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 has become relatively more popular in modern times, especially among environmentalists and advocates of passive solar and sustainable architecture. However, the practice has been around for nearly as long as humans have been constructing their own shelters.


Living within earth shelters has been a large part of human history. The connection to earth shelter dwellings began with the utilization of caves, and over time evolving technologies led to the construction of customized earth dwellings. Today, earth shelter construction is a rare practice, especially in the U.S.A. During the energy crisis and the 1973 Oil Crisis, along with the back-to-the-land movement, there was a surge of interest in earth shelter/underground home construction in an effort toward self-sufficient living. However, progress has been slow, and earth shelter construction is often viewed by architects, engineers, and the public alike as an unconventional method of building. Techniques of earth sheltering have not yet become common knowledge, and much of society still remains unaware of the process or benefits of this type of building construction.

Types of construction

  • Earth berming: Earth is piled up against exterior walls and packed, sloping down away from the house. The roof may or may not be fully earth covered, and windows/openings may occur on one or more sides of the shelter. Due to the building being above ground, fewer moisture problems are associated with earth berming in comparison to underground/fully recessed construction.
  • In-hill construction: The house is set into a slope or hillside. The most practical application is using a hill facing towards the equator (south in the Northern Hemisphere and north in the Southern Hemisphere). There is only one exposed wall in this type of earth sheltering, the wall facing out of the hill, all other walls are embedded within the earth/hill.
  • Underground/fully recessed construction: The ground is excavated, and the house is set in below grade. It can also be referred to as an Atrium style due to the common atrium/courtyard constructed in the middle of the shelter to provide adequate light and ventilation.