Earth-sheltered houses moderate the impact of extreme outdoor temperatures so that the interior remains at a relatively constant temperature.
Let’s assume you’re in the market for a new home. Let’s further assume that, like many other people, you’re concerned about the limited supplies of domestic oil and gas, the unpredictable cost, and the environmental price tag attached to the continued use of these fuels.
Is there any way to reconcile your concerns and still build your dream home? The solution might lie in earth-sheltered housing. These structures offer many energy-efficient features and are often designed to use solar energy for heating and cooling. Some designs make use of recycled materials in their construction.
If you do your homework, earth-sheltered construction can be an attractive and rewarding choice in housing. The following sections—Advantages, Disadvantages, Beginning Your Project, and Cost—will answer some questions you may have. Once you’ve decided on an earth-sheltered house, the sections on Design, Construction Considerations, including location, climate, site, and soils, and Construction Materials can help you make the house a reality.
There are many advantages to earth-sheltered construction. An earth-sheltered home is less susceptible to the impact of extreme outdoor air temperatures, so you won’t feel the effects of adverse weather as much as in a conventional house. Temperatures inside the house are more stable than in conventional homes, and with less temperature variability, interior rooms seem more comfortable.
Because earth covers part or all of their exterior, earth-sheltered houses require less outside maintenance, such as painting and cleaning gutters. Constructing a house that is dug into the earth or surrounded by earth builds in some natural soundproofing. Plans for most earth-sheltered houses “blend” the building into the landscape more harmoniously than a conventional home. Finally, earth-sheltered houses can cost less to insure because their design offers extra protection against high winds, hailstorms, and natural disasters such as tornados and hurricanes.
As with any type of unusual construction, there are some disadvantages associated with earth-sheltered housing. Principal downsides are the initial cost of construction, which may be up to 20% higher, and the level of care required to avoid moisture problems, during both the construction and the life of the house. It can take more diligence to resell an earth-sheltered home, and buyers may have a few more hurdles to clear in the mortgage application process.