Property Update and the “Usonian Basements” Oxymoron

Flooded Basement Not a Porblem With Usonian House Flooded Basement Not a Porblem With Usonian House

Property Update

The property we were considering, we had one last look at it with the entire family and after a long discussion with the wife and the real estate agent we were using to represent our offer…the consensus is it just needs too much work for the insane price being asked. There was already 4 failed offers and we were not going to waste everyone’s time with number 5.

The picture here is somewhat appropriate because the house that was on the property we were considering had a flooded cellar that needed work right away as it is causing an allergen in the air that was effecting our whole family just during a walk-through, let alone living there. To make it worse, the furnace was placed in the cellar and in a flood, would easily be wrecked. This would be disastrous in the middle of winter!

The Usonian property hunt continues.

“Usonian Basement” – An Oxymoron

The reason I brought up the basement flooding situation is because recently in the local news, they mentioned the city was willing to help alleviate some of the local flooding problems by subsidizing getting people to disconnect from the storm sewers. They want homes to instead go back to the old way… gutters out to the yard and using a sump pump to a drainage bed instead of to the overloaded storm sewers.

I can tell you from personal experience with MANY flooded basements, it is not a permanent solution and your indoor swimming pool WILL fill up one day and you WILL have mold problems and insurance claims. I have personally stood three feet in water even after the sump pump kicked on full blast…it will happen!

Frank Lloyd Wright said “Nothing good ever came out of a basement” and never have I been so aware of this as recently.

Usonian homes RARELY have a basement and in the case of the Jacobs House in Madison Wisconsin, they have an area excavated for the “mechanicals” which I am pretty sure was not placed in many more Usonian floor plans after that.

Instead, a concrete pad (or mat as he calls it) is embedded with hydronic heating tubes and does triple duty as the floor, floor covering (no carpets or hardwood) and the heating carrier (thermal mass). The problem with this design is a lot of heat is heatsinked to the earth… but… with ground insulation…not an issue!


The reason most houses in our area have basements is because most construction companies are digging down 4 to 9 feet to get the footers below the frost line (which FLW completely advised against, btw) and figure “Why not just throw the concrete pad at the bottom??? Saves having to refill the space with dirt?”

Why? Because I have yet to see a house with a basement that has never flooded. It is literally a swimming pool you will be fighting with for the life of the house.

I know the homeowner’s thoughts are probably that it is extra storage but the problem is in today’s McMansion mentality, it usually becomes another living space fully furnished, floored, drywalled and heated…all awaiting the next big storm to fill up the gutters, overflow down the frost wall and into your tiling and overwhelm your energy sucking sump pump. AND if your mechanicals are in that pond, you are looking at a seriously high repair bill.

Frank Lloyd Wright had it RIGHT. Get rid of the basement… you will never regret it.

2 thoughts on “Property Update and the “Usonian Basements” Oxymoron

  1. Thanks, Catherine! Yes I saw that just a few days ago. Been following it since the beginning and they made some fantastic progress and completion on it. We have family that winters in that community and hope they go get some shots for us.

    Go luck on your project and if you document it, let me know and I will post link.

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