Earth-Sheltered Homes (Part II)

Underground house that looks traditional
This house looks more traditional than an underground home. Most of the home is underground – really!
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Underground earth sheltered homes are different than earth-bermed homes because they are built below ground level. Since both types involve earth, they share the same design, construction, and maintenance issues. Many people picture underground homes as a cave-like existence but if properly designed, the rooms will have access to light and air and will feel like a traditional house. This type of house is not suited for wet areas, so building one in Oregon’s Willamette Valley would be a bad idea. Eastern Oregon, though, where it’s dry and desert-like would be ideal.

To provide enough light and air, courtyards or atriums are typically used in underground home construction. In addition, skylights for lighting and geothermal tubes for heating are used.

Cross-section of an underground house
Cross-section of an underground house
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Every year, Washington, Oregon, and California are facing increased fire activity. Since underground homes are virtually fireproof, they could be a viable option for people living in these areas. These same states are prone to earthquakes, which can cause cracks in underground homes. We’ve learned a lot about designing buildings for earthquakes in the last fifty years and these concepts can be applied to underground homes to minimize damage.

If considering an underground home, make sure it is designed correctly to minimize risks like leaks and mold. Make sure you have a designer and contractor that understand the nuances and challenges of underground homes. They will need to work together as a team throughout the entire process in order to ensure quality results.

Potential problems with underground homes, if not designed correctly, will have:

  • Leaks
  • Floods during heavy rains
  • Cracks during earthquakes
  • Difficult and expensive repairs
  • Mold and mildew
  • Pests

To avoid many of these issues, you might consider buying a pre-fab earth sheltered home. These are made of plastic and cost about $41.00 per square foot for the shells.

Keep in mind that underground homes are typically 20-30% more expensive to build than a traditional stick house but during the life of the house, you will make that up in energy savings. If you ever sell, you’ll find that it will be more difficult because of the small market and the reluctance for mortgage companies to loan on these types of homes.

This being said, underground homes are energy efficient and maintain a steady temperature of about 55 degrees, so it’s easy to keep your home comfortable in both summer and winter.

Underground homes are a viable alternate for housing but make sure you have realistic expectations and get educated before investing in one.

Give Susan or Phil a call. We’d love to get your thoughts. 971-246-7954.

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