Underground or Earth-bermed Construction

Torey Posts: 5,517 admin

I thought this might be a good discussion for many people here on TGN.

My husband and I are looking for property to build on. Our current home, although very much loved, is becoming a bit much for upkeep for us as we age. Too big, too many stairs, too much wood needed to heat, etc., etc.

We are considering underground or earth-bermed construction of some sort (if we can find an appropriate property). So we are looking at alternative methods. We have already looked at promotions by Green Magic and Terra Dome. If anyone has recommendations for a particular style of building or companies that specialize in underground construction, it would be greatly appreciated.

Also appreciated would be the cons of living in an underground home if anyone has experience with this.


  • judsoncarroll4
    judsoncarroll4 Posts: 5,361 admin

    I have not, other than living in a 3/4 basement for a while - the house was built into a hillside, so tone side was above ground. I really appreciated the coolness it provided in hot Georgia summers and that it stayed fairly warm in the winter. Have you checked Paul Wheaton's "Wofati" stuff and Mike Oehler's books? All that is available here: wofati and earth berm Forum at permies I think it would be a very good option if you live in hilly or mountainous country. At lower elevations and flood prone areas, I I think I would prefer an aircrete dome.

  • water2world
    water2world Posts: 1,091 ✭✭✭✭

    @torey We have also contemplated the underground house. Had wondered what it would be like if you are very claustrophobic?

  • RustBeltCowgirl
    RustBeltCowgirl Posts: 1,403 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Here is Mike Oehler's website for Underground housing.

  • Monek Marie
    Monek Marie Posts: 3,535 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @water2world If you're claustrophobic, a house properly built will not be an issue. Many eathern homes have better light sources than a regular home and are very inviting.

    The most important thing with an underground home is making sure its water tight and has the proper layout for the weight of the ground. Very important in areas where you have freezing ground.

    I would love to have an underground home but in my county - it would never happen. They do not think outside of the box at all. Sometimes I wonder if they think inside of the box ;)

    We live in a house built in a hill. It has some of the advantages of an underground home. Heating or cooling savings both summer and winter. It was not properly laid out to be built in a hillside so we have issues there too.

    @torey I understand the thoughts and considerations on building thinking of age and upkeep.This house is totally wrong for anyone over the age of 50. I think it would be a good idea when builders are making a house if they make one for people to comfortably live in for 50 years, if they so chose to. Every year is harder here and it's totally wrong for my 92 year old mother.

  • Torey
    Torey Posts: 5,517 admin

    Thank you all for your thoughts on this. Thanks for the link @RustBeltCowgirl.

    Our current home has a partially underground basement and it does help.

    One of the companies that we have looked at has already been eliminated for us as the concrete construction wouldn't work well in our area due to the depth of freezing we get. I read a review that one of their customer wrote. They had quite an issue with leaks.

    We have to consider the snow load as well as the soil load on the building.

    We are currently investigating a fiberglass shell.

    And of course, we have to find a suitable piece of property. Other considerations are enough space to be able to install a geothermal heating system.

  • Torey
    Torey Posts: 5,517 admin

    @water2world I suffer from claustrophobia myself. I have been inside an underground home and it wasn't claustrophobic at all. Very bright and airy.

  • water2world
    water2world Posts: 1,091 ✭✭✭✭

    @torey Thanks for that comment! Breathing is sooo important! lol At least I know to check more!!

  • water2world
    water2world Posts: 1,091 ✭✭✭✭

    @Monek Marie Thanks for your comments--guess I need to reconsider after reading your and Torey's comments.

    I had surgery once and when they put the mask over my nose and mouth, every alarm started going off on their machines--The took it off and said they would just lay it beside me until I was asleep. lol

    Some cars I have problems with---wish I didn't have to deal with it! lol

  • karenjanicki
    karenjanicki Posts: 947 ✭✭✭✭

    Growing up my sisters were friends with a girl who had an underground home. At the time I thought it was odd but as I got older and started trying to become more self-sufficient I definitely see the value in it now. I don't have any advice but I wish you well as you begin this journey.

