Why Don’t California Houses Have Basements?

One of the first things that newcomers and prospective homebuyers in California ponder is why there are no basements. This feature, prominent in some Midwest and northeast States, is a rare treat in California – there may be no basements in any of the houses for sale. Why doesn’t California have basements? Here’s an in-depth look at this situation.

Why don’t California houses have basements?

Because of the way houses were built in the wake of World War Two, cellars are pretty uncommon in California. Due to a surge in housing needs around that time, residences in California were rapidly built to accommodate demand.

Because of the rapid pace of development, builders left basements out of plans in order to expedite construction and increase output.

Does California have any homes with basements?

California has basements, but they were rare for nearly six decades of construction. Small basements, dubbed “California basements,” became popular in the 1980s.

Basements are slowly returning to Californian homes, but at a high cost. We’ll take a deep dive into California’s basements, so stay tuned.

Despite the recent increase in basements in California, they are still rare, particularly in older homes. “California basements” are tiny cellars that are only wide enough to accommodate a hot water tank and electric cables in California dwellings. In California and other western states, seismic activity is a common thing, making basements less widespread.

What exactly are California basements?

Granted, a lot of California homes have large basements, but this wasn’t the common practice for decades. For a number of years, the most prevalent forms of the basement in California were only for storage purposes.

Small enough to be used chiefly for storing water heaters, breakers, and air conditioning/heating systems, these spaces could fit little else. But for those searching for a cellar they can enjoy California basements don’t fit the bill.

If someone wanted a window well or even a storm entrance to fit in a half-finished basement, they couldn’t get it. It’s no longer referred to as a “California basement” because modern homeowners prefer to have larger basements.

A home built from 1945 to 1980 on the Pacific Coast might not have had a basement, or it may have been very small. However, a lot of newer California homes have lovely, finished basements that homeowners can use for living or just relaxing.

In California, how much does it cost to build a basement?

Building a basement in California can cost anywhere from $200 to $1,000 for every square foot, or even more depending on the material you use. The overall cost is determined by a range of variables including:

  • Material Selection
  • Size
  • Expenses for expertly performed work
  • Design and layout

In the context of design and layout, a tiny, conventional “California basement” won’t cost you a fortune, but a huge one will.

Components and finishing touches for basements that are only used for heating systems and electrical cables are not necessary. So, if you’re a homeowner in California looking for an inexpensive option, your best bet is the notorious and cramped “California basement.”

Because of the high costs for permits, labor, and materials, building a large basement in California could likely surpass $100,000. As such, let’s take a closer look at what goes into determining the final price of one’s California basement.


The basement’s size is the most important factor in determining the cost, so it might be your first concern. A full basement is one that’s size is equal to the one above it in the house hierarchy. For example, if your house is 1,000 sq ft, a full basement will be 1,000 sq ft.

In California, a finished basement might cost upwards of $200,000. Even in California, a 500 sq ft, unfinished basement can fetch a price between $50,000 and $100,000. Basements in California are more expensive than in most of the rest of the country.

There aren’t many homes with full basements on the real estate market, particularly not in California. When deciding on the size of your basement, it’s wise to pay attention to the cost of construction per square foot. Getting the most value for your money is critical for homeowners in California, where construction costs are some of the highest.


In California, laying a basement foundation costs an average of $10,000. Smaller basements could cost as low as $6,000, while bigger basements might cost as much as $14,000 or more. Due to natural disasters like mudslides and earthquakes, a solid foundation is essential in California.

The cost of a monolithic slab foundation can range from $5,000 to $12,000, so it’s an affordable option. To put a bathroom on top of a concrete slab foundation will cost you between $1,500 and $4,000. This might seem like a lot of money, but remember that basements and bathrooms increase the value of your home when it comes time to sell.

The average cost of pouring a foundation is $33 per square foot, but this varies widely. It all depends on what kind of foundation you want and how much the labor costs in California.


Without excavating the land, you cannot build a basement-equipped home. If the soil is difficult to dig, excavating can be costly. Excavating land for a basement will cost you from $15 to $30 for every sq ft. Gradients, soil quality, and harsh weather all pose problems for contractors.

The length of time it takes an expert to dig up the property will depend on each of these factors. Typically, the excavation cost is included in the cost of the total project, but it is important to be aware of this.

Complete vs. Incomplete Basement

Whether or not you wish the basement to resemble a traditional “California basement” is a question you must answer. Finishing the basement will render it more inviting, but if you insist on keeping your heating, cooling, and electrical connections in the basement then that will be a cheaper option.

According to the materials you choose, finishing your basement could apply a further $20,000 to the total cost. When it comes to selling a home, a basement can be a stumbling block for many. When selling the property with a basement in California, you can expect to get back up to 80% of the invested capital.

If you’re not concerned about increasing the value of your home or constructing a place to live, leave your basement as is. Take into account completing your basement in California if you plan on selling your home and want to make it attractive to prospective buyers.

Why aren’t there any brick homes in California?

Brick-built Homes

They’re not as prevalent as prefabricated homes, but brick houses are available in California. Brick houses aren’t sought after in California because of the state’s extreme heat. Using brick in locations that experience extreme heat is a bad idea because brick acts as a heat-retaining material.

Can you stay in a basement during an earthquake?

There is little difference in earthquake safety between the basement and the rest of the house. In an earthquake, the most crucial consideration is what kind of decor and components are in the space.

Things that aren’t balanced or fastened down are in danger of dropping and breaking in a basement just like they are in any other space. The safest place to be during an earthquake is outside of your home, in a doorframe, or under a sturdy table.

Does the square footage of a basement matter?

When your house is on the market, the square footage of the basement does not count toward the total selling price. However, a finished basement rather than an unfinished basement will increase your home value and make it more attractive to potential buyers.