Basements are underground structures 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 as 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?
While a few houses in Las Vegas, Nevada, do have basements, most don’t. The main reason for the lack of basements in Vegas is 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 dwellings in Las Vegas without basements is that most of the area is prone to excessive flooding during the occasional monsoon storms 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 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 Vegas residents because it’s not very common to have a basement because they are extremely difficult to build and maintain in this area of the country.
In this article, I’ll dive into why basements “aren’t a thing” in Vegas. We’ll also take a closer look at the problems with underground construction in southern Nevada.
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Do Las Vegas Homes Have Basements?
Some homes in Las Vegas do have basements. Whether or not houses have an underground addition depends heavily on location and resources. Since the location and available resources usually don’t allow for digging conditions to be ideal, basements in southern Nevada are rare.
Having said that, some older homes built on sandy soil near Lake Mead do have basements. This is because the ground has no boulders or rocks that need to be dug out with expensive equipment, and excavation can be done quite easily.
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In most other areas of the city, rocky soil is much more common, and it would be cheaper and easier to add additional rooms to a residence rather than attempt to excavate into the caliche or other rocky ground.
This is why most new construction in the valley consists of two-story houses. 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 dwellings do have them despite the problems it takes to build them. Construction is costly and taxing in these cases, making homes with underground features a lot more expensive.
Number of Homes with a Basement in Las Vegas
So to give you an idea of how few houses in Clark County have basements, I went to Zillow.com and found the following information:
|# of Residences Currently for
Sale in Clark County, NV
|Residences Currently for
Sale with Basements in Clark County, NV
Having only one listing available with a basement shows that they are not a common housing feature in this area.
Why Don’t Most Homes in Las Vegas Have Basements?
The constraints to building underground in Las Vegas usually boil down to money, weather, soil type, 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 on their property and would need explosives to carve out the earth before building underground.
Caliche and Other Rocky Soils
Caliche is the biggest reason excavating the earth for a basement is difficult. Caliche is a type of sedimentary rock formed when calcium carbonate leaches up through the ground 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 ground in 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 to burrow underground is liable to go up tens of thousands of dollars.
Caliche isn’t in all the dirt in the city. Sometimes the problem isn’t caliche but just compacted soil with mixed rocky materials. Different parts of the city will have very different earth types and textures.
There are over 20 types of dirt in Las Vegas. Whatever 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 ground issues, Las Vegas has a problem with flash flooding between July and September. Vegas may be dry most of the year, but it sometimes has experiences severe thunderstorms that pose a significant threat.
The steep mountainous terrain surrounding the valley and the fact that the ground is so dry for a large part of the year create the perfect conditions for flash floods. A lot of rain in a short period and nowhere for it to go creates a 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 a benefit.
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 a house underground during a flooding event would be a huge liability for homeowners.
Most dwellings in the city are in a floodplain, and having part of a residence underground can quickly become a considerable danger when heavy rains come.
Flooded basements become a breeding ground for mold, and since they are underground, it is impossible to fully waterproof them. You can hire a service to help remove water if an overflow occurs, but a storm could still cause considerable damage to property and possessions.
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Basements Aren’t Needed in Las Vegas for a Strong Foundation
Basements in the eastern and northern United States 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 ground, and that constant shifting would require a deeper footing.
In these cases, builders make the most of excavation by digging the few extra feet needed to turn it into an ample storage space or cellar.
Vegas does not have that same problem regarding foundations for their houses. The ground 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 ground that would benefit from having a deeper footing. The only problem is whether or not the residence is in an area prone to flooding.
Basements in Vegas are Not Popular
Houses in Las Vegas don’t have cellars because they aren’t the norm. The ground and monsoon conditions of the city aside, the trend of building basements never took off in the West 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 willing to build it, they may not have experience when it comes to building underground.
What about In-ground Swimming Pools?
Building an in-ground swimming pool would be a better investment and an easier option than building 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 regarding where to place it and how deep to go when putting one in.
Our house’s pool, along with many pools in Las Vegas, is only six feet deep at its deepest point. According to our realtor, when we bought the house, the caliche layer made it too expensive to go down more than six feet, and going deeper increases difficulty and cost so much that most pools in the area are not particularly deep.
What Does All This Mean?
Most houses in Las Vegas don’t have basements because the rocky earth makes it too difficult to dig, and the home’s footing doesn’t require it for support. Since they aren’t very common house additions in this area, it is hard to find skilled contractors willing to design a residence with one.
While some LV houses do have basements, especially older residences in the areas around Lake Mead, where the dirt 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 rain events in the future.
You will want to weigh the pros and cons carefully before deciding whether or not a basement is worth the hassle. Remember, most homes in the area don’t have one for a 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 (including Las Vegas) don’t have basements. Most states in the West are earthquake-prone, and basements require much more building and fortification. The second reason is that much of the ground in the west is rocky, making digging difficult and expensive.
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