My Mother's House Part 1: Planning and Building Our Earth Sheltered House

Thanks to favorable clay soil, Western North Carolina turned out to be a good place to plan and build an earth sheltered house.

| July/August 1981

(EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a seven-part series of articles. Read the rest of the "My Mother's House" series here: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7.)  

As regular readers of this magazine know, there's been a team of alternative-construction specialists working on a variety of innovative buildings at MOTHER EARTH NEWS' Eco-Village property—and gaining expertise as they do so—for the past few years. Under the direction of Jack Henstridge and Rob Roy, the crew (often with assistance from seminar attendees) built three cordwood structures including a stackwood dome. Furthermore, two of Bill Coperthwaite's wooden interpretations of the Mongolian yurt now grace the property.

Until recently, however, our team hadn't gotten the opportunity to put their experience to the test by building a full-scale, energy-efficient dwelling. But in the early part of this past April—with the summer's open houses and seminars rolling rapidly toward us—we finally started our earth-sheltered house construction project!

In this issue we'll describe the initial phases of the undertaking. For the benefit of folks who might use our successes (and mistakes!) to get through the building of their own energy-efficient homes, other articles in the series report on subsequent stages of construction. 

Western North Carolina's topography and climate lend themselves quite well to the earth-sheltering approach. Our area is blessed with an abundance of rolling hills—which provide plenty of sites where a home can be backed into a slope without the need for any particularly difficult excavation—and soils that have little expansive (prone to slippage) clay. Therefore, although drainage needs to be carefully considered, actual earth movement isn't often a problem hereabouts.

The region experiences approximately 4,000 heating degree-days annually, and can encounter seasonal extremes of 10° and 95° F. A glance over a local monthly temperature profile chart indicates that some source of home heat may be required from September through May, and that cooling would often be pleasant in July and August. However, even during the hottest and coldest times of the year, the temperature will change significantly from day to night.

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