The Log-End Cave: An Earth-Sheltered Cordwood House

In their second attempt at cordwood construction, the authors decided to build an earth-sheltered cordwood house underground.

| January/February 1981

  • 067 cordwood house - main
    A sturdy post-and-beam frame, combined with a plank-and-beam roof,supports the heavy loads that wet winters place upon this earth-sheltered, cordwood house.
  • 067 cordwood house - kitchen and dining room
    Natural light floods the open-space living/dining/kitchen area all year (the sunshine reaches other areas, too, by means of three skylights)
  • 067 cordwood house - wood burning stove
    The wood burning stoves get combustion air from outside, via 4" under-floor vents.

  • 067 cordwood house - main
  • 067 cordwood house - kitchen and dining room
  • 067 cordwood house - wood burning stove

Folks who read "The Return of the Cordwood House" in MOTHER EARTH NEWS may recall that—back in '75—my wife Jaki and I built a stackwood cabin, within a post-and-beam framework, that we called the Log-End Cottage.

Well, in February 1978—after two years and two months in that structure—we moved 100 feet west into our new earth-sheltered cordwood house, which we have since dubbed the Log-End Cave.

We had several reasons for building a new dwelling, primary among which was our craving for more space, privacy, and energy efficiency. But—though we were starting over—we simply couldn't build without including cordwood in the construction. The fact is that we're totally enamored of the warm and beautiful appearance of log-end-paneled walls.

Live and Learn

Though our little cottage hadn't been difficult to heat, we knew—from research and experience—that we could build a roomier house that would be more energy efficient. Our goal was to go from heating 700 square feet on seven cords of wood a year to warming our proposed structure of 924 square feet (1,050 square feet gross) on three cords. Since we plan to homestead on our piece of land for a long time to come, the potential saving of four cords every year could mean the elimination of a lot of work over a lifetime ... and even eventually provide an income from the sale of the "surplus" firewood.

When we began the construction of our earth-sheltered dwelling in 1977, there wasn't much literature available on underground buildings, just as there had been little practical information on cordwood construction when we built the cottage in 1975. We figured, however, that there were three obvious major considerations in planning any earth-sheltered housing: structural strength (to support the heavy roof load and pressure on the walls), waterproofing, and livability (an all-inclusive term I use to describe both a home's atmosphere and its practicality).

Our friends feared that underground living would be dark, damp, and likely to induce claustrophobia. In truth, our finished "cavern" is much brighter inside than our aboveground cottage (or most surface houses, for that matter), and—thanks to our site selection—it has a better view and allows us to feel closer to the natural world around us.

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