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

  • 070 earth sheltered house 3 construction site
    This view from the southeast end of the earth sheltered house shows the location of the root cellar. (The window to the left was later filled in to allow further backfilling.)
    PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 070 earth sheltered house 1 masonary saw
    A masonry saw was used to trim blocks for special fits.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 070 earth sheltered house 4 block leveling wedges
    A representative of the Bonsal company demonstrates the use of the firm's convenient block-leveling wedges, which can be seen more closely in the inset photo.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 070 earth sheltered house 5 surface bonding cement
    Surewall surface-bonding cement — a substance similar to stucco but with fiberglass threads that add strength — is applied to the dry-stacked block walls.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 070 earth sheltered house 2 reinforcing rod
    A length of five-eighths inch reinforcing rod was placed in the V-grooves of the block as each course was laid.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 070 earth sheltered house - diagram - first floor
    Plan for the main floor of the house.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 070 earth sheltered house 6 long view of construction site
    The location of the future expansion joint in the earth sheltered house is visible in the middle of the rear wall.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 070 earth sheltered house - diagram - cross section
    Cross section of the earth-sheltered house. 
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 070 earth sheltered house - diagram - upper floor
    Plan for the house's smaller upper level.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

  • 070 earth sheltered house 3 construction site
  • 070 earth sheltered house 1 masonary saw
  • 070 earth sheltered house 4 block leveling wedges
  • 070 earth sheltered house 5 surface bonding cement
  • 070 earth sheltered house 2 reinforcing rod
  • 070 earth sheltered house - diagram - first floor
  • 070 earth sheltered house 6 long view of construction site
  • 070 earth sheltered house - diagram - cross section
  • 070 earth sheltered house - diagram - upper floor

(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.






Mother Earth News Fair Schedule 2019

MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR

Next: February, 16-17 2019
Belton, TX

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!

LEARN MORE






Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

Money-Saving Tips in Every Issue!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).


Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters