Most people hold the ingrained idea that most full-size houses come standard with basements, but is this always the case? Basement building is different all across the country, and the world for that matter, but Arizona specifically has some unique factors at play. 

Most homes in Arizona are built without basements. Though they are not impossible to add onto Arizona homes, they are relatively cost prohibitive. This is partly due to the presence of caliche in Southwestern soil and the ground not freezing as deep as it does in the North and Midwest.

The reason most Arizona homes are built without basements is, of course, a little more complex. Keep reading as we dive deeper into some of the reasons Arizona homeowners are less likely to have a basement than in other states.

Arizona’s Caliche Hampers Basements

Arizona, along with many other places that have desert soil, is home to an infuriating roadblock known as caliche. Caliche, which gets its name from the Latin root for calcium, is a concrete-like substance that forms in these semi-arid climates. These are conglomerates of rock, gravel, and soil, cemented together with calcium carbonate. Other names for caliche include:

  • Calcrete
  • Duricrust
  • Calcic Soil

Caliche not only causes a massive hit on the time necessary to construct a basement but is massively prohibitive in terms of cost. Although caliche can be dug or blasted through, it does exponentially increase the cost of basement building. Though the average cost to add a basement to an existing structure is quoted between thirty-thousand and seventy-thousand dollars, the city of Tucson says to expect between eighty-thousand and one-hundred-thousand dollars for this addition. 

Frost Lines and How They Affect Basements

Another one of the largest contributing factors to the lack of basements in Arizona is the frost line. Simply put, the frost line is how deep the ground freezes during winter and affects the way buildings are constructed.  The reason for this is that the ground shifts as it freezes, which can lead to structural damage.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the frost lines from around the country to get a better idea of just how deep the freeze can go:

RegionFrost Line Average (inches)
Southern Arizona5-10”
Central Kansas30”
Southeast Nebraska40-50”
Southern Florida0”

As you can see, the farther north you go, the frost line begins to deepen at an exponential rate. This means that for homes farther in the north, most of the clearing and excavation for a basement is already complete. This is because where the frost line is lower, the foundation must be dug and set lower in the ground, which in turn means that a lot of the subterranean clearing is already done.

For Arizona, building a basement is almost an entirely “extra cost”. Foundations in Arizona are typically no deeper than two or three feet, so adding a basement means assuming the entirety of this extra cost. The price increase from having a concrete slab or crawlspace to building a basement can be a difference of anywhere from seven thousand all the way up to a staggering forty-five-thousand dollar price difference.

Basement Alternatives

Not having a basement doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker! Although it can be daunting if you’re used to the extra space, there are plenty of alternatives. It’s not hard to make great use out of other areas in your home as well as looking into other storage options.

The most common way to remedy your storage problems is a simple shed. Whether you build it yourself from scratch, use a guide, or buy one pre-made, the shed is a go-to for homeowners everywhere. Of course, building your own will typically be the cheapest option, but with the money saved from the basement, any option should be perfectly viable.

Another storage solution, and one that is both quicker and easier, is to find a self-storage area in your area. Although typically more expensive long-term, these can easily be found in most towns and cities and will offer you a safe and secure way to store your excess property for a price. This may be the easier solution for some, especially if you have much more to store.

Few Basements in Arizona Due to Cost

Although you can find Arizona homes with full and half basements, it is not the norm. Now we know that these roadblocks are not insurmountable but are more dependent on how much you can invest.

Between the cement-like caliche plaguing the desert and the already prohibitive cost of basement building, it is not the right plan of action for everyone. However, knowing what to expect, both from the land and in terms of cost, is a massive head start in deciding what is best for you.