If you are from the north, then you are surely familiar with, and may have lived in a home with, a basement. A recent article in a Canadian magazine described a more recent trend… the mega-basement, known as the “iceberg house”. In the same way that most of an iceberg is below the surface of the water, the iceberg house refers to luxury homes being built with massive, even multi-level, basements.
The market pressures driving this kind of development are not unique to Canada or the north. Skyrocketing home and land values in Central Austin, where building codes restrict home sizes and Central Austin lot sizes are small, could make the basement a desirable solution for achieving that extra square footage and fitting all of the fun things you want in your home.
You’ve probably heard of the McMansion ordinance, as well as the FAR (floor-to-area ratio), capped at 40%. Those restrictions have architects and builders looking for the most creative ways to design and build that dream house with everything you want in it, but without exceeding those limitations. But per the city code porches, basements and attics that meet certain requirements shall be excluded from the calculation of gross floor area (Sec. 3.3.3.B).
Of course, it isn’t cheap to go underground. And you need the right people involved in the project to make sure it is done right. Civil and structural engineers are a must. And digging in Austin’s rocky soil isn’t cheap either. But skyrocketing home prices may be providing support for this kind of construction, especially where that subterranean level doesn’t count against your allowable square footage in the McMansion ordinance.
So why put a home theater room, wine storage, golf simulator, virtual reality / gaming room or man cave above ground and consume precious square footage, when those could go underground and not count against your total square footage, especially since those are rooms whose uses don’t really benefit from windows and natural lighting.
Several homes in Central Austin have already been built with basements, and if you think stuffy and claustrophobic when you hear the word “basement”, then think again. I’ve been in homes in Austin with basements that were bright, open and had high ceilings… nothing stuffy about it! And I have a great contact for you if you are interested in learning more. He’s a Canadian who has planted roots here in Austin and has developed expertise in this unconventional approach. If you’re intrigued or inspired, contact me and I can put you in touch with a local expert on this kind of construction.