Digging for the Truth of Earth-Sheltered Homes

Earth-sheltered homes are becoming more common as the costs of dependable, sustainable energy rises.

  • With energy costs rising, for many people earth-sheltered dwellings are becoming a viable option when it comes to living spaces.
    Photo by Fotolia/Alison Bowden
  • With "Underground Homes," Loretta Hall sheds light on the fascinating world of underground home designs, subterranean dwellings and the benefits of living closer to nature.
    Cover courtesy Quill Driver Books

Underground buildings are more common than you think. In fact, tens of thousands of North Americans shop, play, and sleep in more than 300 public and commercial structures and 5,000 private underground homes everyday. Underground Buildings (Quill Driver Books, 2004) sheds the light on these subterranean dwellings, from homes made from abandoned missile silos to vast below-ground government complexes. Loretta Hall offers stories of both success and failure, and presents a vast spectrum of underground buildings. Excerpted from “Snug at Home,” this selection offers information on the growing prevalence of earth-sheltered homes.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Underground Buildings

About Earth-Sheltered Homes

Along with food and clothing, shelter has always been one of mankind’s basic needs. Earth-sheltered homes are virtually as old as the hills, even in flat terrain. Natural caves provided the earliest in-ground shelters for humans at least 50,000 years ago. Pit houses, recessed partly into the ground, were built as much as 23,000 years ago in eastern Europe. Bronze Age dwellings were dug into stream banks at Beersheba in Israel 6,000 years ago. At least 2,400 years ago in Cappadocia, now part of Turkey, entire cities up to twenty stories deep were carved into the ground to protect as many as 20,000 people from enemy sieges.

Subterranean dwellings are not merely a curiosity of ancient times, however. According to recent estimates, between 30 and 40 million people live in hand-hewn underground homes in China. In Spain and France, perhaps another 100,000 people live in homes carved into rocky hillsides. Far from being primitive caves, these houses are equipped with modern conveniences secured behind facades fitted with conventional doors and windows. In several Australian mining towns, most of the residents live in houses dug into sandstone hills, sometimes the construction is financed by selling gemstones discovered during the house’s excavation.

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