Recently, while visiting family in the Kansas City area, I was asked why we don’t have basements in our homes in the Edmond and Oklahoma City areas. Without really thinking about it, I started uttering something about moist soil and a high water table.
I had no factual basis behind the statement, but it was something I had been told many times. When my family challenged me on it, I decided to spend a little time looking into it and thought it was worthwhile to share some of what I’ve found.
The myth of impossibility
Oklahoma’s lack of basements was a hot topic around the time of our last large, destructive tornado. There was a lot of national attention at the time because of how rare basements are here, and there was a lot of passionate banter on social media from people insisting you couldn’t build basements here. But after a little bit of thought, I had to admit that wasn’t true.
There are definitely homes in the Edmond and Oklahoma City areas that do have basements! I know people who have basements in their homes, although not many. And we also see basements used in several commercial applications like parking garages. There’s even a company in Edmond named “Basement Contractors.” Its owner, Mike Hancock, has been interviewed several times regarding the prevalence of this myth in Oklahoma.
So the myth that you can’t build basements in Oklahoma is just that—a myth.
Origin of the myth
If that kind of thinking is untrue, why is it so prevalent? There is a bit of truth in the origin of the myth. Oklahoma City area homes built with basements back in the 1940s and 1950s did have some issues. Waterproofing technology wasn’t very good back then. Since then, waterproofing has greatly improved, but many remain skeptical in Oklahoma when it comes to basements.
The frost line in Oklahoma is much higher than our neighbors to the North, meaning the foundations our homes sit on don’t have to be dug as deeply as they do in other areas of the country. In places like Northern Kansas, Iowa, or Indiana, for example, the slabs for their homes are often dug much deeper.
That means you have to dig only a few more feet to create a basement in those states. In Oklahoma, our foundations don’t have to be dug very deep to be below the frost line, so you have to dig much deeper after you’ve dug the foundation to build a basement here. That makes our basements more expensive than those in other states.
It all comes down to cost
Ultimately, this is about supply and demand. If people in Edmond and Oklahoma City demanded basements, then surely they would become the new standard in homebuilding in our neighborhoods. So, why don’t they?
Some of that is based on the myth that you can’t build basements here. But most of it is because it’s more expensive here than in other parts of the country! In addition to the fact that a builder has to dig roughly twice as deep to build a basement here than in, say, Kansas (because of our high frost line), we don’t have many basement contractors in Oklahoma.
That means the contractors who are able to build basements here can charge more because there’s less competition here than in other places. So basements are rare here because they tend to be more expensive.
Obviously, we don’t build basements. But if you have a basement and want to maintain or install electricity or heating and cooling systems, we’re happy to help. And if you’ve ever wondered why nobody in Oklahoma seems to have one, now you know.