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Underground Living and Eco-Friendly Underground Homes

Stephanie is always looking for ways to lighten her carbon footprint. She is enthusiastic about solar power and solar gadgets.

Eco-friendly underground home

Eco-friendly underground home

Benefits of an Underground Eco House

You don't have to be a hobbit to live in an underground home. In fact, the environmentally-conscious living trend is as hot as it is cool!

  • Insulation. Using the natural insulating properties of soil, people who build their homes underground can save a substantial amount in heating and cooling.
  • Energy Efficiency. Underground homes (also known as earth-sheltered homes) may be built into a hillside or constructed near a hill and then covered with earth on the sides and over the top. The primary idea is energy efficiency. Earth's natural insulation helps reduce cooling costs in summer and heating costs during the winter from 60-85%!
  • Light, Air Quality, and Temperature. Lest you think that underground homes are dark, cold, and dank... think again! Many of these structures are built into the sides of hills or berms, opening out to allow substantial amounts of light in at the front. Air quality is often better than "traditional" buildings. And as for temperature, think about the basement in your home—it's often the most comfortable no matter the season.
  • Cozy Security and Other Benefits. In addition to the insulation and cost-saving features, some people that live in earth-sheltered homes feel safer... less vulnerable to vandalism and theft. In addition, natural disasters such as tornadoes and fire seem less threatening when you live in an underground home. Insect invasion is also reduced and there is a lowered risk of pipes freezing in the winter.

What more could you ask for?

Cozy up to the Earth with an underground home.

Cozy up to the Earth with an underground home.

5 Green Features of Underground Homes

There are a number of green features associated with underground homes. Instead of using wood for construction, earth-sheltered homes generally rely on concrete. Perhaps more importantly, the insulation of the ground allows for significantly reduced heating and cooling costs.

Lest you worry about feeling like a mole—the experience is nothing of the sort. Many earth-sheltered homes are constructed with large, south-facing windows to let in natural light. If that is not enough, you can implement skylights and solar tubes.

And, believe it or not, living in an underground home is comfortable, warm, and dry. Added insulation prevents dampness and water intrusion.

Beyond some of the more obvious green aspects of living underground, consider these benefits:

  1. Less need for exterior paint jobs
  2. Fewer windows
  3. Minimal (or no) roofing maintenance
  4. Gutters? How about less or no cleaning them out?
  5. Preservation of art and artifacts

With a significant portion of your living space sub-surface, you'll have to paint the exterior less often (and they will be less to paint). There will also be fewer windows to install, weatherize, and clean! Roofing? How about mowing your roof instead of replacing shingles? Hate gutters? You may not even have any to deal with.

Aside from green features, there are some definite time and money-saving aspects of living underground.

Stylish underground living.

Stylish underground living.

Earth-sheltered home in Iceland.

Earth-sheltered home in Iceland.

History of Underground Buildings

Underground homes and buildings are nothing new. In fact, they've been around for centuries. In addition to private homes, there are over 650 underground buildings in the United States alone!

Art galleries enjoy the fact that underground displays are protected from damaging sunlight. Of course, many wineries are partially or fully subsurface too.

Earth shelter dwellings have literally been around since cave-person times. Yet, despite a brief insurgence in the 1970s with the oil crisis and self-sufficient movement, underground homes are rare, particularly in the U.S. Although earth-sheltered buildings are some of the most energy-efficient construction available, many architects and builders are largely unaware of this type of building construction.

Nonetheless, the options for underground homes and buildings are endless. With pressures on open plains and natural settings from the land development industry, could many of us be living in subsurface homes one of these days?

Earth-sheltered rest area in Ohio.

Earth-sheltered rest area in Ohio.

Today's Advances in Earth-Sheltered Housing

Passive Annual Heat Storage (PAHS) is key with respect to green housing. It describes a process in which the home itself releases extra heat into the ground around it during the summer months, which can then be radiated back into the living space when it gets cold outside.

PAHS is said to help cut down on fossil fuel consumption by homeowners by up to 80%.

In addition to the reduced need for electricity or natural gas, underground homes are perfect for use of geothermal heat pump systems. Geothermal systems draw on heated steam and/or water underground. When pipes are already installed under the earth for underground homes "green" hot water and interior heating are relatively simple propositions.

