Why don’t British homes have basements?

They recently published data showing that new homes in Britain were smaller than those in France, Australia and the US.  Now, it’s not difficult to imagine that houses would be much larger in Australia and the US (room dimensions almost equal), but I was surprised to find that the British homes were smaller than the French ones as well.

I know that immigration and the populaton explosion has led to a housing shortage, so they have to put up a lot of homes quickly and squeeze them all in.  But, it’s a disservice to people when they have such cramped spaces.  And, they do away with unnecessary space.  A typical home has a lounge (sometimes referred to as the living room or the front room), kitchen, bathroom, and the bedrooms.  It’s no wonder they have that phrase “two up, two down”.

Not all homes are that cramped, I’m just referring to a lot of new builds.  Some may be lucky enough to have a dining room, and if they’re really lucky, they might have another cloakroom (toilet).  Most homes we’ve looked at have a small space in the kitchen for a dining table, or if the lounge is big enough, they will put the table there.  That’s what we’ve had to do for the past year, even though there’s barely enough room.  It’s also one reason why we’ve adopted the minimalist look.  We only have the ripped up sofa that was left behind, the piano and the dining table in that room.

We live in a bungalow but it feels like a flat (apartment).  It’s as big as the apartments we’ve lived in.  Our houses had living rooms, dining rooms, and most also had a family room.  Not only that, they all had basements.  Not all US homes have basements (some areas are just not good enough for a basement because of drainage issues).  However, for the most part, it’s taken for granted that they do.

Here, you will only find basements in older homes and there are not too many of those around.  Many of them have been converted, so that a mansion is split into four apartments, with the basement being one of them.  I remember reading an article some months ago about rich people renovating their homes rather than buying or building a new one.  Because of the lack of space, these people were moving downwards, building multiple underground levels.  So, why don’t they do that for new builds?  It would make sense that if you don’t have the space above ground, you would try to use the space underground.  And I don’t mean for them to use the basement to put the necessary rooms, just as additional space for whatever they might like.

It appears that there are loads of storage facilities that have cropped up.  These people must be making a killing because people lack space to store their stuff.  There are no attics and no basements.  Very few homes even have closets of any kind.  You have to buy wardrobes and cabinets.

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7 Comments on “Why don’t British homes have basements?

  • The lack of storage space here drives me crazy! However, the basement thing is not universal in the US, we used to live on the East Coast in a reasonably large but totally basement-free house. Which was always interesting in the rare event of a tornado warning, in which case we had to hide out in the utility closet under the stairs to the second level.

    What I don’t understand is that if they are not going to have basements, why not have more third stories like you see in some places in the US where similar building styles (brick attached or semi-attached) dominate, as in Georgetown, Washington, DC. That would add quite a lot of space for no more real estate!

  • i wonder about the basement thing sometimes, my last place was 500 years old and did not have one, but it is true that most english houses do not have basements. This in itself is probably because it is so much easier to build up than down.

    House size wise, I am not sure why houses generally do not go higher than than the ground and first floor. But being british, and knowing our flaws, i assume it might circle the fact that it would be rude to others to have a slightly larger house than others. Either you keep in line with the norm, or you build a bloody big mansion and shoot peasants for sport.

  • Basements were mainly for tornados as I was taught and my Dad has been in one as a result of one as being from Ohio.

    Here in Oregon we also don’t have a lot of basements except for pre 1950s homes which are used as *multipurpose* or MP rooms.

    I think part of the reason why England doesn’t have basements widespread is a lack of moderate to severe tornados.

    I am sure only a few times a year somewhere in the big UK there is a few funnel cloud sightings and even rare……..DAMAGE! 😮

    I know Oregon gets funnel clouds and Vancouver WA had a damaging tornado in JANUARY a few years ago and it was ALL OVER the news.

  • We get several funnel clouds F0 a year as a result of cold air convection which mainly is usually up in the Portland area and the 1-5 corridor.

  • In a country with limited building land, it clearly make sense to build basements for several sound reasons. First, it would offer secondary accommodation for children or in laws; second it would dispense with the pathetic back garden “sheds” and third it allows for office space as necessary. But no one in the UK seems to insist on making use of double the land space by going down. I hear stories of water level, seepage, flooding, dampness, no need for coal storage any more, and the rest. What load of bollocks. Why do you think so many people are building add-on basements in say, London, these days? In many countries, a basement is a foregone conclusion, but not in the UK. Slap bang, right on a slab of concrete. Pathetic

  • I’ve lived in several Illinois houses in my lifetime and about half of them had basements. A basement is a relatively safe retreat from tornadoes (better than being above ground) — but I’d much rather have an honest-to-goodness storm shelter for that. (I never have.) The extra space a basement affords without giving up valuable real estate makes it worthwhile for that reason alone.

    The approximately 70′ x 30′ ranch-style house in which we currently live has an unusual setup wherein about 70% of it has a basement and the remainder has a crawlspace. (The crawlspace is nice, as crawlspaces go. It has a thick bed of pea gravel upon which we’ve laid boards for storage and carpet remnants to save the knees while crawling. It has a vent for heating and AC, so it’s climate-controlled and I added extra lighting. All in all, it’s a great storage area for things that aren’t needed often (such as seasonal decorations).)

    Our basement is primarily living and work area. In it, we have a nice, large family room with a fireplace, a study (used as a bedroom by the previous owners), a closet, a spacious utility area with a shower and extra large double utility sink, and enough room left over for over twenty linear feet of shelving units and cabinets. Of course, the furnace and water heater are also in the basement. Mind you, I’m not boasting, here; the materials are far from top tier, but someone with deeper pockets could make it special, were they so inclined.

    Were this house to have been built upon a slab, it would be a nice, modest, three-bedroom home. The extra space we have underground changes the livability of the home entirely.

    If we were a young couple on a strict budget having a new home built, we would have a basement put in at the expense of losing something above ground. It may be unfinished at first, but you’ve now got a huge shell with which to work. It is easier (and less expensive) to finish a basement than to add to the structure later — and you’re not affecting the footprint of the house or the skyline for your neighbors. Just my 2¢.

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