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Why are homes built without basements in the south | Alerting Arkansas

Tornadoes are very common in the southern plains and southeast, yet basements are not. Why is that?

ARKANSAS, USA — Tornadoes commonly strike the central and southern United States, however the Midwest and Great Lakes have many basements to shelter from tornadoes. The south does not. Why do the southern Plains and Southeast not build basements for single family homes?

The best place to shelter from a tornado is to find the lowest, most interior room of your home, away from windows. You want to get as many walls between you and the outside as possible. Basements are usually a preferred choice for sheltering the storm, but the vast majority of homes in the south do not have them. 


The US Census Bureau publishes data on homes sold and built every year, including information on their foundation. The map below shows the most common foundation type per state. Notice in the west and the south, basements are not common. It's not a big deal in the west due to a lack of severe weather, but the south does get many tornadoes.

Credit: Survey of Construction 2018
Survey of Construction, 2018

In fact, according to the NAHB (National Association of Home Builders), roughly 97% of newly built homes in 2018 in Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas together have no basements.

Credit: KFSM


We spoke with custom home builder Mark Phillips, owner of Mark Phillips Construction to find out why. He says it comes down to our soil, climate, and cost.

"The red dirt we build on, the water proofing of a basement is very important, we've all heard the leaky basement..." -- Mark Phillips

Credit: KFSM

Our climate is more wet and humid than the north. Special care has to be taken to make sure basements don't leak or flood during the rainy and stormy seasons. Plus, the Ozark Plateau in Arkansas specifically causes more challenges with the hard rock beneath the surface.

"When you start digging around these mountains,  you never know what you'll get into, the limestone. Then you have geotechnical guys coming out, testing the soil, and finding out you have $15,000 to $20,000 to dynamite the rock out of the way to dig your basement out..." -- Mark Phillips

Water plus rocks equals high costs. It is simply much cheaper to build a slab foundation.

Credit: KFSM


There are some great solutions to help keep your family safe during a tornado, but there are extra costs. A storm shelter is a great option as a safe room. It can be easily bolted into a slab or a home, if there is extra space in the backyard. If you have room on your lot, you can have one installed in the ground.

During new home construction, builders can incorporate your storm shelter into the slab but make it look like it is part of the house. In the image below, this storm shelter was placed inside the closet, but it is secured to the foundation.

Credit: KFSM


The NAHB has noticed a trend over the past decade -- fewer basements nationwide. Even the northern states have seen a decrease in basements built, mainly due to construction costs. A slab can be half the cost of a basement. The cost of a storm shelter can range from $5,000 to $10,000.

-5NEWS Weather Team

For More:  Mark Phillips Construction

For More:  American Storm Shelters

SPRING 2022 Severe Weather Outlook

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