Wow! If you are reading this, you actually found my new blog! (If you came here from my link, that is cool too!)
When I was a little girl, my dad always had crazy ideas for his next house. I say crazy because he drove us crazy. He had big plans. He was always a fan of earth sheltered housing. In fact, when I started talking out loud about my next home, he suggested I check it out.
My husband and I have two boys, which we homeschool, and we own our own business. We are currently living in a modular home that we put on a basement (modular, not manufactured-though the difference is mainly what code it was built to) 12 years ago. We were very young and we thought this was a great plan. We had 5 acres we purchased from my husband’s grandfather. We placed our home on our land based on how we wanted it to look. By chance, our large living room windows happen to face somewhat south. I never considered placing our home to take advantage of passive solar design. (Of course our contractor, being “so competent” that he worked in the manufactured home industry, didn’t guide us on any of our choices.)
As soon as we moved in, we saw things we wanted to change. What a waste, right? Well, it gave us some experience and time to realize what we liked in a home and what we didn’t. Here are a few things we noticed:
- We wish we had put our bedroom in the basement. We love the cooler temperature and we love the quiet and safety felt during thunderstorms.
- I want to see my home come together next time. I want to know exactly how it is insulated. I want to see all the windows go in to know they were properly sealed from any air infiltration.
- I don’t need a huge master bathroom! I could care less about having a bath tub and I think that our bathroom is way too big. To me, it is a waste of space! I don’t even need 2 bathrooms. A bath and a half would be nice, but we could easily have just one bathroom. We basically only use one anyway, why clean two?!
- I wish my children’s bedrooms were closer to mine. My father always desired to have the bedrooms opposite from the master bedroom. As a parent of a child with type 1 diabetes and epilepsy, I can’t have my children’s bedrooms close enough.
- I would avoid carpeting.
- I would avoid forced air.
- I would put my money into quality windows.
- Ideally, I would build as much of the home myself with a good consultant.
My research led me to a website call Country Plans that had this amazing forum for owner/builders. Most of the homes on this forum were small, traditional gable roofed homes. I liked that idea and I started thinking of my floor plan and what I wanted it to include. Of course, our bedrooms would all be in the basement! Well, if that was what I wanted, why wouldn’t I consider an earth sheltered home?
Everywhere I looked (at least in the beginning) all I saw was dated designs. It was too much concrete, too 70′s. Then I saw someone taking a traditional gable roofed structure and simply berming (pushing dirt around the sides of the house) the north, west and most of the east sides of the house. Now I could start to see that I could have the house I wanted (looks wise) and still have the benefits of earth sheltering.
Why do I want to build an earth sheltered home? Being surrounded by earth makes heating and cooling much easier. My plan includes finished concrete floors and at least 2 concrete walls (north and west). The concrete creates thermal mass which allows the temperature inside the home to stay more stable and not swing as fast. This last summer, we went without central air (the first time since I was a child) and we survived. We did use a small unit in our bedroom for the nights so we could sleep well, but overall, it was only really hot a few weeks of the summer. I spent a lot of time in the basement with no problem. Considering that our home sits on top of a hill with zero shade (though we get a good cross breeze) we did pretty well. We don’t have great overhangs on our south side but with the use of some thermal drapes, the heat pretty much stayed at bay. With the proper planning next time, the summer should be no problem!
But what about the winter? The earth’s temperature stays in the 50s year round. Plus with the 2 or 3 sides of the house, there is less contact for wind to penetrate the house. Throw in some hydronic radiant floor heating, I hope to stay cozy without using much energy. Plus, with a really well insulated home, and a small floor plan, I hope we can produce some of our own heat off of appliances and bodies. I don’t know if we are the wood chopping type, so as of now, I have zero plans for a wood stove, but that would be another option. Oh, and let’s not forget about passive solar! This time my home will be oriented correctly and have most of it’s windows (if not all) on the south side of the home.
I’m not looking to go off the grid. I am not looking to be completely self sustainable. (Although I greatly admire those that do both!) But there is no reason to not take energy savings into consideration on my next build. I also want a home that is built to last for generations, not just past the structural warranty! Mechanically, I want it as simple as possible.
So back to the purpose of this blog: I am obsessed with earth sheltering and I am constantly googling it, looking for current projects and current information. I want a place to store it all for my use later and thought you just might like it too.
P.S. I have turned into my father!
P.S.S I have am attaching a floor plan and a link of a similar home to give the idea I am looking for:
For an idea of shape and berming see here.
After an email with an experienced earth shelter/berm builder, I have again modified my plan. He suggested I try to put the living area in front as much as possible. I also spent some time this week reading a blog about living in small spaces and it reminded me how important a small floor plan is to me (not that the other wasn’t small). This plan works out to a little over 900 sq feet. If the area I settle on required more sq feet, I would just widen it a bit. I reworked the plan. You will note the invisible wall is where the clerestory wall would fall. Also, all water and venting is on one wall. Of course, my family knows me pretty well. They are 100% positive that this is not the final plan. But I thought it would be fun if I started keeping track on my plans for future laughs. Oh, this is a total of 26×50 which includes the 14ft wide single car garage.
Change again! You know, this is fun keeping track of my changes. I am sure I will look back with much delight.
Now I have changed my mind about being off grid. I doubt I will be able to afford to do it right away, but I would like to go off grid (electrically) at some point. I wrote about it in another post.
House plan wise, we went on a local solar tour and toured a home that my husband really liked. It was not fully earth sheltered or bermed, but the north side was bermed. We would berm it on 2 or 3 sides. But we will copy his basic plan (that I could see with my eyes). It was a 32×40 saltbox. I have pared it down to 32×32 just because I want my home to be as tight and efficient (in use of space) as possible. I tried working with the larger plan and just hated the wasted space in the bedrooms. The 32×32 works much better for my wants and needs.