Basements are underground, made of concrete, and built under a home, usually to strengthen the foundation. Some people may be surprised to learn that basements aren’t as widespread in the western United States like they are on the east coast or up north. Las Vegas homes don’t usually have or need basements despite their many benefits for a multitude of reasons.
So, why don’t Las Vegas homes have basements? A few houses in Las Vegas do have basements, but most don’t. The main reason for the lack of basements in Las Vegas, Nevada, is due to caliche, an impermeable layer of sedimentary rock-like material that occurs in deserts and arid areas. Basements are too difficult to dig in Las Vegas.
Another reason for building homes in Las Vegas without basements is that most of the area is prone to excessive flooding during the occasional monsoon storms that occur between July and September. Add to that the fact that digging underground can become quite expensive due to the cement-like layer of caliche (pronounced kah-leech-chay) found a few feet underground and finally, basements just aren’t that popular in most western states.
What seems like a deal-breaker to some when house hunting is barely an afterthought for most Las Vegas residents because it’s not very common to have a basement and sometimes extremely difficult to build or maintain. Diving into why this is, the rest of this post gives an in-depth look at Las Vegas homes and their preferences for and problems with underground construction.
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Table of Contents
Do Las Vegas Homes Have Basements?
Some older homes built onto the sandy soil near Lake Mead in Las Vegas have basements. This is because the soil has no boulders or rocks that need to be dug into with expensive equipment and digging can be done quite easily.
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In other areas of the city that has rocky soil, it would be cheaper and easier to add additional rooms to a home rather than attempt to dig into the caliche or different types of rockier soils. This is why most new construction in Las Vegas consists of two-story homes. It’s cheaper to build up than it is to dig down.
However, since having a basement in Las Vegas is not prohibited or impossible, some homes do have them despite the cost and constraints it takes to build them. Construction will be a costly and taxing process, which makes homes with underground features a lot more expensive.
Number of Homes with Basements in Las Vegas
So to give you an idea of how few homes in Las Vegas have basements, I went to Zillow.com and found the following information:
|# of Homes Currently for|
Sale in Clark County, NV
|Homes Currently for|
Sale with Basements in Clark County, NV
|13,662 (source)||227 (source)|
Why Don’t Most Homes in Las Vegas Have Basement?
The constraints to building underground in Las Vegas usually boils down to money, weather, soil, and tradition. Though some areas of the city have penetrable ground perfect for pools and basements, other homeowners in the city may struggle to plant trees in their property and need explosives to carve out the earth before building underground.
Caliche and Other Rocky Soils
Caliche is the biggest reason why it is difficult to dig out the soil for a basement. Caliche is a type of sedimentary rock formed when calcium carbonate leaches up through the soil and binds the sand, clay, gravel, and rocks together forming a cement-like barrier.
Caliche forms a thick hard layer of sediment underneath most of the city, which makes digging into the earth nearly impossible to predict, relatively difficult to do, and expensive to achieve. Once a soil test comes back positive for caliche, the bill for digging into the ground is liable to raise tens of thousands of dollars.
Caliche isn’t in all the soils in Las Vegas. Sometimes the problem isn’t caliche, but just compacted soil with rocky materials mixed in. Different parts of the city will have very different soil types and textures. There are over 20 soil types in Las Vegas. Whatever soil type you plan to build on will influence whether or not you should build a living space underground.
If interested you can download a .pdf of the official Soil Survey of Las Vegas Valley Area Nevada produced by the Natural Resources Conservation Service here.
Flooding in Las Vegas
Adding to the soil issues, Las Vegas has a problem with flash flooding between July and September. Las Vegas may be dry most of the year, but it does sometimes have severe on-going thunderstorms that pose a significant flooding threat.
The steep mountainous terrain surrounding the valley, along with the fact that the ground is so dry for a large part of the year, creates the perfect conditions for flash floods. A lot of rain in a short period of time and nowhere for it to go creates a flooding situation that would not be conducive to having a basement.
Fortunately, Las Vegas residents don’t have to worry about natural disasters such as tornados and hurricanes, where having a basement would be beneficial.
Instead, the biggest natural threat is occasional flooding, so having a basement here would be detrimental to a home’s well-being. Having a part of your home underground during a flash flood would be a huge liability for homeowners. Most homes in Las Vegas are in the floodplain, and a basement can turn into a considerable burden quick if flooded.
Basements that flood become a breeding ground for mold, and since they are underground, it is impossible to waterproof them. You can hire a service to help remove water if a flood occurs, but a flood could still cause considerable damage to property and possessions.
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Basements Aren’t Needed in Las Vegas for a Strong Foundation
In the eastern and northern United States, basements were born out of the necessity to provide a home with a strong foundation. Since the weather fluctuates so often in some areas, so does the soil, and that constant shifting would require a deeper foundation. To make the most out of the dig, builders would dig the few extra feet needed to turn it into an ample storage space or spare room.
Las Vegas does not have that same problem when it comes to foundations for their homes. The soil in most places is like concrete already and stays like that yearlong. These homes only need post-tensioned slabs that rarely require maintenance.
There are some areas in Las Vegas with the type of expansive soil that would benefit from having a deeper foundation and basement. The only problem is whether or not the home is in an area prone to flooding.
Basements in Las Vegas are Not Popular
Houses in Las Vegas don’t have basements because they aren’t the norm. The soil and flooding conditions of the city aside, the trend of building basements never took off in Las Vegas as it did in other areas of the United States.
The architects and construction crews in the city aren’t familiar with building underground. Therefore you might have trouble finding someone to do the build in the first place. There is also a chance once you find someone to build, they may not have experience with digging and building underground.
What about In-ground Swimming Pools?
It would be a better investment and easier option to build an in-ground swimming pool than dig out a basement. Pools require less excavation, resources, and skill to build since they are not a part of the home’s foundation. You also have more options as far as where to dig and how deep when putting one in.
Our home’s pool, along with many pools in Las Vegas, is only six feet deep. According to our realtor when we bought the house, the caliche layer makes it too expensive to dig more than six feet down and digging deeper increases difficulty so much so that most pools in the area are not particularly deep.
What Does All This Mean?
Most homes in Las Vegas don’t have basements because the rocky soil makes it too difficult to dig and the foundation of the home doesn’t require it for support. Since they aren’t very common home additions in this area, it is hard to find skilled contractors willing to design a home with one.
While some homes do have basements, especially older homes in the areas around Lake Mead, where the soil is finer, it is not the norm. Even if you do find a home with a basement or the perfect conditions to build one you may still run into problems with flooding in the future. You will want to weigh the pros and cons carefully before deciding whether or not a basement is worth the hassle. Just remember most homes in the area don’t have one for good reason.
Related Question About Basements in the West
Why don’t houses in the West have basements? There are two main reasons homes built in the western United States don’t have basements. Most of the states in the west are earthquake-prone and basements require much more building and fortifying of the foundation. The second reason is that much of the ground in the west is rocky making digging difficult and expensive.
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