For the Environmentally Conscious
Earth sheltered homes are gaining in popularity as people become more environmentally conscious about their building choices. Living in a home that is underground, or partially underground is not for everyone, however. But, hopefully I can encourage your to consider earth sheltered homes being a realistic option for you and your family.
Underground homes are far from the dark, cave-like structures that many people visualize. A properly designed underground home has plenty of windows and natural light, making you forget that the house is underground. Most earth sheltered homes are built into a natural slope, so typically at least one wall is exposed and has windows. The use of skylights and solar tubes to disperse natural light throughout the home allows the residents the feeling of living in a conventional house.
Lower Cost of Construction?
One of the main advantages of building an underground house is the potential lower cost of construction as compared to a conventional home. Excavating and building basement structures are generally less costly than building above ground. Getting the drainage away from the structure is critical, but can be easily addressed through proper engineering and grading so water problems should not be an issue in your decision on earth sheltered homes.
In a gross oversimplification it’s like building a walk-out basement for your house, and then putting a roof on it. The footings are laid with ample drainage, the forms for the walls are set, the concrete mix poured in a single pour. After a few days of curing the exterior of the concrete is sprayed or painted with a waterproofer, rigid foam is put up, and the walls backfilled with gravel. Put up trusses and a finished roof right on the concrete walls and, voila, an underground house (technically an earthbermed house).
Yes, I’m neglecting all the finishing that needs to go into it, but that can be done over time as money permits.
More Energy Efficient?
The roof structure of a true underground home needs to be more substantial then with conventional houses, but when completed and covered with earth, can provide additional yard or garden space for the home owner to use. General upkeep for an underground home is lower because there is no siding to maintain, no roof maintenance, and less exterior maintenance required.
Heating and cooling bills for earth sheltered homes are considerably lower than that of a conventional home of the same square footage. Earth sheltered homes take advantage of the ambient temperature of the ground surrounding them, so the extremes in temperature of the external air do not affect the interior temperature of the home as much. The surrounding ground acts as a great insulating barrier, further reducing the need for heating or cooling of the house.
When properly designed and constructed on the building site, an earth sheltered home will be easier on the local environment. Landscaping can be planted over and around the home, minimizing the intrusion of the structure on the local area.
When you take into account to recent emphasis on including a ‘man cave’ in the design of homes (the entire earth sheltered home is technically a cave) along with the lower construction cost, reduced upkeep cost, and lower energy bills — an earth sheltered home becomes a viable alternative to a conventional home.
Bill Lishman, underground architect
Underground house at ManyTracks homestead in upper Michigan: ManyTracks.com/House/House.htm
Efficient earth sheltered homes: Energy.gov Efficient Earth Sheltered Homes