The Pros and Cons of Buying a House on a Slab

September 18, 2018 — 8:50 AM EDT

Home ownership is one of the dreams that many Americans cherish. Owning (or building) your own home means having a place you can call your own, and it can translate into a more stable lifestyle and a better financial balance sheet.

The foundation that your house is built on can have a major impact on the structural integrity of your home. Some houses don’t have a basement or crawl space under them but are simply built on a concrete slab – perhaps because the house sits on bedrock or a high water table. This type of foundation has both advantages and disadvantages. Here’s a look at the pros and cons that come with a slab foundation.

Advantages of Slab Foundations

First, a definition is in order: A slab foundation is created by digging about a foot or so into the ground where the house is to be located, pouring concrete into the hole and reinforcing it with steel bars. The house is then constructed on top of this concrete foundation.

Slab foundations are more common in southern states with warm climates, where the ground is less likely to freeze and cause the foundation to crack (more on this under “Disadvantages,” below).

Here are five reasons to select this type of base for a house:

  1. It takes less time for a concrete slab to dry. Less downtime means that construction can move along without a delay; there is no need to wait the several days it takes for the concrete in a poured basement to cure and dry.
  2. Slab foundations minimize the risk of damage from flooding or the leaking of gasses such as radon from a basement or crawl space into the house.
  3. A concrete slab can protect a home from termites or other similar insects, as they have no open spaces underneath the house that would give them access to wooden joists or supports they could chew.
  4. Cost savings is one of the biggest advantages. In many cases, the homebuyer can shave as much as $10,000 off the cost of the house if it is built on a slab as opposed to a crawl space, and even more compared to the cost of putting in a basement. This is particularly true when a builder has to carve a basement out of solid rock – a very expensive proposition. (You may also want to read Breaking Down the Cost to Build a Home.)
  5. Slab homes are often built closer to the ground than homes with basements or crawl spaces, thus reducing the number of steps it takes to enter. This can be advantageous for those who are physically frail or anyone who has a hard time getting up and down steps.

Disadvantages of Slab Homes

Despite the advantages of this type of construction, it is not for every house site or homeowner. Here are five reasons to consider passing it up:

  1. Although termites and other pests can’t gain access directly beneath the house, they may be able to enter by coming in through the walls, since the house is typically closer to the ground. This is especially true if the siding is made of wood and sits on the ground.
  2. Ductwork for heating and air conditioning is usually run through the ground-floor ceiling, which means that it must be heavily insulated to retain the proper temperature.
  3. An air-conditioning unit and furnace may also have to be installed on the ground floor, which means that they will take up room that might otherwise be used for other purposes.
  4. One of the most significant potential disadvantages is if the slab cracks. This can substantially compromise the structural integrity of the house and be difficult and expensive to repair. Among the factors that can result in a slab cracking are tree roots, soil displacement, earthquakes or frozen ground. (See also: 11 Hidden Costs of Owning a Home.)
  5. Some people find the lower-to-the-ground look of a slab house unattractive.

The Bottom Line

There are good reasons for and against building – or buying – a house on a slab. Making the right choice depends in good part on the climate where the house is located and on your budget. If you've found your dream home on a slab, consider using a tool like a mortgage calculator to help you calculate the total cost of your mortgage and to assist you with shopping for interest rates.