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underground house

Discussion in 'Home Power and Microgeneration' started by Publius, Dec 2, 2003.

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  1. Publius

    Publius Guest

    Has anyone build an under ground house, or has that idea fallen off the


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  2. Ecnerwal

    Ecnerwal Guest

    No, but it is an expensive route to go. In theory, I think I'd like a
    people-sized hobbit hole - in practice, done properly, it would cost a
    lot more than an above-ground or bermed house. I find that I don't
    really have the flex in my building budget to get there. The various
    insulating advantages are offset by needing a lot more structure to
    resist soil pressure and dead weight, not to mention the need for
    extensive waterproofing underground. Better insulation can be purchased
    for less money going above-ground.
  3. Dale Farmer

    Dale Farmer Guest

    Pretty much nailed it on the head there. Not many locations lend
    themselves to building underground or partially underground homes.
    now those folks who managed to pick up old military structures, ICBM
    Silos and the like, they have a different economic issue, since the
    expensive part is already done.
    Earth bermed structures are a different story, and make sense under
    certain circumstances.

  4. I think I would be tempted to consider one if I lived in an active part of
    tornado alley. The cost and hassle of reconstruction of a stick built house
    makes a powerful argument.
  5. No One

    No One Guest

    Maybe but there is one advantage: high wind resistance.
  6. Dale Farmer

    Dale Farmer Guest

    That does change the economics of it. I'm in New England, and when
    I looked at the FEMA tornado map, there have been only three tornados
    within fifty miles of me since the 1930s.

  7. Bob Peterson

    Bob Peterson Guest

    pretty much died due to the economics of it.
  8. Nick Hull

    Nick Hull Guest

    That does change the economics of it. I'm in New England, and when
    I looked at the FEMA tornado map, there have been only three tornados
    within fifty miles of me since the 1930s.[/QUOTE]

    Even in tornado alley the odds of getting hit in your lifetime are slim.
    Build cheap plus a good tornado shelter for your family.
  9. Even in tornado alley the odds of getting hit in your lifetime are slim.
    Build cheap plus a good tornado shelter for your family.[/QUOTE]

    Generally, I agree. However, there are some spots, like one church outside of
    Huntsville Alabama, that have been hit repeatedly. I'd figure if there had
    been a couple of tornados within a mile during the past decade, I'd want to
    chose a different homesite or take precautions. Your comfort level could be
  10. Guest

    Even in tornado alley the odds of getting hit in your lifetime are slim.
    So you feel that just having a separate root cellar
    like tornado shelter is good enough? Rather than
    having an integral "safe room" built inside the house?

    If yes.... do they make prefab tornado shelters that
    one can buy and bury in the ground?

  11. No One

    No One Guest

    NOTE: grammer and spelling errors are due to two hours of sleep. I really
    shouldn't post sleepy but . . .

    I missed the orig reply here but there are other high wind times than
    tornados. In the time I have lived here we have had three tornados in the
    area only one of which did much damage (but the damage was quite
    impressive!). But in that same period we have had several storms which have
    caused a lot of damage to buildings due to high wind.

    IMO, a seperate 'root cellar' is safer than either a safe room or a
    basement. 1) a safe room, unless really, really well built isn't going to
    help you much with a cat 5 tornado which can suck the pavement off the
    roadway. 2) there's no house to collapse on top of a seperate 'cellar'. 3)
    it gives you a place for the kids practice if they ever want to from a
    'garage band' :)

    Many companies make them. They can be as simple as concrete cube with a
    door or as fancy as prefab fiberglass multi-room things with bedrooms and

    But anyone with a little building know how, time and equipment can build
    their own for a lot less. Years ago my uncle built one with nothing more
    than a cemet mixer, a post hole digger, a shovel and basic hand tools
    (hammer, saw, etc). Took him a while but he did it. I saw pics on one
    where a guy had made one out of a section of large concrete culvert.
  12. Guest


    Thanks that made me laugh!!

