Real estate, construction and daily living in our homes following traditional routes are often unsustainable and inefficient. In many areas of the world construction and demolition (C&D) are considered one of the largest contributors of waste. According to a study by Environment Canada, only 16% of waste was reused or recycled, while the remaining waste was disposed into Canadian landfills. In the United States it is estimated that the average family spends US$2,000 a year on their energy bills, with the residential sector estimated to account for 21% of all energy consumption. An Earth Home, while nothing new, is a more environmentally friendly lifestyle.
Types of Earth Homes
The four main types of earth homes include earth-covered homes, in-hill homes, bermed earth-sheltered homes, and underground homes.
An Earth-covered home is one with a living roof (soil roof with living vegetation), but the house itself is not underground or covered in soil.
In-hill homes, as the name says, are in a hill, with three walls and the roof covered. Only one wall of the home is exposed to the outside, with this wall usually southern-facing in order to absorb sunlight. Usually rooms such as the bedrooms, living rooms and the kitchen are closer to the exposed wall, in order to get the natural sunlight. Rooms such as storage or the bathrooms are constructed towards the back of the house.
Bermed earth-homes are the most common, with earth partially covering the home, but with part of it still above ground. The floor plan of this home is designed so that common areas as well as bathrooms share the heat and light from the window exposure. Skylights can also be placed for ventilation but also for daylight in some parts of the home. The floor plan is usually similar to an In-Hill Home, where the rooms closer to the natural light are the bedrooms, living room and kitchen, with bathroom and storage closer to the back of the home.
Underground homes are completely below the ground, but typically have a courtyard or atrium for light and air ventilation. These homes still have windows and usually also have glass doors into the courtyard in order to absorb light. The courtyard is also usually not visible from outside, ensuring privacy and protection from harsh weather.
Due to the nature of the materials and design on an earth home they are less susceptible to extreme temperatures and usually weather conditions as well. There is also less outside maintenance needed and some built in soundproofing. Earth homes can also cost less in terms of insurance as they offer more protection to natural disasters and other extreme weather events.
The main downside to an earth home, however, is the cost of construction. The total cost is estimated to be about 20% more than that of a conventional home, due to the increased care needed to avoid certain issues such as moisture. There is also the possibility of issues when trying to resell the home, as it is not a conventional home and may be difficult to sell.
Big issues that need to be addressed are humidity and the air quality. Humidity can be an issue in earth homes especially in the summer, and it is recommended to build one in an area with lower humidity. To combat this installing insulation, especially on the outside walls, will prevent the cooling effect of the walls resulting in a higher humidity. Another important point is to ensure there is proper ventilation. To do this it is recommended to ensure that any combustion appliances are sealed units that directly source from outside air and any gasses go directly outside as well.
And while cost may be a big drawback as well it is possible to build an Earth Home on a budget. By using recycled materials, construction skills and proper knowledge of Earth Homes and its needs, anyone could build their own Earth Home.
Earth Home Videos
Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. (2023). Home Energy Use. https://www.c2es.org/content/home-energy-use/
Gaena, S. (2022, January 14). Wonderful Earth Homes that Rediscover the Beauty of Nature. Home Edit. https://www.homedit.com/earth-homes/
Light House. (2021). Residential Construction Waste Analysis [PDF]. https://www.light-house.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Residential-Construction-Waste-Analysis-May-27-2021.pdf
U.S. Department of Energy. (2023). Efficient Earth-Sheltered Homes. https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/efficient-earth-sheltered-homes