You are going to have your new house built instead of readily bought. And you dream of a house which is safer from both natural elements and eventual civil defence emergencies, more energy saving and economic in terms of building, maintenance, utilities, insurance and taxes. You want it to provide more privacy and be more efficient with its land use. Maybe, you are interested in the trends of returning to the land and also strive to live in a more self-sufficient manner. Then, the earth-sheltered or subterranean underground houses are probably among the options you have already considered. Especially if you are not too concerned about future home resale chances, because the earth-sheltered houses are not among the most popular and well known nowadays, and are a subject of quite a lot of mis-beliefs.
The properties’ main characteristic is their incredible natural insulation from the elements. You may choose from a house with just a green roof to one nestled in the side of a hill, and to a construction entirely beneath the ground. As each type has specific advantages and downsides, which house you choose depends on your requirements and terrain.
In the case of the earth-berming home, the earth is piled up over the house as a hill either covering or not covering the roof and the windows may be on one or more sides. Such a home is almost as energy saving as one built entirely beneath the ground. It has strong historic roofs; however in the past the building materials included timber and stone and looked like a hill with a door. Nowadays, reinforced concrete is the main material for the external envelope and the technology includes piling the earth by bulldozers. A sample of five modern buildings of that type can be seen in Nottinghamshire, UK.
An in-hill house using natural hillsides with usually one exposed wall is believed to be more efficient in the areas around the equator. However, it could be, and has historically been, applied in other geographical places as well. This house has a natural appearance that’s well fitted to its surroundings. The most renowned example is the Bill Gates’ residence on Lake Washington.
Beneath the earth
Subterranean, earth-sheltered, underground houses are built by excavating the ground and setting the construction below grade. A common feature is the atrium or courtyard in the middle, which lets in sunlight and air. Housing with these features is common in Australia because of the hard ground which makes any additional structural support unnecessary. Such buildings also exist in the USA, and in China a whole town was built underneath the capital for the purposes of civil defense in the 70s, now having commercial uses.
The earth-sheltered houses are easy to build. All three types go through the same construction stages, which are as follows:
1. Planning the site and landscape. It is crucial as the building is integrated in the site. This takes the climate, topography, types of soil and water, and flora into consideration
2. Earth excavation. The excavated soil is later used as a berming material. If there is a hill, building into it is resource and effort saving, as the soil and rocks can be used in the construction.
3. Setting the reinforced concrete. The walls can be immediately poured on the site which will diminish the risk of possible leaks, or they can be constructed in advance and moved. The exposed walls’ finishes are according to the owner’s preferences
4. Electrical and plumbing works
5. Laying both waterproofing and insulation systems
6. Burying the building. The earth used for refilling must be thick although not too heavy, and have good percolation, i.e. clay should not be used
7. Interior finishes
8. Exterior finishes
If you are not afraid of deviating from the modern canons and would like a new house for yourself rather than as a property investment, an earth-sheltered house may be the choice for you.
Christine is a dedicated blogger and copywriter. Right now she is focused on writing about home improvement, property maintenance and moving related matters.
Want to discuss your ideas or plans for an earth-sheltered home with an expert? Find a qualified builder with Rated People to help you to turn your dreams into a reality.