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A Florida Basement is a Rare Thing

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Many homes have basements; some are mere storage spaces, and others are finished and used for real living space. In the case of Florida, a lot of homes have no basements. The reason is simple: the water table is far too high. Homes along the Florida coastline are typically built on land with a water table literally within a foot of the ground's surface! This makes a below the ground basement nearly impossible.

So, how do you build a basement in such a situation?

If you want to go below ground, you must install what's known as well-points. These are small pumps -- to look at them, you'd think they were giant hypodermic needles -- and you place them every few feet in a line around the area you want to drain. By setting the bottom of the well-points down several feet, you can pull the water table down low enough to build a basement. Now, this system does have its limitations. Given the high water table, you have to keep these well-points running all the time! This can run into some money. Plus, if there's ever a power failure, you can end up with water starting to seep into your basement.

Another means of having a Florida basement is to essentially put it above ground; this is very popular with coastal homes. As Florida is -- unfortunately -- prone to hurricanes, the state has strict rules regarding homes built on the coast. The finished floor elevation of what they call the living space has to be above the storm surge elevation. The area below that is considered non-living space -- the basement.

As the area can possibly be inundated during a storm, the building code is very strict about what can and can't be put there, and how the homes must be built. First, pilings are used to support the main homes, and then the basement walls are what are known as breakaway. This means that -- in the event of a storm, with water surging in from the sea -- the walls will break off and float away, leaving the pilings in tack. This also means that the basement can not be bedrooms, as the area is considered dangerous and expendable. So, people can use the basement for storage, a garage, and then what is known as non-essential areas: workshop, sewing room, playroom, and so on. People can get very creative in how they describe these rooms!

So, while Florida may not have the standard sort of basements, they do have them, and you can make use of them for some really neat living space.

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Bruce Chitwood
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