You might think that it's expensive to build an earth-sheltered home. WRONG! Construction costs are comparable to most homes at the outset, and when you factor in energy savings and tax advantages, you'll be far ahead in no time.

Further Reading

  • The Forestiere Underground Gardens in Fresno, CA
    Built by one man in the early 20th century, these underground passageways represent an engineering feat. Located in California's Central Valley, the tunnels were dug by hand by Baldasare Forestiere from 1906 through 1946.
  • Downtown Tulsa Underground Tunnels
    Buried beneath downtown Tulsa, a system of secret underground tunnels were built to connect many of Tulsa's early skyscrapers. The tunnel system was designed at first for freight, but soon became a millionaires highway, protecting the wealthy and eli
  • Underground homes hiding unbelievable surprises |
    Partially built into hills or peeking out from sand dunes, these underground homes seamlessly blend in with their surroundings. Head below the surface and explore these 'iceberg' homes... you might just be surprised!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2010 Stephanie Marshall


Joe Demro on January 28, 2018:

I just googled the idea and found this page. Very interesting and was thinking this could be a solution for the Poor living conditions for the indians on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The Native Americans were giving crap land to live on with Very Hot summer conditions and High Snow and cold winters. I have no real knowledge on this subject other than it occurred to me when I was planing a volunteer trip there to assist in community service to improve their living conditions. I am presumptuous in thinking that they would even entertain the idea of living under ground but if could improve their life styles and habitat, what a blessing that would be for all. I also think this would do well in the Tornado belt where homes are destroyed regularly by twisters. If they were ground homes or level, the twisters would just swoop over head.( at least in theory) How much money, lives, property could be saved.

hcjggygjuhn on February 28, 2015:


Better Yourself from North Carolina on April 15, 2013:

Great hub, so interesting to learn about all the benefits on this type home. I would love to live in a Green Home/Earth Sheltered Home and save on hvac and energy costs. The homes you've pictured are beautiful and great examples of how you can have a lovely and modern home while being environmentally friendly. Nicely done!

jelevan on June 12, 2012:

I like the idea of Underground living its kinda primitive. But what i like the most is that it is eco-friendly,since im also promoting eco-friendly stuffs.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on April 11, 2012:

Sounds great MizBejabbers, I think you'll do readers a benefit by showing and talking about your own underground home. Best, Steph

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on April 11, 2012:

Thanks, Steph, I actually wrote the hub then deleted it before publishing because I wasn't satisfied with it. I am writing from a new angle now, and I will include photographs of my house, warts and all. The ads show you the fancy ones, but those would run probably a half million dollars if they were built today. Mine is plain Jane.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on April 11, 2012:

Looking forward to reading your hub MizBejabbers - please include some photographs if you can! Thanks, Steph

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on April 11, 2012:

I live in one, and they are not what all the "wonderful" articles purport them to be. Mine leaks like a collander because the skin cracked, we fight mold constantly, and there are a myriad of other things the ads don't tell you. I live in the mid-South and say "buy one at your own risk!" I do feel very safe in it, though, because I live in Tornado Alley. I have a hub in progress on this and hope to publish it soon.

RustyLH on April 10, 2012:

I love the idea of this, and think it would be a great idea for any new home. It just makes sense.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 17, 2011:

Hi solarwind,

I see no reason why underground homes cannot work large-scale in the appropriate location! Thanks for the comment, Steph

SolarWind9 from New York on November 17, 2011:

Great if you have the land and money. With such a low percentage of availability of space and high cost, do you think this can work large scale?

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on September 29, 2011:

Thanks Fluid Druid - it was fun to pull the information and photos together on underground homes. Cheers, Steph

Fluent Druid from Minneapolis, MN on September 29, 2011:

Years of aimlessly browsing the internet means I've seen all this before, but never all in one place. Thanks for sharing this new trend in a quality hub!

