You may want to start your project by contacting the organizations that can help you locate architects, builders, and contractors with earth-sheltered building experience (a few are listed in the Source List). The experienced builders in your location can also ensure that construction plans meet area building code requirements, which can depend on a local official’s interpretation. Earth-sheltered designs can present some potential difficulty, such as conformance to minimum window sizes in each room prescribed by fire codes or building codes. Other problematic areas are roofing specifications and insulation requirements specified by codes; earth may or may not be considered an acceptable substitute for materials specified. Builders can inform you of the local guidelines, and may also provide cost comparisons between earth-sheltered housing and conventional housing in your area.
Using experienced professionals will reduce your personal time investment in researching details of earth-sheltered construction. Securing financing may also be easier if you work with those who have firsthand knowledge of earth-sheltered construction and its benefits.
Comparing cost factors for building an earth-sheltered house to those for building a conventional house can be like comparing apples and oranges. Costs vary by region, depending on the area’s construction activity and cost of materials. Many earth-sheltered houses are built by their owners and are customized in different ways, adding amenities that can dramatically increase final costs.
However, when you factor costs, remember to consider important expenses that occur over the life of a house, such as exterior maintenance and utility costs. Greater initial investment can actually mean your ongoing costs, such as heating, cooling, and maintenance, will be reduced. Making the best use possible of natural resources may be one of an earth-sheltered house’s greatest advantages. Therefore, in comparison to standard houses, while earth shelters tend to be slightly more expensive to build, these higher initial costs may be offset by the lower energy costs after completion. And while energy savings have been documented by families living in earth shelters, attributing that savings solely to the earth-sheltered design would be difficult, because most earth-shelters incorporate a wide variety of energy-efficient features.