Eco-Friendly Underground Homes
Benefits of Living in an Underground Home
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! Using the natural insulating properties of soil, people who build their homes underground can save a substantial amount in heating and cooling.
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%!
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 - its often the most comfortable no matter the season.
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?
Underground Home Example
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, but 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:
- Less need for exterior paint jobs
- Fewer windows
- Minimal (or no) roofing maintenance
- Gutters? How about less or no cleaning them out?
- 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.
Yes.... aside from green features, there are some definite time and money saving aspects of living underground.
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 sheltering is the architectural practice of using earth against building walls for external thermal mass, to reduce heat loss, and to easily maintain a steady indoor air temperature. Earth sheltering is popular in modern times among advocates of passive solar and sustainable architecture, but has been around for nearly as long as humans have been constructing their own shelter.
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?
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 summer months, which can then be radiated back into the living space when it gets cod outside. PAHS is said to help cut down on fossil fuel consumption by homeowners by up to 80%.
In addition to 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 its 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.
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© 2010 Stephanie Hicks
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