There seems to be some misconceptions about underground homes. Some people instantly think of dark, dingy places akin to some kind of emergency shelter. Others immediately think of the cozy Hobbit holes in the Tolkien books and films.
Underground or earth-sheltered houses are really no different than any other home except that they are built into the earth. Using the earth as a shelter for a house has numerous advantages, but there are some peculiarities to keep in mind.
Types of Earth-Sheltered Homes
There are three main types of underground houses, with various styles within. Due to the unconventional, custom nature of the dwellings, many people use a combination of different styles to build their dream home. Some consider these types of homes the pinnacle in off-grid living.
Earth-covered homes are those with a living roof. Some earth-covered homes may look like a traditional home with the exception of the roof. Others may butt up against a hillside with only one wall and the roof covered by earth.
A house with just an earth-covered roof isn’t considered to be underground. But this initial step in using the earth for shelter is often a starting point for many people. In addition, an earth-covered roof is often used in conjunction with the next type and always used in the third type of earth-sheltered housing.
Earth-bermed homes are the most popular type of underground/partially underground homes. These types of houses are quite variable. For example, they may have partially covered walls on some sides or be houses with two or more sides completely covered with earth.
The majority of the time, earth-bermed houses are set back into a hillside that will cover the back wall completely and allow partial berming to hug the rest of the home, leaving the front of the house exposed. These houses can look quite traditional when viewed from the front and also might include an earth-covered roof. This type would be best for people who don’t like the look of a subterranean house and enjoy the look of a traditional home face.
The ultimate and truly underground house is the subterranean dwelling. Think Tolkien’s Hobbit dwellings – these homes are totally underground except for windows and an entrance.
Similar to earth-bermed homes, subterranean homes can be built into a hillside for the least amount of work, or embedded into the earth and covered that way.
A subterranean house is an amazing dwelling but obviously not for everyone. You will get all the benefits of an earth-integrated home but there are special considerations you need to think about, which will be discussed below.
Benefits of Building Earth-Integrated Houses
Here are some of the main benefits of earth-integrated homes.
1. Save on climate control bills
Heating and A/C bills can be extremely expensive in traditional homes, depending on your region and the season. Earth-sheltered homes are naturally buffered from the elements and are far more insulated than traditional building materials. You will stay warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer – all with less effort. Many people find that extensively earth-bermed or subterranean homes rarely need the assistance of heat or A/C if built deep enough into the earth.
2. Natural protection from extreme weather
People who live in areas where hurricanes or tornados occur won’t find a more stable home than an underground one.
3. Save on home insurance
Depending on the insurance company you use, you may find that you can get a significant discount, since underground homes are protected from elements that pose threats to traditional homes.
4. Less expensive to build
Even large or elaborate homes are generally less expensive to build underground than above. A small, family-sized subterranean or earth-bermed house is very affordable for someone building a house on a tight budget.
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5. Less expensive maintenance
Naturally a home that doesn’t have exposed faces doesn’t need to be repainted, refinished, have gutters cleaned, etc. Not only are underground homes less expensive to build in the first place, but you will continue to save money in the long-run in terms of maintenance. This money can be saved or used for some amazing interior decorating.
A really huge benefit for many people is how unique these homes are. They are a conversation-starter and there is a wonderful community of people who are lovers of these homes.
Special Considerations to Keep in Mind
Despite the numerous benefits of underground homes, there are some things to keep in mind.
Building additions or otherwise changing the structure of an underground house, specifically subterranean houses, requires far more effort than a traditional house. Underground homes are best for people or families that are ready to build their final dream home.
Although underground homes can be very well-lit with the use of window and sunroofs, some designs may require more lighting sources than a normal home. If a brightly lit, cheery home is important to you, you may want to go with an earth-bermed home or add a ton of windows to the exposed faces of the house. An open floor plan also will help greatly.
A final and important consideration is the lack of building contractors that have experience building underground homes, especially subterranean homes. If you are strongly considering building a house like these, do plenty of homework to find the right company. You may need to spend extra, but it’s well worth it to get professionals who know what they are doing and can create a home that will last generations.
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Are you a fan of underground or earth-sheltered homes? Perhaps you plan to build one in the future or live in one now? Please share your stories in the comment section below.