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Basements in new Palo Alto houses

Original post made by Citizen, Midtown, on May 14, 2007

Anyone with thoughts on the trend in putting basements in new Palo Alto houses? I know this has been going on in old PA for years, but I have noticed it more and more in Midtown. Walter (and other engineers) - how are these going to hold up in an earthquake? When these are resold, do people pay enough of a premium to justify the added cost of building the basement? Any other thoughts from those who have debated putting one in a new house?

Thanks in advance for all responses.

Comments (14)

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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 15, 2007 at 6:41 am

The basements, from what I understand, have a "steel cage" as its framing. This is for earthquakes .. its very expensive to put in a basement; though once you eat up the initial cost, the area is "free". So in a two storey house, you get the area of almost one storey free.

The basement will not be taken into account for appraisals, but its definitely not going to prevent from hiking the price. Someone that I know put in a bowling alley, other games in the basement. Their teenagers loved to hang out there instead of other public places. Now, if I had the money and I was in the market to buy a house, I would most certainly look for a house in PA with a basement !


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Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 15, 2007 at 8:27 am

With the proper engineering houses built over a basement will hold up fine in an earthquake. If you are worried about basements, focus on City Hall and 525 University. The both have three story basements called parking lots.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 15, 2007 at 8:40 am

It would be very unwise, and I don't think you would get a permit, to put a basement in the flood plain, so check out where you are in relation to the flood plain first.


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Posted by Citizen
a resident of Midtown
on May 15, 2007 at 9:37 am

My shack is not in the flood plain - several nearby houses have been built with basements, so the City must be willing to allow it in my neighborhood.

Thanks for the input so far, any more thoughts would be much appreciated.


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Posted by Rick
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 15, 2007 at 1:09 pm

Basements are not uncommon is South Palo Alto. It's not clear if they are allowed in flood zones, but are built where groundwater is a few feet below the surface and pumps are installed around the site to lower the water level while building the basement. Thick, well poured and vibrated concrete is waterproof and a waterproof substance and also a membrane is placed around the outside walls to insure that it is waterproof.

I have heard that basements are very inexpensive to put in in some areas of Californis where old, long established contractors have been doing it and have the forms, etc available. Probably not in the bay area where prices aren't based on costs ,but how much someone will pay.


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Posted by RT
a resident of Midtown
on May 15, 2007 at 1:12 pm

a 7.7+ Ricter scale quake will thumb its nose at however many tons of rebar has been used to shore up those basements. It's pretty dumb to put basements in an earthquake center.

Rebar *might* prevent collapse, but will it prevent serious damage and cracking? No.

A bowling alley in the basement, so the kids can hang out? Just goes to show the pathetic lack of teen services in Palo Alto.


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Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 15, 2007 at 7:27 pm

"a 7.7+ Ricter scale quake will thumb its nose at however many tons of rebar has been used to shore up those basements. It's pretty dumb to put basements in an earthquake center.

Rebar *might* prevent collapse, but will it prevent serious damage and cracking? No."

And your engineering degree is from...


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Posted by Joe
a resident of Meadow Park
on May 15, 2007 at 10:09 pm

We've always called those basements that people have been putting in "tombs".


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Posted by RT
a resident of Midtown
on May 15, 2007 at 10:44 pm

Hulkster, Cal Tech


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Posted by Howard
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 16, 2007 at 12:51 am

Unfortunately, the Municipal Code forbids basements in the flood plain. This is an unnecessary regulation. There are FEMA guidelines for floodproofing a basement, which if done would allow a basement in a flood plain under FEMA guidelines. But the City refuses to adopt these regulations.


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Posted by joyce
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 16, 2007 at 4:54 am

I was under the impression that people building basements in high water table areas were displacing the water and would eventually cause problems for their neighbors. Some of Crescent Park has underground streams, for example.


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Posted by A resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 16, 2007 at 6:35 am

Basements in south Palo Alto are far more likely to get flooded than be an added cause for failure in an earthquake.

The water table below my neighborhood is only 4'. A new house was built near me with a sunken master bedroom and during heavy rainstorms their bedroom gets flooded!!!


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Posted by wet ankles
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 16, 2007 at 8:33 am

And with the one meter rise in sea level from global warming, there will be more indoor pools in Palo Alto!


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Posted by Tom
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 19, 2007 at 9:46 pm

I would ask what the life of the waterproofing would be and ask the contractor to post a bond or pay for insurance for the life promised. Water is as close to a universal solvent we have, and I respect its persistence and pervasiveness. Of course as mentioned above it may all be moot if ocean levels rise significantly due to global warming. knhxt


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