Investigating the whole "Earth Covered House" concept
whole journey down the Energy Smart road started when I realized that my
basement office was the most pleasant environment in my house, I decided I
should research the whole concept of houses built in/under the ground.
Being a native of Australia, I knew of the underground houses that he been built
in abandoned Opal mines in places like Cooper Pedy, and many years back I spent
a couple of days living in a friend-of-a friend's underground house in West Virginia
(USA). But all things considered I was pretty green (excuse the pun).
My initial search of the Web provided a few token references, but the most helpful
Web Resource was the book-title search at Amazon.com. One of the most interesting and
informative "underground" books in this area was by Malcolm Wells, a self proclaimed "Underground
Architect". This book of architectural sketches (titled "The
Earth-Sheltered House : An Architect's Sketchbook ") is like an annotated history of Wells's own journeys through the world of
earth sheltered houses. Although Wells only seems to
have constructed several such homes, he has produced designs for a large variety
of structures (both residential and commercial).
I learned several key things during my research:
- Unlike my own personal experience, earth covered houses did NOT have to be
dark and damp. The correct utilization of the land's topology can facilitate
many designs with more usable natural light than a conventional
- The correct (East-West) orientation of the home's major axis can provide
optimal winter heating and summer heat rejection.
- An slab floor over an earthen or rock base can be used as a thermal mass
to store daytime solar energy to be released at night in the winter months
- A system of air ducts built into the thermal slab (above) can be used to
passively regulate the temperature of indoor air during both the summer and
winter months. The use of supplemental air blowers can increase the
efficiency of this system.
- Waterproofing of the roof system is very important, and special
consideration must be given to earth expansion caused by freezing.
- It is not intended to link the internal temperature of the home to the
temperature of the surrounding earth. Instead, the floor, walls and
ceiling are insulated from the surrounding soil. This surprised me
initially, but I've since come to realize that the benefit of being below
grade comes from the relatively small thermal differential between the
desired inside air temperature (Approx 75 Deg. F) and the relatively
constant soil temperature (50-60 deg. F).
- The cost and hassle of actually having a roof of earth (verses an
in-ground house with a conventional insulated roof) cannot be justified
merely by the insulating properties of the soil. One must also
consider the intangibles of the additional green-space provided by an
earthen roof, and the positive effect on wildlife and the environment.
|One particular design of Wells' caught my imagination.
It's fairly simplistic in it's basic premise, but it truly satisfied my
desire for a comfortable but practical design. A conceptual interior
view is shown to the right.
One wall is almost completely glass with a south facing view (suited
for the Northern Hemisphere). A raised portion of the roof,
penetrates the earthen cover to provide a skylight effect down the length
of the house. The potential openness of the design appealed to me
very much, and this concept became the building block for many of my own
A cross section of the design is also showed to the right.
In my initial version of this design, the house spanned 32 feet from front to back
(as seen in profile), and was approximately 64 feet long. Notice that this design requires
a sloped lot with a grade of about one in three to satisfy my own target
A more developed concept is shown in my preliminary design where the rectangular design is
replaced by a more interesting "pizza slice" shape that cuts back into the hillside.
The "As Built" design is featured on my final
Purchase the book for many more designs.
© 2000-2012, Phil and Lisa's relaxed lifestyle home.
An exercise in Energy Smart, Not So Big living.
www.OurCoolHouse.com - Ideas@OurCoolHouse.com
This site is all about building a cool, energy efficient house,
that makes maximum use of earth sheltered design, passive solar heating and cooling,
geothermal exchange energy management, and right sizing of the house for it's designated use.
The home's placement is on a south-facing hillside in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland.
This site describes the design process, the technologies used and the expected results.
We also have a comprehensive Links Page for anyone who is also interested in designing a