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Basements | Why Are They Uncommon in England?

Having a basement in your home may seem like a given if you are from most parts of the United States. However, if you are from England, you probably don’t know that much about having a basement, as these home extensions are rather uncommon in that part of the world.

I have outlined the main reasons why this might be the case. Naturally, none of these are universal, but they provide some valuable insights. So let’s have a look!

There are many possible explanations for why basements may be less common in England: the old houses were built when having a basement wasn’t as popular, the soil is not ideal, the lack of hurricanes and shallow frost line, high risk of flooding, the convenience of concrete slabs, and high expenses.

The Age of the Houses

One factor that may contribute to why houses in England often do not have basements is their age. Depending on when your house was built, you either are likely to have a basement, or you are not.

A lot of the houses in England were built in the 1960s when it was not that popular to have a basement because the cost of building one was way too high.

One would have to go through the extra task of making sure the foundation was deep-enough and making the entire area waterproof. This is just not something that people were not prepared to do during this time because the function did not merit the cost.

The Lack of Extreme Weather

The lack of basements in the UK is also due to the country’s overall lack of extreme weather.

Unlike in many states in America, where natural disasters are common and make basement shelters a necessity, people in the UK did not need to build basements to protect themselves from tornados or hurricanes.

Additionally, the English did not have to build the foundations of their homes that deep into the ground because they have a shallower frost line (the maximum depth of ground below which the soil cannot freeze).

Digging foundations below the frost line ensures that the expansion and contraction of water don’t compromise the foundations. Where the line extends deep, you end up digging so far into the ground that you might as well have a nice room to house all your freeze-sensitive pipes.

In England, the frost line is not as deep as it is in some other parts of the world.

Even though England is such a notoriously cold and wet country, its frost line is less than 20″ deep. Compare this to the 80″ found in Minnesota or even the 71″ found in Montana, and you can see why the frost line is less of a design-deciding factor in England.

So, in England, their foundations are not built that deeply, so there is no need to build a basement.

Unsuitable Soil for Basements

Another factor determining whether a basement can or cannot be built is the type of soil. You may need to contact a professional soil tester to test and read your soil to determine its type, density, and strength.

For example, Australian soil is notoriously sandy making excavations difficult and dangerous, contributing to the rarity of basements in this country.

Clay is extremely common in a lot of areas in England and is particularly unsuitable for building basements. This is because it is quite prone to erosion. It absorbs water easily and has the ability to shift when the water concentration varies.

When built on this soil, the foundation may become unstable as the soil expands and contracts underneath it.

It is also common to find areas with chalky subsoil, which is not conducive to building basements either. This soil tends to be extremely soft, and it has a lot of caves or hollow pieces, so one would need to dig quite deep in order to find stronger, more stable soil on which to lay the foundation.

basement in clay soil and basement in chalky soil

Basement Floodings

English people may also be opposed to building basements in their homes due to the frequency of floods that occur in their country.

Statistics show that 1 in 6 houses in England are at risk of flooding. Although these floodings can occur anywhere, it is safe to say that houses built near the coastline are at a very high risk of being affected.

Coastal floods are mainly caused by a combination of stormy weather and very high tides.

However, basements have a higher chance of being flooded by groundwater floodings caused by excessive and continuous rainfalls that saturate the soil. The water table then rises and can seep into your basement.

Rather than having to deal with the high cost of repairing a basement affected by humidity and floods, many people from England have decided they may as well avoid having them altogether.

Illustration of statistics showing that 1 in 6 houses in England are at risk of flooding and houses built near the coastline are at a very high risk of being affected

Popularity of Concrete Slabs

Many homes in the UK may not have basements because they are built on concrete slabs.

Concrete slabs are placed directly on the ground, acting as a cushion between the ground and the rest of the house. Solid concrete is poured over steel pipes to ensure the utmost strength and durability.

Concrete slabs do not allow for a crawl space or basement underneath. Despite that, they remain a relatively popular choice as they are significantly cheaper than building a basement, take a lot less time to build, and provide the added benefit of protecting the home against floods.

High Expenses to Build a Basement

Building a basement does not come cheap at all. This is, to some extent, why many people in England oppose the idea of converting their basement (that’s if they even have one).

When you look at the stats for how much it really costs to build a basement, you may need an extra hand to lift your jaw off of the ground.

If you need to dig an entirely new basement under your existing home, you need to be prepared to pay around  £2,000 – £3,200 (around $2500-3500) per square meter!

That is already a hefty sum of money. However, it still does not include:

  • The price of hiring a contractor or structural engineer (about £150 an hour).
  • The cost of applying for a permit, which is close to £1000/$1200.
  • Hiring a plumber (around £50 an hour).
  • The cost of hiring an electrician (about £40 an hour).

As you can see, adding a basement to your home will work out to be a huge amount of money. Money that could instead be spent on maintaining your home, buying a car, or perhaps going on a nice holiday. No wonder many homes in the UK choose against it.

Basements Are Popular in Some Areas

Although you are unlikely to see every English home have a basement, it is not like they are not present at all.

Basements are actually very popular in some parts of England, most often in larger cities. These are typically areas where there is less chance of flooding or where there is a need to have a basement.

For instance, a heavily populated apartment block in a city may have a basement that functions as a storage facility or laundry room. You can also find quite a few converted basements in London.

Basement Storage Facility and Basement Laundry Room

However, in Southeast England, basements are far less likely due to the high risk of flooding in the area. Areas such as Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, and Warwickshire are especially well known to experience frequent flooding.


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