Why No Basements in Dallas or the North Texas Area?

Real Estate Agent with Keller Williams

Relocating home buyers ask "why are there no basements in Dallas or any part of North Texas?" The simple answer is the North Texas clay soil moves too much, making a basement cost prohibitive. It's structurally safer and much less expensive for a home builder to build a second story than to build a basement.

cracking clay soil


The clay really shrinks when dry and expands when wet. It's not uncommon to see cracks you can stick your whole hand in. This expanding / contracting / moving soil exerts tremendous pressure on buried structures like the floor and walls of a basement.

Is it Possible to build a Basement?

Is it possible to build a basement? Sure. Just not wise. Do you want to buy a home with a risky foundation? Do you have the desire or money to repair a major basement foundation issue?

What's the Cost to Build a Basement?

Some Dallas luxury homes do have basements. It's hard to know how much they cost since these are not your "ordinary basements". I have asked custom builders and the answer is "it's cost prohibitive".

Basement Foundation Warranty?

Perhaps home builders don't build basements because of foundation warranty costs. New home builders provide a 10 year limited warranty on Slab or Pier & Beam Foundations. This warranty is purchased through a large warranty insurance plan. The cost of this foundation warranty is passed on to the home builder in the purchase price.

It's Cheaper to "Build Up"

If home builders could have figured out an inexpensive way to build structurally sound basements they would have because people love basements. Builders have found it is cheaper to build a second story than it is to build a basement. Instead of a dark basement rec room you get an upstairs game room and or media room.



Basements and Tornado Safety

Relocating buyers ask about Tornado Safety, Yes, North Texas is in Tornado Alley. No there are not basements or underground storm shelters. It is uncommon to see a home built with an above ground room reinforced as a safe room or storm shelter.  Smaller interior rooms on the first floor are the rule of thumb.


Why are there no basements in The Colony, Dallas or any part of North Texas? Because the clay soil makes building a basement on a new construction home cost prohibitive.

These are the opinions of an experienced local Realtor, not a structural soils expert.


Re-Blogged 1 time:

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  1. David Krichmar 08/31/2010 10:14 AM
Texas Dallas County Dallas
Texas Real Estate
Posts to Localism
north texas
no basement

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Marcie Sandalow
Marcie Sandalow, Compass 301.758.4894 - Bethesda, MD
Bethesda Chevy Chase DC real estate

A friend just moved to Texas, and mentioned there were no basements.  I wondered if it had anything to do with all that land out there.  Clearly not!  

Aug 31, 2010 09:04 AM #1
David Krichmar
www.DaveYourMortgageGuy.com - Legend Lending - Sugar Land, TX

Great Info Mark, I am going to reblog it. 

Aug 31, 2010 10:13 AM #2
Ray Saenz
Exit Realty Laredo - Laredo, TX
Homes for Sale in Laredo, TX - Texas, Realtor

that's a question that I had why no basement in texas, so I know the answer thanks for letting us know about it, take care and great re-blog !


Aug 31, 2010 02:06 PM #3
Mark Hitz
Keller Williams - The Colony, TX

Thanks for the comments.  A few months ago a midwestern relo buyer called to explain what they were looking for in a home and an "unfinished basement" was ok.  Not happy to discover we don't have them here.

Marcie - It's all about the Gumbo (clay).

Dave - Thanks for the reblog.  Since this is my very first "outside blog" on AR, I am honored.

Hello Ray - I look forward to many tech savy discussions.

Aug 31, 2010 06:42 PM #4
Ricki Eichler McCallum
CastNet Realty - Corpus Christi, TX
Broker,GRI,ABR, - Your Coastal Bend Home Source

Good post!  Many years ago, many homes had outside cellars for storing food and to sit in when the storms passed by.  They just dont do that anymore. I built a home once in Vernon, TX and I built a basement. No problem.  Builders don't like to build them around the Dallas/Ft. Worth area and there is clay soil but you can still build one if you really want to.  It's just not what most people want and it does cost more.

