Monday, April 21, 2014

Why are there so few basements in California?

In California and some other parts of the country, very few homes have basements.  The reason for this remains a mystery to me.  Many cite earthquakes as the reason but I don't find this a compelling explanation.

A local news channel in San Diego explored this question in a short piece you can watch here.  Their answer is the cost--adding a basement to a typical 2,000 square foot home costs between $50,000 and $80,000.  However, I don't believe this is the right explanation either.  Say a basement adds about 1,000 square feet of living space to a house.  That means we are talking about $50/square foot.  But there are plenty of 2,000 square foot homes selling for $1 million in California, or $500/square foot.

I realize living (spending time) in a basement is not as enjoyable as living on the ground floor, but is it more than 10 times worse?  I don't think so!

So the lack of basements in California remains a mystery in need of a compelling explanation.

My best guess is that there is a cultural reason behind this.  In particular, when people began settling in California hundreds of years ago, they did not build basements because there was no technical reason for them (as the news story mentions, there are technical reasons why basements are needed in cold climates.)  As the cost of housing in California started to rise fairly recently (over the last few decades,) basements could have provided a low-cost way of adding living space, however basements in homes are a foreign concept in California culture.

So in short, Californians do not have a "taste" for basements.  But when people from places like Ohio migrate to California, they bring their culture with them, and are surprised to find that hardly any homes have basements.