Dare to Dream — and Build

4 Things First-Timers Building Earth Sheltered Homes Should Understand

by Marc Cole

Earth-sheltered homes represent a very different vision of a residence. This is true in terms of aesthetics, architecture, and efficiency. If you're a first-timer planning to work with an earth home builder, you should understand a handful of basic things about these structures.

What Makes a House Earth Sheltered?

Any structure that is at least partly covered by earth or embedded in an embankment is considered sheltered. The most extreme form of this approach is a full-on underground house. However, most folks when they talk about earth-sheltered residences are talking about ones with at least one exposed structural wall that isn't covered by soil.

Why People Want Earth Sheltered Homes

One of the main arguments for this building style is improved energy efficiency. By placing more of the house in the ground, you can take advantage of the ambient temperature of the planet to offset some of your heating and cooling costs. If you live in a northern climate, for example, the relative warmth of the ground will contribute to warming the house. Similarly, if the air temperature outside is over 100 degrees, you can expect the ground to cool the house.

An earth-sheltered house is also a good idea in regions with severe wind conditions. The low profile of the house reduces the odds high winds will damage the structure.

Protecting the House from Water

One of the notable trade-offs is the need to waterproof this sort of house. An earth-sheltered home builder has to waterproof the structure at least as aggressively as they would a typical basement. This can get pretty aggressive if a lot of the house is covered with soil. Wherever the ground covers the structure, there is a risk of leakage.

Bear in mind, however, any house with a basement will have similar problems. The big difference with an earth-sheltered house is you have to provide the same level of protection to the living space as your would the basement.


Some locations are better than others for this kind of house. If there's a natural dip in the ground, for example, you might be able to construct the house in the dip and use the surrounding soil to provide shelter.

Likewise, the soil will affect your decision-making when it comes to drainage. A looser soil is ideal. Dense clays are problematic. However, you may be able to do some civil engineering to amend the soil and produce the desired result.

For more information, contact an earth-sheltered home builder near you.