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Four Reasons the Percentage of Basements in the Carolinas Is Low & How It’s Tied to Basement Leaking

Wondering Why Your NC or SC Home Doesn’t Have a Basement?

North and South Carolina are the perfect middle ground on the East Coast between the northern and southern parts of the country. North and South Carolina boast impressive areas of attraction, such as mountains, beaches, and even some major cities. They also have affordable preexisting houses and a plethora of land for new construction homes. The only thing they seem not to have in spades is basements. Statistically, the percentage of homes in the Carolinas that do have basements is 20% to 30%. Typically, the basements you find are above ground and easily accessible from outside. The reason underground basements and just basements, in general, are scarce is due to several factors. In this article, we will discuss four reasons why the percentage of basements in the Carolinas is so low and how it’s tied to basement leaking.

#1: Native Soil Issues

soil issues

Figure 1: Clay soils are not ideal for water flow/movement away from a foundation.

Native soils in the Carolinas are primarily clay-based, which poses an issue to those wanting to build a basement for their home. Clay is a very dense and hard soil. One of the motivators for a basement installation is the ability for water to flow around and away from your home. With dense clay soil, that water does not move away from the house and stacks hydrostatic pressure against the foundation. Hydrostatic pressure is the force that water applies to the exterior walls of your home. Over time, as that pressure continuously increases, foundation walls will begin to bow, sheer, slide, and crack. This leads to water intrusion and basement leaking.

#2: Shallow Frost Lines

shallow frost lines

Figure 2 Shallow frost lines are common in the Carolinas and pose structural and financial issues on basements.

In the northern part of the country, where the harsh winters get bitter cold, underground basements are standard. Their frost lines, or the depth at which groundwater freezes, exceed 4 to 5 feet underground. With that being the case, having a basement built is the best financial option for the average homeowner. However, in the Carolinas, the frost line only extends anywhere between 6 to 18 inches underground. With this crucial difference, constructing a basement isn’t a typical option for the average homeowner. As the climate cools down, soil tends to contract and put more pressure on the home’s foundation. Having a shallow frost line will also freeze this soil, putting even more pressure on the foundation. Foundations tend to crack if they cannot withstand the force applied to them. Water enters and then freezes again as it cracks, working that seemingly small crack into an even bigger issue and leading to basement leaking.

#3: Basement Cracks

Figure 3 Cracks in basement walls cause water intrusion and leaking to occur.

Cracks in your basement, especially if they are built underground, are never a good sign and are the main reason for the basement’s leaking. Underground basements typically encounter cracks on the floor, near the cove joints of the walls, near any windowsills, or close in proximity to any plumbing lines that may run underground. These cracks can be due to multiple things, such as unstable surrounding soils, rising water tables, or structural weaknesses. A rising water table will start to push the surrounding soils into the basement floor and will typically push its way through and start to puddle. The cove joint is where the bottom third of the wall meets the top side of the floor. That crease, which is usually secure, will widen due to a rising water table and allow water to start seeping in. However, the benefit of a basement is that in the event you need repairs, basements allow easier access for plumbers, electricians, and any other tradesman. Plumbing pipes are installed throughout the basement but are only concealed by the ceiling or the drywall; the same thing is true for any electrical wiring.

#4: Material Cost

material cost graphic

Figure 4 Lumber and construction material costs have increased dramatically, putting financial strain on those that want to build a basement for their home.

The price of lumber and other building materials has contributed heavily to the decline in basements throughout the Carolinas, which has seen a steady decrease for the last 10 to 15 years. As this picture shows, the $50,000 dollars of lumber just the previous year could build 10 single-family homes. Apply that same price to this year, and that lumber can only build two single-family homes in their entirety. These are just the bare minimum homes that have no other additions, such as a basement or porch. The average homeowner will not be able to afford the extra expense required to install a basement given these prices. As things calm down in the future and building materials return to normal, the possibility of a basement seems more likely.

To summarize, North and South Carolina are beautiful places that embody everything great about the middle of the east coast. The reason basements aren’t common is because of their high cost and risks. Clay native soils make it hard for water to pass through properly and to drain away from foundations. Shallow frost lines make it an expensive fiscal responsibility and cause weather-related issues such as exterior foundation and interior basement wall cracking. Red flags pop up everywhere in basements throughout the Carolinas because of their various ways of cracking and allowing water intrusion throughout the year. Lastly, material costs for construction have skyrocketed in the last year and thankfully seem to be returning to normal. However, the monetary delegation required for constructing a basement is not within the range of the average homeowner.

Protecting your basement is the same as protecting your home. When faced with water intrusion and needed waterproofing, make sure the right people are there for the job. Carolina Foundation Solutions is a premier waterproofing company that services both the Carolinas and has a mission to dry up the East Coast one basement and crawl space at a time.

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