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Eco-Friendly Underground Homes

Updated on October 27, 2016

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?


Eco-friendly underground home
Eco-friendly underground home

Underground Home Example

Earth Home

Cozy up to the Earth with an Underground Home
Cozy up to the Earth with an Underground Home

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.

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.

According to Wikipedia:

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?

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 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.

Would You Live in an Underground Home?

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© 2010 Stephanie Hicks

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    • profile image

      hcjggygjuhn 2 years ago

      horrible

    • Better Yourself profile image

      Better Yourself 4 years ago from North Carolina

      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 profile image

      jelevan 5 years ago

      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.

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

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

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 5 years ago

      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.

    • stephhicks68 profile image
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      Stephanie Hicks 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

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

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 5 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      RustyLH 5 years ago

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

    • stephhicks68 profile image
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      Stephanie Hicks 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi solarwind,

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

    • SolarWind9 profile image

      SolarWind9 5 years ago from New York

      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?

    • stephhicks68 profile image
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      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

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

    • Fluent Druid profile image

      Fluent Druid 6 years ago from Minneapolis, MN

      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!

    • profile image

      Anthony Blommel 6 years ago

      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.

    • stephhicks68 profile image
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      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

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

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States

      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!

    • profile image

      Licensed Roofing Contractors 6 years ago

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

    • Attention Getter profile image

      Attention Getter 7 years ago

      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 profile image

      BozemanRealEstate 7 years ago from Bozeman, MT

      These homes are beautiful AND efficient!

    • stephhicks68 profile image
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      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

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

    • lindsays5624 profile image

      lindsays5624 7 years ago

      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!

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      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 profile image

      DaisyExpress 7 years ago

      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 profile image

      TheVacationLady 7 years ago from Everywhere

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

    • stephhicks68 profile image
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      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

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

    • namster profile image

      namster 7 years ago from san francisco, ca

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

    • JON EWALL profile image

      JON EWALL 7 years ago from usa

      STEPHHICKS68

      YOU'RE WELCOME

      WHEN CONSIDERING THE CHALLENGE,SEEK THE HELP OF A PROFEESIONAL

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

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

    • JON EWALL profile image

      JON EWALL 7 years ago from usa

      stephhicks68

      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.

    • stephhicks68 profile image
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      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      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 profile image

      sagebrush_mama 7 years ago from The Shadow of Death Valley...Snow Covered Mountain Views Abound!

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

    • OilSpill profile image

      OilSpill 7 years ago

      awesome!

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      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 profile image

      FashionFame 7 years ago from California

      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 profile image

      James L 7 years ago from Canada

      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!

    • stephhicks68 profile image
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      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thank you Tamarind! I totally agree!

    • profile image

      Tamarind 7 years ago

      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 profile image

      billyaustindillon 7 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      SilverGenes 7 years ago

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

    • solar.power profile image

      solar.power 7 years ago from Brisbane

      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 profile image

      Ecomom 7 years ago from Toronto

      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!

    • stephhicks68 profile image
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      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      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 profile image

      TnFlash 7 years ago from Tampa, Florida

      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?

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      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 profile image

      belliott 7 years ago

      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 profile image

      couponalbum 7 years ago from Sunnyvale, CA

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

    • stephhicks68 profile image
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      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Me too! Thanks Granny's House!

    • Granny's House profile image

      Granny's House 7 years ago from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time

      Great hub. I would love to have one.

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

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

    • save my system profile image

      save my system 7 years ago from United Kingdom - London

      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.

    • stephhicks68 profile image
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      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      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 profile image

      FitnezzJim 7 years ago from Fredericksburg, Virginia

      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.

    • stephhicks68 profile image
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      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      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 profile image

      cameciob 7 years ago

      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.

    • stephhicks68 profile image
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      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

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

    • borge_009 profile image

      borge_009 7 years ago from Philippines

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

    • stephhicks68 profile image
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      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

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

    • katiem2 profile image

      katiem2 7 years ago from I'm outta here

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

    • stephhicks68 profile image
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      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

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

    • profile image

      solargroupies 7 years ago

      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!

    • stephhicks68 profile image
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      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      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?

    • stephhicks68 profile image
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      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      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.

    • stephhicks68 profile image
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      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      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 profile image

      Bob Ewing 7 years ago from New Brunswick

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

    • theherbivorehippi profile image

      theherbivorehippi 7 years ago from Holly, MI

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

    • Michael Davis profile image

      Michael Davis 7 years ago

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