Anthony Blommel on February 24, 2011:

Nice to know about this underground house! I think this is a cool idea. If ever I buy a home, I want this idea. Today I'm staying at an apartment here in St. Louis. When I moved here, I fixed the damages of some of the windows, while some needed replacement. Windows are useful for ventilating a home, so it's better you fix or improve your window.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 09, 2011:

Thanks Dolores - I've been looking into Earthships too! They are another great type of eco-friendly home. Cheers, Stephanie

Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on January 09, 2011:

I'd love to live in a Hobbit house! What a great way to save on heating and cooling. And the pictures are beautiful! Some time ago, I was investigating Earthships - homes build by filling tires with soil, another interesting technique for greener living!

Licensed Roofing Contractors on December 19, 2010:

Underground homes are lot safer and the ones given above are so beautiful.

Attention Getter on October 20, 2010:

I had never heard of these homes before but, now that I have, it may become a goal to live in one! They are simply amazing and almost a no brainer.

BozemanRealEstate from Bozeman, MT on October 07, 2010:

These homes are beautiful AND efficient!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on October 04, 2010:

Right lindsay - its like using a geothermal energy blanket wrapped around your living space! :)

lindsays5624 on October 04, 2010:

Some great eye opening ponts here. I really like the idea of using the natural warmth in the ground to our advantage. It is certainly one step ahead of energy saving products!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on September 21, 2010:

That's cool DaisyExpress! I love the idea of reclaimed furniture. Re-using material and giving it new life. Wouldn't an underground cottage be cool? Good luck - and hope you complete the project!

DaisyExpress on September 20, 2010:

Great hub!

I build furniture from reclaimed material. Mainly antique doors, windows and edge grain fir. I am hoping to build a cob cottage one of these days. I am also going to turn a 34' boat into a cabin. I love these underground homes. Now you have me thinking where I could do a cottage like this.

TheVacationLady from Everywhere on August 10, 2010:

Wow! I want one! lol These are fabulous! What a great hub!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on August 03, 2010:

Hi Nami - aren't these underground homes cool? Both literally and figuratively :)

namster from san francisco, ca on August 03, 2010:

i really wish i had an underground home! seems super cozy.

JON EWALL from usa on July 11, 2010:




Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on July 11, 2010:

That's a great, helpful comment for anyone considering building their own underground home, Jon. Thanks!

JON EWALL from usa on July 11, 2010:


When placing earth on top of any habital structure one must consider some type of protection for having a sealing or waterproofing the top of the structure. In some instances a drainage field may need to be installed on top of the structure between the waterproofing and the surface of the covering. Building the top of the structure sloped from one side to the other maybe sufficient for draining purposes.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on June 16, 2010:

Thanks sagebrush mama - I think (hope) we'll be seeing more underground homes in the years ahead! Both for energy efficiency and land use preservation.

sagebrush_mama from The Shadow of Death Valley...Snow Covered Mountain Views Abound! on June 16, 2010:

Intriguing hub! I love interesting architecture and ideas...grew up in a unique home, designed by my Dad.

OilSpill on June 08, 2010:


Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on June 02, 2010:

Thanks FashionFame - there are definitely more photos of underground homes out there, just not a bunch to which I have the rights to use. :) I will check out your profile as well. Cheers, Stephanie

FashionFame from California on June 01, 2010:

WooooooooooooW!! I just loved the picture. Now I am also thinking about an underground house. It would be nice if you could upload or send me more of the pictures. Joining your fan club to stay connected and would like to invite you too.

James L from Canada on May 31, 2010:

What a great Idea, I know you don't have to be a hobbit to live in one but it would be fun to imagine!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on May 30, 2010:

Thank you Tamarind! I totally agree!

Tamarind on May 30, 2010:

These houses are so neat! My boyfriend want's to build one so badly. He knows someone who lives in one. Really great hub and pictures:)

billyaustindillon on May 29, 2010:

Very interesting, I had no idea how far down the road underground houses have come. I remember a movie a few years back about a family living in one on an island somewhere - sorry can't recall the name.

SilverGenes on May 22, 2010:

Very interesting hub - I'd love to live in one!

solar.power from Brisbane on May 17, 2010:

Great Hub.

Underground homes with high thermal mass are suitable for semi-arid, temperate climates, not sub-tropical such as where I live. However, for those climates, you cant beat it. Some great examples shown bth!

Ecomom from Toronto on April 29, 2010:

Very cool, have read about underground homes in the past, and think it is about time that homes like this become more main stream. Thanks for writing this hub!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on April 12, 2010:

Great question - I guess it depends on whether you are excavating an existing berm, or building one over the construction. I'll have to look into that question...

