An underground home is a style of housing that uses construction methods and natural elements together in a hybrid that is comfortable, affordable, and environmentally friendly. Underground houses, also known as Earth-sheltered homes, build a wood and concrete house and cover it, partially or completely, in surrounding earth. The resulting structure is energy-efficient, safe from harsh weather, and provides a distinctive take on the standard box-style house we’re all used to seeing.
But building an underground home is not as easy as throwing dirt on top of an existing house, it requires particular conditions and an understanding of what it takes to build and maintain such a creative living space. With this post, we want to help you better understand what an underground home really is.
So, What Is an Underground Home?
The interesting thing about underground homes is there’s not just one style to choose from. In fact, there are three styles of underground homes: Atrium, Elevational, and Pentrational (or Berm) Style.
Is where the entire home is underground and all rooms face an open atrium at the center, which also functions as the entrance from ground level. This style provides the most privacy and most protection from weather, but the center atrium area can easily fill with snow and water if not fitted with an adequate drainage system.
Is where the home is built into the side of a large hill or mountain with three sides covered in earth and one side left open to take advantage of the natural light and heat given off by the sun. For this reason, the front of an Elevational style home usually faces the south to get the best exposure to sunlight. This is the least expensive style to build.
Penetrational (or Berm) style-
Is when a home is built above ground, but completely covered (or bermed) on all sides, leaving only the front door and windows exposed. This is the most flexible of all the styles, as you could choose to cover as many or as little walls with earth as wish. A Penetrational style home can be almost entirely covered by earth or just use the earth to cover one wall and leave the rest out in the open.
Advantages of an Underground Home
Underground homes get much of their heat from naturally occurring underground temperatures. With proper insulation, an underground home can reduce heating and cooling costs from 50 to 70%!
Underground homes are better protected from weather and harsh elements like tornadoes or thunderstorms. This protection allows underground homes to outlast conventional homes by decades.
Things to Consider
Of course an underground home has its share of issues and concerns that need to be addressed just like any other building. Here are a few things to consider about building an underground home.
Radon is a big issue with many underground homes and if you’re wanting to build one, be sure test for Radon in the surrounding soil and take steps during the construction to eliminate the threat of Radon gas entering your home. SANI-TRED completely eliminates Radon gas and applying it during construction can stop the issue from day one.
An underground home does very well in lowering heating and cooling costs by using natural soil temperatures to regulate the heat inside. But this only happens with proper insulation. A properly built underground home requires 2 layers of insulation; one on the inside to keep the heat in, and one on the outside to keep the naturally-occurring cool air out. By properly insulating an underground home, you prevent thermal equilibrium, where the cold air beneath the soil makes a home just as cold as it is at that exact moment. Insulation ensures that a home heated during the day maintains that heat longer and doesn’t become immediately as cold as the earth around it.
The external layer of insulation must be installed outside of the exterior walls of your underground home. You must also ensure that the external layer of insulation does not come into contact with the exposed earth surrounding your home. To do this, you’ll need a strong, hearty wood that won’t warp under the pressure of the soil constantly pushing against it.
An underground home also needs to be successfully waterproofed to protect it from moisture and rain water. The inside and outside of an underground home, as well as the foundation, need to be waterproofed.
Some sites suggest using plastic sheeting to waterproof the area between the external walls of the home and the external layer of insulation and sand beneath the foundation to prevent water from getting into the house. But with waterproofing being so important for an underground home, why trust materials like sand and plastic sheeting to (maybe) do what SANI-TRED can not only do, but do permanently? SANI-TRED can waterproof virtually any material in any situation, making it the perfect choice for the conditions needed for an underground home.
While completed underground homes are energy efficient and can help significantly lower heating and cooling costs, building costs generally run 10 to 30% higher than conventional structures. But this initial cost is later offset by lowered heating and cooling costs.
Location, Location, Location
You need to know what type of underground home, if any, is best for your area. Underground, earth-sheltered homes are most economical in areas with significant temperature extremes and low humidity. (Ex. Rocky Mountain region, Northern Great Plains, etc.)
While Elevational homes are the cheapest to build, they tend to pay for themselves rather quickly, but only in areas that experience relatively long and cold winters. (Ex. Canada, Northern United States)
You should also avoid areas where melting snow and rain run off will be a significant issue, as this only puts further stress on any waterproofing you put in place. For this reason, ALWAYS build above the water table, as doing so below it will put unnecessary stress on even the best waterproofing system.
More information about underground homes:
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