Underground Homes Meet Geodesic Domes

Paul Isaacson builds underground homes as a contractor, and he started out by building his family's very own underground house in Provo, Utah.

| March/April 1978

"If you build your house underground — where there's a stable year-round temperature of 55 degrees to 57 degrees Fahrenheit — you're going to save money. Right off, you'll cut your heating and cooling bill by at least 60 to 70 percent. And if you then add a solar heating system to that subterranean dwelling, you'll save even more. Maybe as much as 95, 97 — perhaps even 98 — percent of an aboveground home's annual heating and air conditioning costs."

Provo, Utah's Paul Isaacson tends to get animated and excited when he talks about underground homes. And for good reason. Paul, his wife, and seven children now live in the kind of spectacular dwelling that Star Wars' troglodytes would have lived in if they'd only been as smart as the Isaacson family.

Yes, the Isaacsons actually live underground. In a house that's topped with two clear plastic geodesic domes, one inside the other. The larger bubble, which measures 36 feet across, serves as both a greenhouse and a "solar energy trap" heat source for the dwelling buried beneath it. The smaller (12-foot-diameter) dome that is inside the bigger bubble is actually the transparent ceiling or roof of a sunken courtyard or "solaratrium." As such it both [1] separates the above ground greenhouse from the subterranean living space and [2] serves as a large skylight for that living area.

The solaratrium directly beneath the smaller dome is the hub of the 50-foot-diameter underground dwelling, and each of the three bedrooms, a living room, the main bath, and the kitchen open into it. Result: Far from being the dark, closed-in spaces you might have thought, all the major rooms in the 2,000-square-foot Isaacson house are brighter and have a more open and airy feeling to them than their counterparts in most "conventional" aboveground buildings.

A New Design Using Goedesic Domes

Paul Isaacson actually set out to construct a far different house from the one he wound up with. He was intrigued by the idea of using solar energy to heat his family's new dwelling during the winter, but like most of us, he assumed that the planned home would be a more-or-less conventional above-the-surface stickframe structure.

"The more I looked at the solar homes being built across the country, though, and the more I listened to their architects, engineers, and contractors brag about how they were saving 45 or 50 percent on heating bills," Paul says, "the more I figured there had to be a better way. And there is. By going underground, we saved — in one fell swoop — more energy than most solar builders can catch with a whole backyard full of flat-plate collectors."

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