  • Mark Baker
    Mark Baker Posts: 19

    One of the problems with underground construction in my area of Texas, is that we have soil that shrinks when it gets dry and swells when it gets wet. We can't even have basements here. When the ground swells, it breaks in the walls. This is a problem for houses that are built on a slab also, unless the ground is equally moist on all sides (nearly impossible). Look for ads in your area for "house leveling", that's a bad sign. Our solution was to build on concrete piers that were poured nine feet deep in the ground, where the moisture levels are fairly constant.

  • Rich George
    Rich George Posts: 2 ✭✭✭

    Wife had cousin who lived in bermed home, built late 70s-early 80s. Loved it. St. Charles, Mo. area. In early 70s went to southern Ill. to see bermed home. Guy had a full sized tractor parked on top. Also went SE Mo to see home built in side of hill for elderly parents. Had composing toilet and skylight too ! Then in 90s went to Taos,NM to see an earth-ship community and stay in one. Faced south and almost fully self-contained, with solar and wind, rainwater capture on roof. Lower windows opened and a roof vent for cooling. Other things like waste water (from sink) flowed to indoor garden. Other waste to water outside or be burned by solar. Checkout older Motherearth News, Backwoods Home, Homepower magazines. In the 70s and early 80s lots of people doing much innovation.

  • LaurieLovesLearning
    LaurieLovesLearning Posts: 7,375 admin

    I'm right there with you! Ah...you don't know how much. Lol

    I have been in an underground house. We chatted with the second owners. They knew nothing about it (which was unfortunate) except that they were living in one. He thought it instantly made him a knowledgeable homesteader and loved to brag about his "knowledge". 🤦‍♀️ Nope, it just doesn't work that way. He had A LOT to learn and had some ideas that were really not even close to practical nor wise in some cases. It was a disappointment to meet him, sad to say as nothing added up.

    Anyway, the whole south side was windows, and that helped a lot with light & claustrophobia.

    One complaint the wife had was hearing mice running on the upper side of the ceiling.

    That's all we learned when we asked questions.

    @torey We knew someone who looked into geothermal. They said that you save nothing. The only positive is that it is environmentally friendly. You, or someone else, will need to redo it one day, and will need the money to replace it. I have no idea how distruptive that might be either. Any savings from it are a moot point. It really doesn't help that someone made sure that they got the corner on the market by making sure you can't legally do it yourself.

    I think that when I was in WY, that someone in the tiny town had a fully underground home. All you saw was a pipe. I didn't ask too much about it at the time, and didn't explore further, but I don't know where his entrance was or how he kept water out. It was flat ground if I remember correctly.

    You do need to keep in mind the radon gas levels when underground. Make sure that you have a proper air exchange in place to take that out as well as good air exchange to keep the air from getting stale & building up moisture inside.

    We have talked about building into a hill. I understand the concept & how it can be beneficial, but I like natural light and to be able to see out of windows! I love houseplants too and most need windows. Sun tunnels could take care of some of the natural lighting issues, but not the rest.

  • nicksamanda11
    nicksamanda11 Posts: 721 ✭✭✭✭

    I really prefer windows too.

  • marjstratton
    marjstratton Posts: 1,132 ✭✭✭✭

    We have a daylight basement that we put our mobile home on top of. Well, the mobile home has seen better days. We keep discussing different options such as major fix up of the mobile, to removing it and rebuilding on top of the basement, or just removing the mobile and roofing the basement.

  • vickeym
    vickeym Posts: 2,020 ✭✭✭✭✭

    We have been thinking of building underground as well. In our area it will require some serious reinforcing and structural work as we get earthquakes as well as the heavy snow loads, rain and so on. We have been thinking of several alternative building styles. Aircrete, papercrete, cordwood, strawbale and so on.

    We thought about doing earthbag exterior and papercrete inside. Super thick walls so lots of insulation value and both have a low fire hazard as well as good sound proofing.