My husband and I were reading about the devastating tornadoes in Moore, Oklahoma this week, and I couldn’t stop commenting about how sad it all was. As a lifelong Illinoisan, I’m no stranger to tornadoes; in fact, storms of any kind generally scare me into a more or less useless state because I am so terrified a tornado will hit my house. There have been tornadoes very close to my home, though fortunately none have hit directly. Because of this, when my husband and I started shopping for a house in the area, I insisted that we find one with a basement. I wasn’t picky — the basement could be finished or unfinished, large or small. It didn’t matter as long as it was underground and tornado-safe.
However, as we were looking over the coverage out of Oklahoma this week, my husband remarked that the devastation and death toll were so bad — at least 24 are confirmed dead — because there aren’t many houses with basements in Oklahoma. “What? That can’t be true,” I remarked. In an area we expect to be ravaged by terrible springtime storms, it seemed ludicrous to me that the houses wouldn’t be built with basements. He insisted it was true, though, so I did some searching to confirm this claim. I didn’t have to search very far — it’s true that Oklahomans don’t typically have basements in their houses.
Randy Keller, director of the Oklahoma Geological Survey, professor of geology and geophysics at the University of Oklahoma, and a homeowner near where the tornado hit, says, “We’ve got a high water table and red clay that expands and contracts depending on how much moisture there is in the soil… That expansion and contraction causes cracks in basement wall, and cracks mean leaks.” In fact, real estate agents say that, due to the high probability that basements in Oklahoma will leak, a house with a basement can seriously depreciate the value of the house upon resale.
The red clay is highly sensitive to heat and water, both of which make it shift quite a bit in the ground, which is what causes the leaks in basements. Furthermore, buildings in southern states are not required to have basements. In many states, building codes dictate that homes be built with their foundations below the frost line. When home builders have taken out enough ground to satisfy that requirement, it’s often enough to make a basement already. However, southern states, where the climate is more temperate, don’t have that requirement.
According to Mike Hancock, president of Basement Contractors, says that people who are building homes in the area now are looking to add basements to their homes. New technology has made it possible to build basements that don’t leak as much, and a fear of tornadoes is driving many homeowners to put up with leaking in order to gain piece of mind in the event of a serious storm.
Hopefully, we won’t see another tornado in the area any time soon, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see more people in the area demand basements in their homes just in case.
Photo Credit: LatinSuD