I’ve lived in California for almost four years now and have come to realize that Californians can’t build good homes. There are three main reasons that have helped me come to this conclusion:
In my house, we have no air conditioning. (There’s only a couple weeks when we really need it anyway.) We have forced-air heating that comes out of vents. However, they seem to have designed the system as if we had both heat AND air conditioning and the vents are in the ceiling. That might make sense if we had air conditioning (because cool air falls), but we don’t. As a result, heat comes out of the ceiling. While this is okay upstairs, the first floor can get really cold in the winter. The heat comes out of the ceiling vents and goes right upstairs. If they put the vents at floor level, we’d have better heat. They do this in houses in New England with all kinds of heating methods, but not here in California.
In New England, everyone has new multi-pane windows or they have storm windows. On the door, you’ll take out the screens and put in plexiglass panels to transform the screen door into a storm door. This adds extra insulation from the cold. Not so in California. It could just be the house I live in (and many houses I’ve visited), but it seems like doors and windows often have some gaps that let cold air in. These gaps aren’t always big enough for bugs or water, but there’s no tight seal and you can feel a cold breeze. I should go get some window insulation from Home Depot and fix this myself. (They must sell that stuff out here!)
This is the big one. You Californians have no idea what you’re missing. Why aren’t you digging basements when you build a house? The only real estate listings I’ve seen in with basements in California are houses built into the side of a hill where they call the first level a “basement”.
I’ve asked why basements aren’t built out here. Some people have claimed “earthquakes” as the reason. That doesn’t hold up when you consider they also don’t do it in other places without the threat of earthquakes. Also, Jonathan Weinstein of basement-retrofitting specialist Weinstein Construction Corp. says, “Now we know the opposite is true. Building a basement to code upgrades your home to the safest level of protection for earthquakes, because you have a much stronger foundation for the whole house. A basement will have poured concrete walls and strong foundations set very deep.”
Others have said that they’re used in cold weather climates because they’re dug below the frost line and would be used to keep the pipes from freezing. This reason seems more plausible because I’ve seen homes in Texas without basements as well, but is this really the only reason to dig a basement? So your pipes don’t freeze?
This article from the Los Angeles Times claims they were not build in homes because post-WWII tract-building methods were designed to put up houses as quickly as possible. Houses in California don’t have basements now because that’s the way they’ve always been done out here.
Basements are an amazing asset, even when unfinished (which, to you Californians, means it’s a cement hole without carpeting and finished walls…not that they didn’t actually finish digging the basement). If you had a basement, you would have a space as large as the first floor of your house where you could store things, put a washer and dryer, keep your water heater and furnace, have a workshop for projects, or finish part of it and make it into a kids’ play room, entertainment room, or “man cave”.
Nearly every house in New England has a basement. They don’t put them in because there’s no risk of earthquakes or because they want to keep pipes from freezing in the winter. They put them in because they’re great to have! …and all those houses with basements are still cheaper than your non-basement California homes.
California, it’s time to shape up and realize that heat rises, proper insulation will keep your house from getting too cold or too warm, and you need to start building houses with basements…like yesterday!