Two Years Underground: Living in an Earth Sheltered Home

Two years after building an earth-sheltered home for his daughter in Northern Michigan, Daniel Rinker reports the design continues to provide exceptional insulation that keeps it comfortable in summer and winter.

| January/February 1980

  • earth sheltered home 2
    Front view of Joyce Rinker's earth sheltered home

  • earth sheltered home 2

Joyce Rinker has experienced the advantages of earth-sheltered living firsthand, during…  

More than a year ago MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine carried a story about a beautiful earth-sheltered home in Michigan. The dwelling was barely one year old at the time, so we asked Daniel Rinker (who had built the house for his daughter Joyce) to let us know if he was still satisfied with the structure after another round of seasons had passed.

Well, Mr. Rinker visited MOTHER EARTH NEWS' offices not long ago and brought us some facts and figures about Joyce's second underground year. We found the data fascinating and—whether you're contemplating building an earth-sheltered home or not—we think Mr. Rinker's information will interest you, too!

A Roof Full of Blueberries

As some of you may remember, the Rinker home's roof is covered with an average of eight inches of sandy soil and landscaped with native blueberries and other forest vegetation. The insulation provided by this layer of earth, Daniel tells us, has proved to be more than adequate to meet the challenges of the very cold northern Michigan climate. For instance, when the outside temperature dropped below zero, Mr. Rinker reports, the air inside the dwelling would (with no heat source in use) fall only three degrees during the first two hours ... and another three to five degrees in the next six to seven hours. Basing his figures on such experiences, Daniel has estimated the R-value of the earth-covered roof to be more than 100!

Winter Heating...

Daniel calculates that Joyce used about 9,290 pounds of cut-for-free (on her 4 1/2 wooded acres) firewood to maintain a comfortable temperature in the home over the area's 240 annual heating days. This indicates that the house allowed heat to escape at a maximum rate of about 6,450 Btu's per hour (any comparable above-ground structure—in the same chilly location—would likely lose more than 15,000 Btu's per hour!).

In order to further illustrate the efficiency of the dwelling, Mr. Rinker provided us with the following sample temperature readings for the winter of 1978/1979... all of which were taken before Joyce's Ashley wood stove was fired up for the day:

1/31/2011 7:29:52 PM

I need to built a small underground suriver home 4 me and my 2 dogs , yorkies 17 yo., have 35k , all people that will gve me advice , e-mail me or call 570-299-9723 live in N, E, PA , want to built in country have a suburbwith 1/2 double w/ lg lot , do not like it . Please I will pay for advica on construction . also info on what really will go on thank you hope some will become friends WALTER V>

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