The Edmond Sun

June 28, 2013

Basements scarce in Central Oklahoma

James Coburn
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — Ray and Suzanne Vaughn have often found comfort in the safety of their home basement during severe weather outbreaks. May 19 was no exception when an EF-1 tornado with wind speeds of 86-110 mph tore through his Thornbrooke neighborhood and nearby Forest Oaks.

Forest Oaks and Thornbrooke additions are both along south Bryant Avenue near 33rd Street. Twelve homes were damaged in the city by the storm that also dropped hail on northwest Edmond. Major damage impacted three of the homes while the other nine homes had minor damage, said Matt Stillwell, director of the city’s emergency communications and management.

The Vaughns have also shared the safety of their basement with neighborhood folks.

“We were actually in one of the deepest recesses of the basement but we could actually see out a window,” Ray Vaughn said. “We saw the tornado come through but we felt quite secure that we were surrounded by three sides at least by soil. The other side is brick.”

By having a basement in which to shelter, the Vaughns’ home is unique in Oklahoma County. Most homes built in Central Oklahoma do not have basements.

Of the 260,000 residential properties in Oklahoma County, there are currently 14,864 storm shelters or safe rooms and 5,801 basements, according to the Oklahoma County Assessor’s Office property records.

More installations of shelters are expected due to May’s tornadic events in central Oklahoma, said Larry Stein, chief deputy assessor.

“We are evaluating free and easy-to-use computer Geographic Information System applications, which can provide the exact latitude and longitude location of these shelters,” Stein said. This will help the assessor’s office to document the locations for emergency rescue operations in the event of future natural disasters, he added.

Fear of severe weather outbreaks in central Oklahoma is creating more business for Basement Contractors Inc., said Mike Hancock, company owner and a licensed engineer. The Edmond company builds basements as well as safe room storm shelters.

Hancock said it is a myth that Oklahoma soil is not conducive for basements because damp soil will cause them to leak and shift.

New technology such as polymer lining and drainage systems debunk the myth, he said. Hancock uses steel foundations in basements to enforce stability. Waterproofing materials are available for the modern basement, Hancock said.

Most people ask for storm shelters, he said. Basement consumers most often request full basements instead of partial basements. The slope and terrain will influence whether somebody requests a walk-out, partial basement, he said.

“Like Ray Vaughn’s house; he walks out to the back yard,” Hancock said. “As far as the soil, there’s nothing unique in Oklahoma that the rest of the country doesn’t have,” he said.

Most homes in Oklahoma are without basements because the frost line is 18 inches. So the foundation of homes must be placed below the frost line during the construction process, Hancock said. This prevents the raising and lowering of houses during the freeze and thaw cycles, Hancock said.

The footprint of main floors in central Oklahoma houses have more square footage than in most areas of the country, Hancock said. Oklahomans usually consider basements to be an added cost to their house, he said. Foundations here are shallow.

“Typically in the shallow foundation of 18 inches, it’s just as easy to put a slab down as anything,” Hancock said.

Colorado Springs has basements in most every house even though the soil there swells seven times its size, Hancock said. They consider basements to be part of their homes.



TO LEARN MORE about Basement Contractors Inc., go to basementcontractorsok.com or call 715-4141.