TnFlash from Tampa, Florida on April 12, 2010:

Excellent Hub! I like the idea of going green as well as cost savings. My question is what does it cost to build an earth home compared to conventional construction?

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on April 08, 2010:

Thank you belliott - I love to hear from people like you! I was born in the 60s myself, so I am with you on the excitement of seeing underground homes and other concepts that make going green not only "cool," but environmentally responsible!

belliott on April 08, 2010:

I have had an interest in earth contact homes since the late 70's. I think it's interesting to see the various design details and the green innovations that have been incorporated into the homes. Sure would save a lot on energy costs. Great hub. Thanks.

couponalbum from Sunnyvale, CA on April 06, 2010:

Great hub Stephanie. Liked your concept.. Joining your fanclub and would like to invite you to join mine.. Thanks

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on April 06, 2010:

Me too! Thanks Granny's House!

Granny's House from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time on April 06, 2010:

Great hub. I would love to have one.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on April 05, 2010:

Definitely some unique ideas here for architecture! Thanks for the comments, save my system and magnusjames.

save my system from United Kingdom - London on April 05, 2010:

Hi.this is very informative hub.It opens the door of new horizon for me. I am architect, and always looking for new architectural design.I like to make use of natural resources for the same. It is very innovative idea and surely we come more close to nature.Thanks for sharing it.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on April 04, 2010:

Hi FitnezzJim, that is very interesting about your friend's experience. I'm sure most people would be surprised that it gets too warm in the underground home... yet large windows would do that! The combination with solar energy would be a perfect recipe for green living.

FitnezzJim from Fredericksburg, Virginia on April 04, 2010:

I helped a friend build an underground home in the 80's. They have too much heat in the winter because of the large south facing windows, and say they have to open the windows to cool down. The roof and overhead earth is supported by large steel beams. He uses solar heated water, and rarely has to rely on external electricity for anything.

Had to build it (and get it to pass code) by himself, and ended up having enough knowledge to become a qualified builder on his own.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on April 03, 2010:

Hi cameciob - thank you. I always loved sleeping in the basement in my grandparents' home when I was growing up. It was the coolest place to be in the summer months. Taking that concept to an overall green home is what underground homes are all about! Best to you - Steph

cameciob on April 03, 2010:

Stephhicks68, This is a great article. I like the idea about earth-sheltered houses. And as you said, the idea has been around for milleniae. Now, lots of modern houses have an underground level, that you don't need to cool it in the summer time.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on April 03, 2010:

We might be that fortunate, borge! Thanks for the comment, Steph

borge_009 from Philippines on April 03, 2010:

Those houses were amazing steph. Maybe in the future I am hoping I could live in those kind of house. Thanks

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on April 03, 2010:

I'm with you katiem2! Peace to you as well.

Katie McMurray from Ohio on April 03, 2010:

WOW how cool, I want one with a big sky light! Great Hub! Thanks and Peace :)

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on April 03, 2010:

Thanks Glenn - I'm with you - I'd need lots of windows in a south facing underground home. :)

solargroupies on April 03, 2010:

Another great hub Stephanie. I have seen some very energy-efficient and cool (literally) earth-bermed homes here in Vermont. As a sun-lover, my underground home would need lots of light!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on April 03, 2010:

Hi Bob - thank you! That must have been quite an experience working on an earthship project. Did it incorporate gardens on the roof at all?

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on April 03, 2010:

Hi theherbivorehippi - very cool, huh? I forgot to mention that there is a Costco warehouse store that is underground, as well. Underground structures make sense for both residences and businesses.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on April 03, 2010:

Thank you Michael - I am fascinated by underground homes! It would be wonderful to see land use planning incorporate and encourage the idea to help preserve open spaces and minimize energy costs.

Bob Ewing from New Brunswick on April 03, 2010:

Great hub, solid info, I had a small role in an earthship project some years back.

theherbivorehippi from Holly, MI on April 03, 2010:

These are sweet!! I had no idea! What an awesome hub! Rated up. :)

Michael Davis on April 02, 2010:

Very informative hub. Thanks for the information. This opens my eyes to a world I didn't know existed. Great job!