Sep 01, 2010 02:03 AM #5
Mark Hitz
Keller Williams - The Colony, TX

Thanks Ricki -

Many people from smaller northern states don't realize that Texas has 6 distinctly different areas / climates / weather / topography.  Isn't Vernon a part of the Texas Panhandle?  And you are down in the Texas Hill Country - I wish the DFW Metroplex had some hills. 

Sep 01, 2010 03:28 AM #6
Crystal Wolverton
Commerce Title Company - Dallas, TX

Mark - great post!!

I am with you on the 'hill country' sentiment! Austin and the hill country are great for many reasons!!! Dallas isn't so bad, but a completely different feel :)

Sep 02, 2010 03:04 AM #7
Dale, East Texas

But I'm not in the "Gumbo" soil. I'm in rock hard dust dry clay.  It does't seep period.  I dug a well 50ft deep less than 20 feet from a pond and was going to use the well to water the yard etc and it never filled up, so I put a ditch to bring the pond closer and ended up just tying them together.. the soil don't seep, yet builders threaten to shoot me if I try to build a basement.. I'm treated like a leaper if I bring it up.  So I guess I'm gonna have to do it under the cover of darkness!!

Sep 20, 2011 10:40 AM #8
Willie E King Jr.

I saw this post last year but to be honest I was too lazy to respond to your origional post.  Well tonight I have energy and will do you all a favor and give you some true facts.

"The simple answer is the North Texas clay soil moves too much, making a basement cost prohibitive. It's structurally safer and much less expensive for a home builder to build a second story than to build a basement."

This statement is no where near the truth and don't have an ounce of fact in it, and I prove it every day to customers.  Fact Texas is unique and has less expansive clays than you might imagine. Check out the Texas map showing this fact: http://www.shaggybevo.com/board/showthread.php/89899-Building-a-basement-in-central-Texas

IS IT WISE TO BUILD A BASEMENT? the answer is an unequivical YES! When you think of all the foundation repair problems in the state already that is not due to basements, the advice don't hold water.  The foundations in Texas were built to serve contractors and builders... Build them cheap and build them quick is why.  Slabs are built with soil that was often times brought in by truck, cushion sand and steel that was often times thin like fence grading.  Depending on the soil type that the slab was built on, the slab has very little support even if rock is below it because the soil was never tested in the first place(too save money).

WHAT IS THE COST TO BUILD A BASEMENT? It really depend on what type of soil your working with, because if its caliche your cost will be cheaper since you will not even need footings poured. For all other soils it will nearly be the same if your not pouring a cheap slab to easily crack in the future.  I say this because today slabs are not all built the same any more,ie post tention, flooding beam method, Pier & Beam and a number of different piling methods are used.  Point I am making is it does not matter if you build your foundation above the ground or below it your engineer will design it based on your loads and reactions (weight & height) of the home that will be built. Cost will be $4 to $7 sqf depending on if it is a floating,supported,mono or slab on grade. So consider the simple fact that you will be pouring a foundation regardless. 

Foundation Warranty If you build the basement with green technology the manufacturers of the concrete will warranty the basement walls not to leak. Same insurance company is called to cover the repairs except it is backed by concrete manufactures and not fly by night builders who will not be there when you need them.

ITS CHEAPER TO BUILD UP! Sounds good but this can't be further from the truth. Like I stated earlier we know we have to build a foundation and the cost will be really the same if you build it above or below the surface.  So really the only difference is that you will be pouring concrete walls instead of building conventional framed walls. So make the comparison - if you compare the cost of building wood or steel framing, Foam insulation instead of Batts, Thicker wood panels than cheap OSB, radian Barrier instead of cheap Tyvec, and stone exterior than cheap siding - then you will find your cost will be less for a basement with 10" to 12"concrete walls.  When you consider the cost of excavation you will find that your basement will cost you a little more if the soil is clay,sand,grey caliche or solid rock (little chance of solid rock).

