Earth berm homes utilize the architectural process of using soil against multiple walls to garner thermal mass. The practice reduced heat loss and helps sustain a steady temperature inside the home. Earth berm homes have become a favorite among off the grid and prepper families because they enhance the ability to use passive solar power, even in colder climates. Although the earth berm homes have become extremely popular in the past decade, they have been around since folks started gathering rocks and logs to craft shelters.
Before purchasing a seemingly perfect parcel of land to build an off the grid home, or a structure designed to allow the family to enjoy a more self-reliant lifestyle, fully research the type of dwelling which will best suit your needs.A traditional brick and mortar home or a modular might be the easiest choices, but several types of unconventional houses boast superior sustainable attributes.
There a basically three different types of earth berm homes; earth-covered, earth-bunded, and subterranean. An earth-bunded home is a dwelling in which a thermal mass element is significantly applied to insulate one or more the sheltered side elevations of the building. An earth-covered home can have soil solely on the roof or be an extension of earth berm dwelling side projects. A subterranean home is a structure is one where the vast majority of the home is covered by soil. One just one elevation of the home is left uncovered, be it the roof or a single side for entry, the dwelling is considered a subterranean earth berm.
Earth berm homes are often built into a hillside or slope, but sometime are constructed after land is excavated and the house is set below ground. In addition to generating thermal mass to help reduce energy consumption and costs, the earthen wall coverings also provide added protection for the home. Earthen homes are often touted as being quitter, the soil against the exterior walls help reduce outside noise. From a defensive standpoint, the home is reportedly easier to defend when one or more walls, or the roof, are pressed against a hillside or slope.
From a fire prevention standpoint, earth-berm homes also have distinct advantages. When the homes themselves are built out of storage containers or poured concrete walls, the fire prevention aspect is further enhanced. When designing an earth-berm home concerns regarding lack of light and fire safety should be a top priority during the initial stages of the planning process.
I recently toured an earth-berm home in southern Ohio owned by Selena and Randy Yates. Selena and her late husband Frank Pittman built the home about 30 years ago. Before agreeing to share in the earth berm home dream, Selena put one stipulation on the project, dirt would not be above her head. Although Selena is not claustrophobic, the thought of essentially being buried did not appeal to her at all.
I was pleasantly surprised about the cozy yet unconfined atmosphere inside the house. The home is earth-berm on two sides and built into a hillside. The house once had soil on three sides, but once Nick came along, Selena wanted a clear view of him playing outside in the yard, so the soil covering was removed and an enclosed porch added. The area is still incredibly warm with the back of it still being nestled against the hillside. The heat and humidity inside the enclosed porch make it a perfect place for growing plants, and to take a soak in the hot tub and watch the snow fall.
Randy and Selena recently added a new metal roof to the home, and now wish they had added skylights to the project – and are considering adding them. Randy is a postal carrier by trade, but a local hero by nature. As a member of the all-volunteer fire force which serves the county, he is concerned about an escape if a blaze does break out inside the home. Although earth berm homes are less of a fire hazard than conventional homes, Randy was quick to point out that if a breaks starts and his brethren enter the home with hoses, steam will quickly be created and anyone in the back bedrooms could get scorched quickly, in addition to the smoke inhalation they could already be suffering from.
The bedrooms pressed against the hillside did not appear dark or confined even though there were no windows in the room. A person who thoroughly enjoys quiet and darkness when going to sleep, will likely love having an earth-berm bedroom. The kitchen inside the Yates’ home is also part of the earth-berm wall of the home, but does not feel dark or closed in either. The wall which was removed does border the kitchen and dining area, but even before the soil was removed, the large glass double-door entryway likely provided ample light into the cooking and eating area.
The enigmatic Randy had another important word of warning about earth berm home construction, never, under any circumstances, put a swimming pool on the level ground behind the home. Several years ago, right after installing a new pool liner, the Yates’ pool collapsed while people were floating around in it cooling off. The electrical system for the home was mounted in the same area, the couple are still giving thanks that no one was electrocuted when the pool collapsed. Water from the pool was able to seep over the concrete walls where the roof adjoins. The couple sustained some water damage, and learned a valuable lesson they wanted to share with others considering building an earth berm home accompanied by other typical backyard adornments.