  13. Graig Pearen

    Graig Pearen Guest

    All the responders seem to be saying that an earth sheltered house is too expensive to build but I
    get the impression that they have no experience or proof. The many books on the subject that I've
    read all say that ESH is plus or minus 10% of a conventional above ground house and that operating
    and maintenance costs are way down.

    Earth sheltering is alive and well. Do a search for ESH, earth shelter, earth berm, etc. There are
    several good links with SOLID information.

  14. Bob Peterson

    Bob Peterson Guest

    Its possible that the costs are comparable where you live, but I did some
    chats with contractors some time ago and they indicated it was a lot more.
    some areas of the country have very high housing costs to begin with and the
    difference there may not be so much.

    In lower cost areas, the difference might be a lot more. But very few
    people are likely to build earth sheltered homes in higher priced areas
    because of the concerns that you won't be able to resell at any decent
    price, which is a valid concern when building a house.

    Personally, I have a conventional house and my electric bill is about $800
    per year and my gas bill is about $500. Most of the gas bill is heating,
    and perhaps 10% of the electric bill is A/C. Even if my heating and A/C
    bill when to zero, I would save only perhaps $500 per year. as for maint
    issues, I have vinyl siding and windows that will probably outlast me.
  15. Ecnerwal

    Ecnerwal Guest

    Bad information is not limited to the internet - it does show up in
    books, too. Have you built an underground house? I get the impression
    you've read some books, and think this is an adequate substitute for
    experience on your part. Why don't you draw up two sets of plans and
    submit them to builders for estimates, then report the results. As for
    my experience, here are real numbers from 2003 in Vermont, USA:

    Considering my labor and backhoe to be free, I spent in excess of $6000
    to build about 5 vertical feet of concrete wall (a foundation frostwall,
    which would also be suitable for a basement or part of an underground
    house). It would need considerably more waterproofing, at additional
    cost, for that application.

    18 vertical feet of R33 structural insulated panel wall aboveground was
    less than $10,000, and took considerably less time to put up than the 5
    feet of concrete. The insulation value and airtightness of this wall
    means that there would be no operating cost advantage to putting it
    underground (indeed, the concrete floor exposed to underground
    temperatures with R10 insulation is a bigger heat load than the walls
    and ceiling exposed to much lower outside air temperatures).

    I have enough knowledge of what an underground concrete roof would
    entail, without building one, to state that it would be at least as much
    worse than a normal roof as the walls are to normal walls. However, if
    you'd like to send me a huge pile of money, I'll get one built and we
    can see how very, very far from 10% over the cost of an aboveground roof
    it comes.
  16. Dale Farmer

    Dale Farmer Guest

    I think you may be reading a bit more into the comments than was meant.
    Earth sheltered home means different things to different people, so you
    have to check the assumptions. Putting a house completely underground
    below grade level with dirt piled up over most or all of the roof is
    considerably more expensive than a house that has earth berms piled up
    against some or all of the outside walls. Plus the local variables are going
    to be all over the map. Cost of labor, what is the local building inspector
    let you do and not do, what the site chosen lends itself to doing, etc.

  17. You were fortunate to have a site that didn't have subsurface schist, granite,
    granite, marble, serpentinite, or some other formation that required blasting.
    In other areas of Vermont you might hit up against the infamous blue clay left
    by glaciers. Foundations built on this clay can sllip downhill or crack as the
    freeze/thaw cycle and mud season slowly move these hills down into the river

    If someone wanted to build underground in Vermont, there might be one
    over-the-top way to do it. I wonder if there is any chance that one of the
    huge abandoned underground marble quarries around Proctor is still structurally
    sound, doesn't have the adit plugged with cement, and is not filled with water.
    Having an underground house with a cavernous interior and solid marble walls
    could be interesting. :)
  18. Nick Pine

    Nick Pine Guest

    Why so deep, vs a frost-protected warm foundation?
    It would lose less heat if it were underground. NREL says the average
    yearly temp in Burlington is 44.6 F. The average daily Jan temp is 16.3.
    The average daily min is 7.5. The record min is -30 F.
    "At least as much worse"? :)
    Then there's the $50 and Up Underground House book. "Underground houses"
    have to withstand soil pressure on walls, they need to be waterproof, and
    they need insulation, but they needn't be built like ordinary houses.