MAJOR FACTOR LEFT OUT Basements have geothermal temperatures which are a cool 62 ot 65 degrees all year round. The slab in a basement literally draws the heat from the house into the cold slab. Result is that it is cheaper to cool a basement than it is to cool a second floor of a home.  In-fact there is no comparison because unless you have a walkout basement with many windows you don't need A/C at all, only a fan will be needed. At the height of the summer it will take 3 to 4 hours to cool the second floor at a cost of $350 to $500 a month for a mid size home.  Basement floor will cost about $20 to run your fan for the same amount of time. Like I said! no comparison.  Building in the attic sound good until you consider that it is unbearable in the summer even if you have A/C and have foamed the rafters.  It is nearly unbearable in the winter for the opposite reason and will need little heat only if the rafters is foamed, ie heat rises.  If like 95% of the homes it does not have foamed rafters then the attic will be freezing and no heating lines it will stay that way. So other than about 3 to 4 months out of the year your "Texas basement - Attic" is totally unuseable.  

We won't talk about the tax savings for a non-finished basement that may be finished out later that does not add to your tax base. Come on boys and girls - say it with me (non-living space) is treated like our garages regardless of how much space it takes up- WOW!.  

We won't talk about how all those people who look at houses for sale want to always walk through the basement home FIRST!

Tornado Saftey: This part is not even a challenge but I will share FEMA'S suggestion.

When you encounter one stand in a door way, or get in a tub and cover yourself with a mattress. What happens to the rest of the family since only the kids will fit, or one large person, and what if it is fiberglass if the home is newer.  No only a basement will save your entire family if a tornado hits and we all know it.

How do I know what I am talking about? My family started out building Swimming pools all over Texas for over 40 years before we started helping people build basements. You can check out my book: http://www.fastpencil.com/publications/2884-Building-Basements

It is also sold on Amazon, Barnes & Nobles and eight other online stores.  If you have any particular questions we answer basement questions for Building or Basement Repair on :http://www.justanswer.com/lp-1dl3-basements

We have a show home in of all places NORTH DALLAS - For everyone to see if you want to see a real one or check it out on our website: http://www.thebasementkings.net

I am a state licensed Professional Inspector with the state of Texas lic#20238

Mark I mean no disrespect, but Basements are my thing!


Oct 13, 2011 08:50 PM #9
Mark Hitz
Keller Williams - The Colony, TX

Hello Willie

Thanks for the reply. 

Never say Never.

I like basements. I'm from the midwest and grew up with basements.

When I moved to North Dallas in 1990 I decided to build a home with a basement in Flower Mound Texas.  I told the custom builder that I wanted the basement unfinished.  He said something like "No Problem, the basement will be so unfinished you won't even know it's there".  He explained that they don't build basements because of the soil.   So I talked with the Flower Mound town new home inspector who said there was no law against basements but that he wouldn't green tag one.  For everyone reading this - if an inspector won't green tag new construction, the home cannot be occupied.

Fast forward to today...

I just did an MLS search of ALL Flower Mound homes Sold and For Sale.  The MLS provided 12,409 home results.  I then narrowed the MLS search to ONLY homes with a basement.  The MLS provided only 12 results where the listing agent indicates a basement.  For each home I then searched the Denton County Appraisal District Tax Info and I found that 8 of the 12 have SLAB foundations which means the listing agent made an error (no suprises there). 

So 4 homes have basements  - smallest is 3,600sqft.  2 basements appear to be walk outs.  1 home is a 12,000 sqft $1,600,000 McMansion with a 1,700sqft basement.  The last home is a 3,700sqft. home that appears to have a real basement.

So yes there are basements.

I know of no big box builders that will offer a basement for whatever the reason.

If and when I come across a buyer client that really wants to build a custom home with a basement, I will contact you.


Oct 15, 2011 01:54 AM #10
Mark Hitz
Keller Williams - The Colony, TX

So I just took a look at your basement kings site and looked at some photos. I couldn't find any price ranges.   It appears the homes are walk out basements built on a slope where you are not digging a traditional hole in the ground basement. 

The pics also look like the home built above the basement uses serious I beam and all steel wall framing. Nice sturdy home but how much did that home cost the home owner? 

Do you have examples of nice $200,000 new construction homes within city limits with a basement?


