Canadian Contractor

Seniors would like to build without basements


February 17, 2021
By Patrick Flannery

Warren has some questions about the feasibility of slab-on-grade construction in the Niagara region. As Paul Duffy pointed out, there’s really no reason why we can’t build this way in Canada. What are your thoughts on basement-free buildings?

I have formed a group here in Niagara on the Lake that wish to downsize from there large homes and build a community of about 10 to 15 1,400 to 1,500 sq ft homes with no basements. I am having some difficulty in convincing them that there is a void in the system for this type of housing. We are all seniors and do not want the next step in our lives to be herded into a 900 sq ft assisted living block where one can not bring many of there life long treasures with them ( paintings, furniture, etc). Do you have any factual data to support my position?
Surely there is new technology that makes it more cost efficient, to say nothing for ongoing costs, because you are not heating a basement you hardly use. Appreciate your input. Cheers, Warren


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6 Comments » for Seniors would like to build without basements
  1. Harold Walter Orr says:

    Basements are rather unique to southern Canada. As you go south they don’t like basements because the basement being cooler have problems with condensation and shoes turning green in the closets. In the far north basements are not used because of permafrost.

    I believe that houses can be built without basements at less cost than houses with basements and the basement less house likely has fewer problems.

  2. Mike Memme says:

    Building without a basement is very easy and is already being done in Niagara on many houses. Almost all three story townhouses are being built without a basement below grade. One advantage for those wishing to downside is the ease with which you can get grade level access without steps to the front door, although masonry work still needs to be kept 6″ above grade. In the case of a bungalow, there is also more usable space when the stairs are eliminated.

    Basements do have their advantages. The incremental cost to go deeper and add a basement instead of a craw space or slab on grade is so small that the extra convenience far outweighs the extra cost for most consumers. Homes with crawl spaces are also trickier to build. Is the crawl space part of the interior or part of the exterior. There’s no middle ground.

    With slab on grade construction the floors will feel colder than when there’s a wood deck over a conditioned basement – even if there’s rigid insulation underneath. With slab on grade bungalows the beauty of clean ceiling lines will be eliminated because all of the ductwork will have to hang below the main floor ceiling and be boxed in and an area will have to be set aside for mechanical equipment. It’s possible to put the mechanicals in the attic, but to do it properly in a cold climate, the insulation and vapour barrier should be moved up over the equipment at which point you’ve created a less convenient basement above the ceiling instead of a very convenient one below the floor deck.

    The mechanical issues could be eliminated by going to mini splits which are very energy efficient and are the norm in some warmer climate zones but people in Niagara haven’t warmed up to the idea of a white box mounted on the wall or ceiling in most rooms for heating and cooling.

    Hope this helps. There’s lots more to consider but this will get you started on your project.

  3. We are builders in Salmon Arm, BC, recently named the 6th best place to live in Canada and number one in western Canada. We have been building retirement oriented housing for 20 years. Our most recent, and very popular are just what you are asking for, 1,200 to 1,600 sq ft, no step, energy Efficient bungalows with insulated slab on grade. Important to insulate under the slab! We build with either Structural Insulated Panels or Insulated concrete Forms and all homes have heat pumps and Heat Recovery Venatlation Systems.
    www. Greenemeraldinc.com.

  4. Mike Mainolfi says:

    Slab on grade can easily heated by means on radiant hydronic provided proper slab insulation, a/c and ventilation can be design to meet space .
    It is important to have the right team to design an execute. It’s a great way to allow anyone with mobility issues a better quality of life.

  5. Tim Goforth says:

    I’ve been a general contractor for 40 years . I’m 72 and slowing down a bit. The ideal house for older owners should be one floor with as few elevation differences as possible both inside and outside.
    Anyone who argues that basements are necessary for mechanicals and storage should get out of their basement and familiarize themselves with some newer products and systems.

  6. Ingrid Gavin says:

    More homes on Vancouver Island are without basements than with. Having moved here from Alberta, I thought this a strange way of building at first. But it works!

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