In 1994, Mike Hancock gave up his job as a project manager with a nuclear power plant to put his engineering background to use in the residential building industry. He moved to Oklahoma where he noticed basements didn't exist the way the rest of the country knew them. He saw the typical Oklahoma foundation company offering unreinforced stem walls - small, 6-inch-thick, 12-inch-high walls filled with sand with a concrete floor poured on top. Hancock explains requests for basements were built off the stem walls and resulted in more of a storm shelter that builders would call a basement. "It lacked reinforcement, waterproofing, drain tile and a sump pit - all the things we would normally do for a house with a basement," he says. Hancock says these "basements" had water problems, and residential basements never took off in Oklahoma.
On the commercial side, Hancock saw underground parking garages and shopping malls with walk-out basements. This signaled to him that basements were a possibility in Oklahoma. "I saw an opportunity to do something new, and I started building houses with basements," he explains. "Builders took notice of what I was doing. I was buying the cheapest lots, which were cheap because they had slopes to them so I could do walk-out basements. Soon they started asking if I could do that for them."
Basement Contractors of Oklahoma succeeded in building a basement market in Oklahoma, and now builds about 70 residential basements each year. And Hancock doesn't just build the basements - he offers engineering services to homebuilders so they know how to treat the site when his basement crew is gone. He has taught classes for the local building community through the PCA and a local concrete supplier where he runs through a slide show presentation to explain to builders the physics of proper basement building, backfilling around the foundation after the basement contractor leaves, and how to handle landscaping.
"We've taken the approach of selling the whole vehicle instead of just the tires," Hancock says. "Drainage, waterproofing, flatwork - we give them everything related to the basement and they just need to do the framing."
In situations where homebuilders need further assistance on building a structure, Hancock offers structural engineering services on framing, decks, and designing heating and air conditioning systems. Or Basement Contractors can contribute more to the house beyond the basement, including a concrete deck on the back of the house, structural concrete staircases or above-grade walls.
Currently, Basement Contractors is doing approximately 70 percent of its sales in basements, 15 percent in home and commercial building, and 15 percent in other areas such as engineering and specialty applications.
About 10 years ago, Basement Contractors started building insulated above-grade concrete walls, and over the years has built about 20 homes this way along with a handful of light commercial properties. Hancock says he has seen the green building market picking up momentum in recent years. "I think it's very important and people are very conscious of this kind of building, but there is still an economic decision people make based on what they want versus what they can afford. Homeowners are not willing to pay for green building features until they can earn their money back somehow," he explains. "An insulated concrete home with thermal mass of the walls maintains the home's environment more steadily than anything else out there, and it's a homeowner's least expensive green building item to invest in to gain the most out of."
"When it comes to the commercial realm," he continues, "commercial owners are starting to say, 'If we're going to build, we might as well build thermally efficient.' They want to minimize their exposure to damage in industrial areas and still have something that's architecturally pleasing. Of course, concrete lends itself to that, whether it be tilt-up, poured-in-place or ICF blocks."