Green Design simondale_1

Published on December 1st, 2008 | by Susan Kraemer


Hand-Build an Earth Sheltered House For $5,000

Cash, that most basic element of our economy, can be in abysmally short supply for new young families scraping by on marginal jobs.

Sustainable housebuilding may not be foremost in their minds.

But one young couple in Wales managing on an annual income of just $10,000 went ahead and built their own cheap home anyway, sustainably, mostly out of materials from “a rubbish pile somewhere.”

They had wanted to spend as much time as possible at home while their two children were young. Their nearby woodlands ecological management work would have been impractical if they were paying a mortgage.

So they enlisted some help from family, and sometimes just from people passing by, and from any of their friends who stopped by to visit:

The result was their very low impact homemade house. A hand built unique setting for a charmed life for their two young toddlers. I’ll bet they’ll remember this first home for the rest of their lives.

Four months of hard work and they were all 4 moved in and cozy.

Total expenditure? $5,000. Tools? A chisel, a chainsaw and a hammer. Building expertise? Simon Dale says:

“My experience is only having a go at one similar house 2yrs before and a bit of mucking around in-between. This kind of building is accessible to anyone. My main relevant skills were being able bodied, having self belief and perseverance and a mate or two to give a lift now and again.”

Sustainable design and construction:

  1. Dug into hillside for low visual impact and shelter
  2. Stone and mud from diggings used for retaining walls, foundations etc.
  3. Frame constructed of fallen trees from surrounding woodland
  4. Reciprocal roof rafters are structurally very easy to do
  5. Straw bales in floor, walls and roof for super-insulation and easy building
  6. Plastic sheet and mud/turf roof for low impact and ease
  7. Lime plaster on walls is breathable and low energy to manufacture compared to cement
  8. Reclaimed (scrap) wood for floors and fittings
  9. Other items were reclaimed from “a rubbish pile somewhere”: windows, wiring, plumbing

(Maybe there should be a new LEED rating just for building so inexpensively: Sustainable Financing. This is one mortgage bill that’s not going to be haunting their mum and dad for years.) Inside there’s a wood-burner for heating – waste wood in the old-growth forest is locally plentiful.To get the most of the heat, the flue goes through a big stone/plaster lump to retain and slowly releases the warmth.

There are just a couple of solar panels – just enough for for lighting, music and computing. It’s a simple life. A skylight in the roof lets in enough natural feeling light, and water is fed by gravity downhill from a nearby spring. There’s a compost toilet. Roof water collects in a pond for gardening

Says Simon: “Our house is unusual but the aesthetic appeals to lots of people and perhaps touches something innate in us that evolved in forests.

Want to try making one too? Simon will show you how or check out other green homes for more ideas and inspiration like this post on building a cob house.


Related stories:
Berkeley’s Homeless Build Paleolithic Barbecue Pit
Earthsheltered Home Construction Work Exchange
Wildfire-Proof Prefab Camp Closes Up When You’re Gone
Hard Lessons in Sustainable Living

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About the Author

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today, PV-Insider , SmartGridUpdate, and GreenProphet. She has also been published at Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.

526 Responses to Hand-Build an Earth Sheltered House For $5,000

  1. Bob Swaisgood says:

    I have a farm with an old barn foundation built into a hill, the barn is gone, but much of the stone foundation and the dug out bottom is present.Would a low impact home fit nicely in this type of space? Looking at the other sites and pictures it looks like it might, any feed nack would be appreciated.

  2. Reminiscent of Lord of the Rings. Straw bales make wonderful walls and crops like Miscanthus can be used for lower cost.

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  4. I’ve been surfing online greater than three hours as of late, but I by no means discovered any attention-

    grabbing article like yours. It’s beautiful worth sufficient for me. In my view, if all web owners and bloggers made

    good content as you did, the net will probably be much more useful than ever before.

  5. Brad Peceimer-Glasse says:

    We built a earthsheltered home using a kit from Performance building systems (www/ and it’s worked great. We live in Grass Valley, California (2000″ elev.) and it was a bit of a chore to get the permits, but once we showed our building department people the pictures on the website, it was easy. The guy who ran our buidling department came out when we did she the shotcrete work and was really impressed with our project. We typically us 10-12% of the propane of our neighbors and we use minimal electricity. The annual savings on our propane is @$2,500 per year. Our costs (with us doing the work) were @$72.00 per square foot (many items were purchased on Ebay) and strength wise, it has a @78,000 pound dozer driving back and forth across the roof spreading dirt. You can see many of the construction photo’s on my facebook page.

  6. Uwe Paschen says:

    It does look great and it is a good idea where applicable. The trouble is that it is not engineered to withstand natural disasters such as earthquakes.

    • Brad Peceimer-Glasse says:

      Actually this structure can withstand a direct hit from a Hiroshima sized nuclear blast, so earthquakes fare not a concern…..

  7. China Mike says:

    I lived in Colorado, and have spent time around Taos, New Mexico. A good number of people in those areas have done these type of homes. What I am wondering (without Googling for an answer) is, with all that rescued wood for the roof and the wall supports, is there some natural way to treat the wood with organics that would prevent termites??? This dwelling is so lovely, but I would think it would just be termite fodder within a very short time.

  8. Jasmine Rosado says:

    Beautiful house I want one!!!

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  11. Peter says:

    Awesome, great job. Looks beautiful PJ from NZ

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