3 things to consider about earth-covered homes

July 29, 2015

An earth-covered house provides one of the most energy-efficient forms of shelter imaginable, along with many other benefits. Here are some things to consider when thinking about an earth-covered home.

3 things to consider about earth-covered homes

1. Consider the heating benefits

  • Soil isn't a particularly good insulator, but it does have thermal mass. This means that the earth cover around a building can absorb large amounts of heat energy but takes a long time to pass on this energy to the building's interior.
  • With the right soil thicknesses and composition, it's possible to heat a building in winter with heat stored in the summer, while still keeping things cool in the summer months.
  • In more temperate regions, earth covering can be combined with passive solar design to provide comfortable internal temperatures of 17° to 24°C (60° to 75°F) all year round.

2. Build into nature

  • Modern earth-covered buildings are most commonly built into a hillside. A 'cut-and-cover' method of construction utilizes the natural slope of a hill with the excavation of a three-sided site for the house.
  • After construction and waterproofing, the house is covered with earth and landscaped. At least one exposed wall – preferably with a northerly aspect — is left to face the view. Earth-covered houses can be single or double (or more) storied, and any number of levels depending on the design.
  • Covering buildings with earth has numerous other benefits. With the minimum amount of structure above the surface, there's added protection against fire, earthquakes, weather, and noise. The covered roof also offers the bonus of an extra outdoor living space. This lack of exposure means that such buildings don't intrude on their environment and the need for external maintenance is reduced to a minimum.

3. Recognize potential challenges

  • In order to avoid a damp, cave-like environment, the building must be properly planned to make full use of the sun's energy, particularly for winter heating. With clever use of conventional windows, skylights, and courtyards, daylight can be brought into the house in conditions equal to or better than many ordinary buildings.
  • Water and damp-proofing provide a major challenge, so a proper soil drainage system and modern waterproof membranes are essential.
  • Other technical problems relate to the potential transmission of sounds within the ground and the difficulty of using a runoff water collection system in regions without a mains water supply. These issues should be considered during the design phase to avoid expensive alterations after construction.

Earth-covered homes still aren't commonplace and can often be more expensive to construct than traditional houses. The benefits are plentiful though, and after careful research many find that an earth-covered home is perfect for them.

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