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Here's What You Need To Know About Earth Sheltered Homes

Updated on June 6, 2019
Luke Fitzpatrick profile image

I cover FinTech trends as a contributor to Forbes. In my spare time, I enjoy writing about parenting, productivity, and home improvement.

Photo by Sheldon Nunes on Unsplash
Photo by Sheldon Nunes on Unsplash

Living underground in an earth-sheltered home may seem like something out of a movie, but the concept has been around and used for thousands of years. These subterranean homes have grown increasingly popular, with builders and homeowners looking forward to more sustainable ways of living. Earth sheltered homes not only look unique, but there are also eco-friendly and energy efficient making them a great way to reduce your carbon footprint.

What are earth sheltered homes?

An earth sheltered home or earth home is a below-ground home or a house that is partially nestled into the earth. These subterranean homes are quite common in parts of Europe and America. In fact, in Russia, there is more below-ground construction than above ground! Earth homes have several advantages, number one being that they conserve energy; thus, making these homes a viable option for people interested in green building or zero energy houses. Earth sheltered homes take advantage of the earth’s thermal mass, acting as natural insulation and eliminating the need for man-made heating & cooling and energy consumption.

Benefits of earth-sheltered homes

Earth sheltered homes have many advantages over traditional housing. Unlike conventional houses, earth homes can be built on steep surfaces and even into the hillside so that only the north front of the house is exposed to the surface. They can be completely underground or partially underground, maximizing the use of space and providing comfortable and generous living quarters for families of all sizes. Here is a list of the advantages of having an earth-sheltered home:

Energy efficient

The number one advantage of an earth home is that they are energy efficient. The earth’s subsurface temperature remains stable, meaning there’s no need for conventional heating & cooling. Temperatures inside an earth-sheltered home to remain cool in the summer and warm in the winter, saving up to 80% in energy costs. And, if incorporating solar energy, the costs of power bills can be reduced to zero.

Increased security

Alongside the benefit of providing safety against potential break-ins, earth homes also provide increased security against extreme weather conditions. There is nothing above ground that can be damaged, and the underground dwelling space provides protection and security against storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, hailstorms, fires, and earthquakes. The latter is a bonus for those living in fault zones/areas, because the further underground a structure is, the less amplitude the vibrations will have.

Comfortable climate all year round

The earth’s thermal mass means that temperatures in an earth home remain stable, with little fluctuation. The exposed portions of an earth home provide light and solar heat during the day and release it at night to cooling breezes, keeping the house comfortable no matter the outside climate.

Lower maintenance costs

Underground homes use less construction material than conventional housing, lowering building costs and general maintenance. They have great structural strength, making them stable and durable no matter the weather, lessening the need for upkeep or repairs.

Environmentally friendly

Earth homes blend into the immediate landscape, often constructed using green materials which help to maintain the natural state of the surrounding land and lessens the impact on the local ecology. They aren’t only aesthetically pleasing but provide a natural habitat for wildlife including flora and fauna.

Tips to avoid pitfalls

While earth sheltered homes are an eco-friendly and durable living alternative to conventional housing, their success largely depends on the conditions of the site. Soil type, climate, topography, groundwater levels, and slope stability should all be factored in when constructing an underground home. Without proper planning and preparation, earth homes can be prone to water leaks and related issues such as mold and flooding. With that in mind, construction materials and substrates need to be durable and waterproofed. Following are some common pitfalls to earth sheltered homes and how to rectify them:

Water leaks, flooding, and mold

Water management is vital for earth sheltered homes. This is because underground homes are often vulnerable to leaks or flooding during heavy rain. To deal with this, building the home using insulated concrete can act as a durable barrier which naturally resists mold, mildew, and pests. Drainage should also be installed, with pipes draining water away from the home, never toward it. While both durable material and sufficient drainage will help, they aren’t enough on their own. Waterproofing is essential, particularly for earth homes since they are susceptible to water damage. Quality waterproofing will protect the home from leaks, cracks, mold, and structural corrosion, by providing a flexible seal that moves with the house but keeps water out.

Depreciating value

If you are serious about building or buying an earth-sheltered home, you need to be sure that it’s something you want to reside in for the long-term. This is because the re-selling of these homes can be tough since finding buyers is often difficult. To avoid the value of your home depreciating and to heighten the chances of re-selling, you should look at constructing in areas where earth homes are popular or favorable. This includes areas which are frequented with harsh conditions or climates, earthquake-prone areas, or in an area where sustainable living is preferable or popular.

Earth sheltered homes are a unique and eco-friendly alternative to conventional housing. A well-designed and constructed earth home can provide a safe, durable, and energy-efficient living quarters while maintaining harmony with the local environment. Earth sheltered homes are expected to continue increasing in popularity as the green building trend proves an eco-friendly alternative to home building and living.

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    • Carolyn M Fields profile image

      Carolyn Fields 

      4 months ago from South Dakota, USA

      We are nearly finished building our Earth Sheltered home. It has taken forever (over 2 years) because of bad weather and scheduling problems. Also, we have leaks that need to be fixed before we move in.

      I'm hoping that it will all be worth it in the end.

      Great article. Thanks!

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      8 months ago from UK

      I have seen cave dwellings in Spain. The homes you mention sound like they are more environmentally friendly than traditional structures and much kinder on the eye.

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