home to be below the frost line–the last layer of ground that freezes in winter months.  In northern regions, it’s common for the frost line to be 48 inches or more below the surface.  Once a builder is carving out 4 feet of ground, it just makes sense (and cents!) to dig another 4 feet and create a basement.  In Oregon, the frost level of most non-mountainous terrains is less than 24 inches, so it’s not as economical to add the basement.

Another reason many Oregon homes lack basements is because of our soil.  In many parts of our state, the ground is either very rocky or consists of clay.  Rocks are difficult (and thus expensive) to dig through and may increase the price of a new home more than the value of the additional room.  Clay soil creates difficulties because it expands and contracts dramatically when it takes on water and then subsequently dries out.  The high pressure from clay soils is hard for basement walls to withstand.

Finally, fewer homes in Oregon are built with basements because they aren’t needed to protect against emergency weather conditions.  In some parts of the country, basements are routinely used to protect the family from tornados.  Fortunately, Oregon rarely experiences these types of situations.

Walkout and Walk-up Basements are Common in Oregon.

While most homes on flat land do not include living space beneath the ground, it is common to find a walkout basement on a house built on a slope.  Our mountainous terrain provides interesting and uneven ground for home construction–often accompanied by tremendous views of our beautiful outdoors.  It is pretty common for the bottom level of a home to be surrounded by earth on three sides in these homes.  Walkout basements have an exposed wall on the back of the house, while walk-ups are accessible on the front of the home.

If you’re planning to build a new home, we can help you determine your options.

At Excavation Oregon, we’re experienced with the terrain throughout Southern Oregon and beyond.  We can examine your property and provide you guidance about what it will take to excavate the area for your construction project and whether or not a basement may be an option for you.  We will also work with you and your contractor to create roads or driveways required for construction teams to access your property easily.  Contact us today for a free estimate.

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