Saturday, November 5, 2011

Living Underground

Most of you who follow this blog are used to this view of my house. I bet you didn't realize that it is actually an underground or earth contact home. In a conversation I had the other day with one of my readers they requested a post about my home. I don't think I can do it on one post so will try to break it into several posts.

When we bought this property in 1997 there was already an underground house on it. Let me just begin by saying that we could have done a tutorial about everything not to do on an underground house. It was literally a mess but we managed to live in it for several years while working on the land and researching how to redesign a better version of it.  We later learned that what we had bought was not originally designed to be an earth contact home but rather a basement for a traditional home. The owner had run out of money and had simply put a flat roof on a basement and moved in. It was a disaster with termite damage and a leaky roof to go with it. The ceilings were  7 foot tall with no windows. It was like living in a cave. One thing we learned during our time in the cave was that it was a dream to heat. So in 2002 we decided to rebuild and keep the good aspects of an underground home and not repeat the mistakes of the original owner. So we gutted it! Took it all the way down to the concrete walls and started over. Baby O was 7 at the time. She sat in the driveway and cried as they tore it down. They were destroying her perfectly good house.

We immediately realized that the 8 inch thick rebar reinforced concrete walls were a dream come true with no cracks of any kind. Part of the termite and moisture problems were a lack of drainage, a proper roof and care. So we dug the outside of the walls out and installed huge clay drainage pipes set in gravel trenches all the way around the base of the concrete walls to carry that water far away from the foundation  fast. We then covered the walls with a sticky black fabric membrane and painted with a tar based paint all to waterproof the outside of those concrete walls. Then the soil was refilled to cover all the out side walls and treated extensively for termites.

Then Amish made barn trusses were put on the top of that  concrete wall. And a metal roof was installed. This is actually what faces the gravel road and what you see passing by. You might say we turned our back on the world .... 

A good gutter system helps to move that water away from that foundation. Drainage, drainage, drainage.... that is the secret to a successful earth contact home.

A deck, door and windows installed in one end. 

And a front porch downstairs and 2 windows upstairs facing the woods .

Yes this is the road in front of our house. We preferred the front porch view below ! So we turned the house away from the road ...

Then we painted a waterproof paint on the 8 inch solid concrete interior walls and framed them in with a traditional  2X4 wall framing and applied lots and lots and (did I say lots) of insulation. Even the interior walls are insulated. We also installed double insulated windows and doors.   

The concrete interior wall (pre-existing) that runs through the center of the house is 16 inches thick with an 8 inch concrete interior and framing on both sides.

The window wells almost 11 inches deep.

So what does this mean. In a tornado my house is the place to be. Both bedrooms down stairs are encased in atleast 8 inches of steel reinforced concrete on all 4 sides. I guess the tornado could always take off the roof but I still feel we are alot safer than a conventional home. It is now the first week of November and we have gotten into the upper twenties and my house has never dropped below 58 degrees. That is what the furnace is set on. Yes our furnace has never kicked on this year other than when they inspected it a few weeks ago. Our light bill last month wasn't even $100. That's for a 3 bedroom 2 and 1/2 bath home with 3 people. We go through about a tank and a half of propane a year. ( And that is with all the cooking and canning I do combined. And we won't talk about how easy the house is to cool. We ran ceiling fans until the middle of June last year with windows.

So are you envisioning a deep dark dungeon yet. I'll show you the inside tomorrow!

 Blessings from The Holler 

The Canned Quilter


  1. Very cool and sounds like a great idea for tornadoes and energy bills. I like that you have the house "backward" from the road. I wish we could turn our house! Our front deck over looks the high school and their football field. Not a pretty site. We live in the mountains, but where we are is more like city life, minus the street lights and freeways. But we gotta appreciate what we have, I'd rather live here than back in the real city! :)

  2. The front and back look like 2 completely different houses.
    What a wonderful house to live in now that you've done all that work.
    Congratulations! :)

  3. So looking forward to your next post! We considered underground before we did the cordwood house. Sometimes I still wish we'd done the underground! Also love that your porch isn't facing the road:) Our is sort of cattycorner to the road and we are off of it a ways.

  4. You have a beautiful home! I love the porch view! So gorgeous!

    We have friends who have encased block walls and her window sills are deep too. I wish mine were!

  5. Oh, to be able to have such a home! I love it.

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