Build a Low-Cost Earth-Sheltered Home

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

| November/December 1983


This floor plan of an earth-sheltered home is complete with two bedrooms, a kitchen, living room, and a greenhouse.


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.

2/17/2015 8:44:32 AM The plans are still available. I bought mine last year.

1/19/2015 8:40:29 PM

I also would like the plans

9/4/2013 2:32:05 PM

Hello... I am looking for this floor plan/blueprint. Anyone have any ideas how I can get these documents? Thank you. Kind Regards, Lea

deborah guzzi_2
5/25/2009 8:15:33 AM

This is a very old article. Is this site uo and running I can go see it?

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