(For people from other areas reading this... Homes here in the North Dallas suburbs are newer brick and wood frame construction and are very reasonably priced compared to other major cities. )

Thanks - Mark



Oct 15, 2011 02:40 AM #11
Willie King

Your correct with your research and it is really nice to see someone like yourself who is arming yourself with the facts for your readers.  To respond to your question about smaller basements in the $200k range so far we consulted on a project just outside of Galveston of all places.  We are just now consulting with more informed custom builders but we don't market to builders.  Our primary customer is the home owner because builders don't want to built them to avoid taking longer to build, avoiding any liability and due to their lack of knowledge about them.  We consider our-self a basement specialist who will help the future home owner design and build their own basement.  The steel frame home that is on our website was designed because the owner wanted something to stand up against a Texas tornado.  The fact that the project turned out as a walkout and was steel framed had nothing to do with the area or soil for that matter.  They were just working with the land they purchased.  In reference to the cost we can help someone build something as small as a wine cellar if that is all they were interested in building.  We consulted on a small project which was in-fact a wine cellar in the same subdivision as our show home.  The house is located on oak wood trail in oak wood estates - Fairview, Texas which they build cost about $6.00 sqf to build.  The home has sold once since it was originally built but if you would like a picture of the home let me know.  I hope you got a chance to read part of my book but if you did not here is a special link to allow you to read some of it.  If you like it and consider informing your readers about it, I will send you a special copy for your personal reference.

By the way we are certified by the state as a professional inspector service for people who either want to get a basement inspected, or is having problems getting one past my their town inspector.  Really they don't have a handle on basements because non of the Texas courses don't reference basements.  To be honest basements are not even covered in the material taught or tested by the state.  So the majority of new inspectors in my opinion are not qualified to inspect or offer any advice about basements period.  The older inspectors are knowledgeable about basements because over 25 yrs ago many were built as cellar all over Texas.

If you need any advice about basement, The Basement Kings are here at your service.


Great Blog Mark!



Oct 23, 2011 02:00 PM #12

My wife and I purchased a lot along a golf course sitting on a nice hill back in 2008. I mentioned to her it would make a nice walkout basement home with a great view. 12mo later we were done.  We built with Royal Crest Custom Homes - Dean Smith and connected up with North Texas Basements - Tom Werling.  North Texas Basements spent 5days digging out the site of which only the footprint of the home was cut into the hillside. All the dirt was pushed out to form the new raised backyard and space for the pool.  The drain field was set both inside and out of the footers thus giving any water from rains or possible springs an exit out. They used aluminium forms to case the walls with plenty of steel along with some great electrical grounding points. Total basement build took 5weeks and gave us over 3000sf of finished living and 1000sf of unfinished mechanical areas. Royal Creast Custom Homes spent another 5wks framing the home which consist of the 3000sf basement area with 2bd 2 full baths, Rec room with kitchen and a guest room. Finished ceiling height is 8.5ft. The main floor is built with a 20inch truss floor system hosting the main living areas and a large patio over looking the golf and lake. From the street you would think its just a single story home but its actually 3. The 3rd story is 600sf large 5th bedroom with the 5th full bath turn into a home office with lake view out of its own 5 windows.   Est 22 trucks of concrete made the basement floor and walls including the 3car garage. Piers were not used since the ground core samples resulted in good soil with a solid base.  The walls are 10in thick and with a 5in floor locking in the walls mother earth cant let this home move.  All ext concrete walls have stone fill so if any water soaks in it can drain out the back of the home using the drain field.   Its 4yrs later and we are very happy with the constuction and the efficiency of the home.   I will say we build with 6in ext walls foam filled and installed 2 water furnace geothermal units for AC and Heating. Drilled a private water well for the geo units and the water left over is used to irrigate the landscaping. Any extra water is returned untreated into the creek out back feeding the lake down stream.

If you say it cant be done its because your not thinking outside the box. 

Aug 20, 2012 10:48 PM #13
Basement Guy


After 37 years of homebuilding experience with the last five specializing in Texas basement construction, I can assure you there are no legitimate reasons not to build a basement in Texas.  My goal is to dispel the many myths around the numerous reasons not to build a basement and to educate on the many reasons TO build a home with a basement!




I often hear the reasons – high water table, expansive soils, ground it too hard, and costs.  So I will address each below.




High water table only exists in specific locations and under specific conditions.  True, you may not want to build a basement along a shore line but at the same time not all building sites are on a shore line.   Also, your lot may not be basement friendly if it is a flat lot with underground springs.  However, know that I have come across this situation and have done one successfully!