    Tensile walls curving inward (vs Earthship walls) might withstand soil
    pressure efficiently. Welded-wire fence on tall poles with tops tethered
    to buried outboard tires as deadmen? We might have a layer of poly film
    outside the fence, and bags of dry leaves as insulation outside that,
    and an earth berm outside that. The roof could be similar, with downward-
    curving welded-wire fence, poly film over that, enough bags of leaves over
    that to make a dome shape, and EPDM rubber stretched over that. Voila.

  19. That isn't deep, Nick. The frost line in much of Vermont can be 3, or even 4,
    feet below the surface mid-state. Any building that depends on a surface
    covering being applied around the foundation every year or periodically renewed
    will eventually fail. People get older and more feeble, move south during the
    cold months, or do other silly things. In the long run, it is cheaper to build
    properly to prevent buckling and water pipe freeze-ups. (You have to dig and
    lay pipe down at least that far to be sure it won't freeze mid-winter anyway.)
    I don't remember whether building codes require a foundation below the frost
    line, but I wouldn't be surprised in the least if they did.

    Also, don't forget that the depth of the frostline can depend on which side of
    a mountain you build on. Build on the north side of a mountain or hill and you
    have to expect the frost line to be deeper and the frost to remain in the
    ground much longer than if you build on the south side. If the area is exposed
    and windswept and not covered by an insulating blanket of snow, the frost will
    go deeper yet.
    Nick, Burlington is the sport of the litter in Vermont. The entire state can be
    covered with clouds and there is often a patch of blue sky over Burlington,
    primarily because of orographic influence. As air rides up over the Green
    Mountains and Adirondacks and becomes less dense, it can't hold as much
    moisture, providing clouds and precipitation, mainly in the form of light snow
    or rain. The Champlain basin is just large enough that the air riding back
    down the mountains becomes able to hold the remaining moisture and the clouds
    dry up momentarily. Studies indicate that Addison County, which is just south
    of Burlington, receives something on the order of 100 more annual days of
    sunshine than the central part of the state.

    Burlington also sits lower in altitude than almost all of the state. That can
    make a huge difference as well. As of today, the lake at Island Pond is
    substantially frozen over. Lake Champlain at Burlington won't begin to freeze
    for another few weeks, and some winters Champlain never freezes completely
    over. See for yourself here:.

    Until it freezes over, that six mile wide lake has a large moderating influence
    on the surface air temperatures in Burlington. On the years that it does
    freeze, the air temperature drops dramatically. I know this as a personal fact
    since I lived about 500 yards from the shore in Burlington for a few years.

    As for those balmy temperatures in Burlington being representative of the sate,
    I don't think so. The lowest recorded temperature in Vermont, -50°, was on
    December 30, 1933 at Bloomfield, however, there are pockets where similar
    temperatures are reached many years. Burlington's record low may be -30, but I
    remember delivering many a newspaper on -30 degree days only 25 miles deeper
    into the state.
  20. Guest

    "Frost-protected warm foundations" are well-accepted all over in Scandinavia,
    and are starting to catch on here. HUD has a program and design guidelines.
    They work well. You can build a foundation anywhere in the US (except over
    Alaskan permafrost) that is only 16" deep, max. The idea is to make the frost
    travel a longer distance horizontally vs vertically before it freezes under
    the bearing foundation. Conceptually, consider a big perfectly-insulating
    pancake on the ground in Vermont, which will be 45 F near the center and say,
    0 F near the edge. Make the pancake large enough and put the building supports
    near the center, maybe just blocks on the ground, with no digging at all, and
    the ground underneath will never freeze :)

    It's a little more complex than that, with 100-year tables of freezing degree
    days and so on, but it's all worked out in a few tables in HUD's guidelines.

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