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

In this article, we’re focusing on a really cool niche design trend that has been gaining steam in recent years – the earth sheltered home. What basically appears as an underground house, this cool new design trend might be everything you want in sustainable architecture.

But for as cool as this structure looks, people generally have one question, why? What are the benefits of this underground home? Why is earth sheltering worthwhile? It looks cool, but is there any real benefit?

Today’s hottest green building trends are barndominiums because of their construction simplicity and with steel building prices being affordable, so why consider an earth sheltered house?

This article is here to answer these questions and more.

We will start by outlining the process of building an earth sheltered structure, and then will look at a real world example of earth shelterhome design. Finally, we will give you some pros & cons of this type of building, in case you are interested in trying it yourself.

Let’s start by outlining exactly what earth sheltered building is:

What is an Earth Sheltered House?

An earth sheltered house is essentially what it sounds like. Also known as an earth house or underground house, an earth sheltered house is a house that is “sheltered” on many sides by earth. This means that the natural earth makes up the walls and roof of the home, or the entire house is dug underground. This is often attainable by digging into the side of a hill, but there are more complicated variants that exist.

So whether you build into the side of a hill, dig an underground structure, or simply cover a structure with living earth and soil, there are many ways to attain the earth sheltered house. These houses are typically constructed for their sustainability. It is an all-natural way of living, and allows you to live without disturbing nature.

Additionally, as we will explore next, these homes are quite simple and affordable. Of course, you can get as fancy as you want with them, but at their roots they are quite simple. Let’s look at a couple who achieved an earth sheltered house for only around $5000:

Real Life Story

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.”

Design Tips 

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 homes for more ideas and inspiration like this post on building a cob house.

Pros & Cons of Earth Sheltered Houses

Before we wrap up, you might be wondering one thing, is this home right for me? Could I see myself living in one of these? To make your decision easier, we’re going to look at some pros and cons of building an earth sheltered house.

Of course, we covered above the potential cost savings due to the simple architecture that is involved. Another bonus in terms of cost savings is that of insulation. The surrounding earth and earth roof will act to prevent heat loss, providing a natural form of insulation to your home. Of course, depending on your climate, you might still require regular insulation, but the earth might do a lot of the job for you.

And of course, these homes are quite sustainable. They are able to be built while minimally impacting the surrounding nature and wildlife, as they are essentially built to fit right into the landscape. Your house plan can allow for a living roof, and you can harvest plants right on top of your house.And because this style of living tends to attract the environmentally conscious, often you will find earth homes with natural alternatives such as solar panels, learn more at Energy Center of the World.

The next feature is a pro or a con depending on how you look at – these houses are so unique! There is no question that this style of living will draw eyes. No matter the style of earth sheltered home you choose, it is surely to be one of the most unique living arrangements amongst any of your friends. Whether this uniqueness appeals to you is really your decision! If you think the earth house is a cool idea, then that’s all that really matters.

Finally, the major con with these homes is the issue of practicality. They really can’t be built just anywhere. You need an appropriate plot of land, and you need special building considerations to get the home completed. It is not the most practical option, and you are really choosing this style of living because you just enjoy the unique architecture so much.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, this style of home won’t be for everyone, but it might just be for you. We hope you have enjoyed our outline of the earth sheltered house. Hopefully we have given you all the details you need to decide on whether this lifestyle might appeal to you. Or maybe you just enjoyed seeing a cool architectural trend. Either way, you can’t go wrong!