Expansive soils…that is probably the most important reason to do a basement.  Soils move all over the world; it is a fact of nature.  In the north it is actually known and identified as a “frost line”.  In Texas, we know the soil moves as a result of rain, wind, and sun exposure.  So it makes sense that the closer to the surface the more potential for movement.  Most slab foundations are only 24 to 28” deep.  How much does that help you with moving soils?  Actually none!  With a basement, the earth is 100% compacted and not subject to soil movement from wind, rain, and sun.        




Ground is too hard? Maybe if you are shoveling by hand but not for a tractor.  To date I have had to use a jack hammer on only one job!  True, rock sites are tougher and we don’t like them but this is not to do a basement.




Other items come to think of - Storm shelters.  Basements are a great place to protect your loved ones during a tornado.




Air Conditioning costs are lessened with a basement.  When you have a basement all you have to do is pull the free cool air out of the basement and send it to the first floor to save money - the electric bill is lower and your furnace will last longer!




All things considered, building a basement is an economical choice in the long run.  


And from someone who actually has experience with building basements in Texas -  


There is NO reason not to build a basement in Texas!! 




For more information or to schedule a consultation, call on North Texas Basements, Inc (817-770-BSMT) today!!!


Sep 14, 2012 09:29 AM #14

No basements in Texas? That's not true. In the past basements were too expensive to build in Texas, but not anymore. Now with this new patented method, you can have one at about the same price as a typical concrete slab foundation. Look for yourself at uspto.gov. Search US Patent # 13/790,860 and call the inventor John Cogburn and CEO of Earthform, LLC @ 214 546 2027. Earthform are builders of affordable basement housing in Texas.

Nov 16, 2014 05:18 AM #15

As Willie's good post suggests, if you can build a swimming pool, you can build a basement.

I am about to undertake home construction, and where I am, north of Dallas, the clay soil is usually not very deep. Sure, it expands and contracts, right about to the depth of slabs, but if you go down more than a foot or two, then it is limestone-like rock, partially decomposed, caliche may be the right term. It is not going anywhere.

I've watched construction crews poor slabs in the clay layer, and then people wonder why they have foundation problems. They didn't go deep enough. Had they actually built a basement, there wouldn't have been a problem because the basement floor would be on a hard substrate. Put your beams across where the clay layer is, and do the back fill with a ramp, such that expansion pushes up, not out, and you are all set.

Putting the HVAC system in the basement instead of the attic saves an enormous amount of energy. In the winter, when your furnace is not running, that cold attic air flows right down into the living spaces as your warm air flows up. In the summer, you are starting with 130 degree air whenever your A/C turns on.

The reason they don't build basements is because they don't have to. People were told "the expansive clay soil", but that is bull. Demand basements. The life you save might be your own.

Feb 27, 2015 12:24 AM #16
Brian Zornig


I believe you are way off base here. The soil pressure issues can be easily and cost effectively designed away. Regarding movement, the key is to bear on soil that is stable. Expanding clay is not stable towards the surface, but 8-10 feet below grade the moisture content of the soil becomes stable and movement is minimized. Basements are a much better solution to foundation issues than post-tension slabs that are free to move. Water can also be managed with proper drainage and waterproofing. When you consider the advantages of basements (cool space, better foundation, storm shelter, cost effective space) it's really unfortunate that people like yourself promote false information.

Sep 13, 2015 09:41 AM #17
Deborah Nickels

Basements in Texas? Sure! If you are interested in a basement, wine cellar, underground garage, retaining wall or above ground safe space in Texas, please visit of North Texas Basements at www.ntxbsmt.com. Working knowledge and experience in soil, proper foundation and climatic difference makes it not only possible in Texas, but practical. Tom Werling, owner and operator of North Texas Basements, is 1 of 51 nationwide whom is certified by the American Concrete Institute as a foundation technician. North Texas Basements works primarily in the DFW area, but will consider travel. The company will also consider no cost estimates on projects with submission of proper blueprint and engineered designs.

Oct 23, 2017 09:23 AM #18
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