In Minnesota and other northern, temperate continental climates, most homes have historically been built with basements. The primary reason is because the foundation must be below the frost line to prevent a building from shifting in the freeze-thaw cycle and with soft soil basements are relatively easy to construct.
This is the way most Minnesota homes are built, but there was a surge of new suburban houses built on a slab in the 1950s to fill the housing shortage for returning WWII veterans and their families. They were easy and economical to construct… perfect for providing many houses quickly. I read about pre-cut supplies being dropped off at each house site, and contractors simply making the rounds for the structure, electrical, plumbing, heating, finishing work, etc… much like a movable factory assembly line.
One such mid-century development is in Crystal, behind Cub Foods at Highway 100 and 36th Avenue North. You can recognize they are built on slabs because they are so low to the ground. I was surprised to find this development still largely in tact, although some are starting to be replaced by new construction. It feels somewhat like a time warp transporting you back to the 1950s (but with mature trees).
We have become so accustomed to houses with basements in Minnesota that buyers tend to be cautious about houses built on a slab… they keep looking for 'the rest of the house'. But just like when they were built, they cost less to build so are more affordable.
One-level living with houses built on slab are becoming more in demand both for people looking for homes that are handicap accessible and for those planning ahead to age in place. This is now referred to as Universal Design…. housing for everyone, regardless of age, ability or circumstance.
There is a real shortage of this style home, especially in demand by the Baby Boomer generation. Think you might like to build your own? Check out award-winning aging-in-place home designs by local architect Gene Nicolleli. They can be built on slab or with a full basement.