How Do I Start a Plan for an Underground House?

Answered by Brett ~ August 29, 2011 ~ Comments

I own 18 acres of land that has some hills. I want to build an underground house under on of the hills. How do I start my plan for the project?

Hanna S. ~ Patoka, IN

Brett Kulina

Hanna, I love projects like yours! There are a plethora of books that detail the issues involved with alternative house building, and earth sheltered homes definitely fall into the "alternative" category. Although these types of homes usually require less energy to heat and cool than traditional homes, the popularity of earth sheltered houses has never really gone mainstream. One of the reasons that this type of construction has remained alternative is that banks do not like to finance earth sheltered homes, fearing that reselling the home could prove difficult sometime in the future. So before you dig into the construction planning part of your project, I would first talk to your loan officer or mortgage broker.

Most earth sheltered homes are located into hill sides that offer a direct southern exposure, which allows the home to utilize sunlight for passive solar heat and general lighting needs. Because most earth sheltered homes only have one wall of windows, it is important to create a floor plan that allows each room to access this limited sunlight. Of course, the use of solar tubes and interior glass can help brighten rooms that might otherwise be cave-like!

Another crucial component of a well-built earth sheltered home is waterproofing the concrete portion of the structure that is buried into the hillside. The use of rubber membranes, liquid waterproof coatings, and strategically placed french drains all help ensure that ground water is successfully directed away from the backside of your house. Simply coating the buried walls of your earth sheltered home with foundation tar is not adequate enough to keep water from infiltrating your home over the long haul. You should definitely consult an engineer before designing or building your home's foundation and walls.

If possible, try to contact a builder in your local area who has some experience with earth sheltered homes. Although these types of homes are sometimes considered simpler to construct than traditional stick framed structures, there is a learning curve to some of the building techniques and design challenges that are needed to make the homes function properly. Good luck with your project!

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