Build a Low-Cost Earth-Sheltered Home

Build an earth-sheltered home that is energy effiecient and low-cost.

| November/December 1983

We're ready to prove, once again, that energy-efficient housing doesn't have to be expensive.

You probably didn't have to read between the lines on MOTHER EARTH NEWS' Passive Solar Eco-Village to figure out that we were pretty excited to announce the latest project at the Eco-Village. The Low-Cost Homestead is the most ambitious single effort yet tackled at our 622-acre center for research into lifestyle alternatives, and the combination of an inexpensive and energy-efficient home with perennial agricultural techniques and renewable energy sources will — we hope — allow that integrated one-acre project to become entirely self-sufficient.

But, because permaculture techniques (which involve the creation of sustainable agricultural systems) require years to establish and perfect, at this time there's no way we can report on the success (or failure) of our schemes for raising plants and animals. (You can read about what we have in mind in Self-Sufficiency on a Low-Cost Homestead.)

Furthermore, as a result of our crew's busy summer schedule (while the Eco-Village is open to the public), the 12-volt micro hydropower system isn't yet fully debugged. However, the earth-sheltered home that's the core of the project is, for all intents and purposes, completed.

How Low Can We Go?

Our goal in designing this house was to produce as inexpensive a structure as possible (one that could accommodate a three- or four-member family) while still attaining reasonable energy efficiency . . . all without skimping on the structure's long-term durability. We felt certain that this could be accomplished at a cost of less than $10 per square foot in materials (exclusive of land, excavation, septic, water-supply, and energy system costs), and decided to shoot for $6.00 per square foot.

Impossible, you say? Well, we'll agree that a conventional home probably can't be built for less than $10 per square foot, no matter how shabbily it's finished. Indeed, because of a standard "box" design's inherently inefficient use of materials — which contractors happily balance against a reduction in labor — our crew knew that an ordinary plan was out of the question. Ingenuity and sweat were going to have to take the place of a semi loaded with 2 X 4's.

Think Again

Other building projects (such as "My MOTHER EARTH NEWS House", which has appeared in several issues, beginning with No. 70) have convinced us that earth sheltering can provide energy efficiency without requiring that the builder resort to incorporating tremendous thicknesses of insulation. Now we're perfectly willing to spend money on R-value . . . unless we can get the earth to do the job gratis. And, in our comparatively ,temperate North Carolina climate, a little bit of dirt can go a long way.

1/27/2018 11:54:38 AM

I bought the plans a couple years back and am currently building a version of this. Check out my youtube channel called WoodBurner.

1/27/2018 11:51:29 AM

I bought the plans a few years ago and am building a version of this now. If you want to see, my youtube channel is WoodBurner (with a fire for the pic).

1/27/2018 11:50:51 AM

If anyone is interested in building this, I bought the blueprints a Couple years back and am currently buiding a version of this (it has a 4 foot frostwall that wasnt in the original design). My youtube channel is called WoodBurner (has a little fire as the pic).

mother earth news fair 2018 schedule


Next: April 28-29, 2018
Asheville, NC

Whether you want to learn how to grow and raise your own food, build your own root cellar, or create a green dream home, come out and learn everything you need to know — and then some!