Earth-sheltered homes are exactly that, houses covered with earth. There are two main ways of doing this.
Either the house can be set into a hill with earth covering 3 exterior walls and the roof, or earth can be piled against the external walls. The latter type, known as earth-bermed, sits above ground, sometimes with earth covering the roof. For centuries people have used the earth to insulate their homes, but are they the way forward in terms of eco-housing and preserving our environment?
The UK is forever developing land in order to build homes for our ever-growing population. Although new homes are absolutely necessary, there is little consideration of how this is changing our landscape.
According to the Campaign for Rural England, “the amount of farmland, forests, gardens and greenfield land lost to housing development each year has increased by 58% over the past four years.”
With the loss of natural landscape comes threats to our wildlife, which in turn threatens the natural ecosystems that have existed since long before us.
So how can we develop land in such a way that preserves the environment? Earth bermed homes and buildings are great at insulating both heat and noise, plus various vegetation can be planted into the walls and roof. This helps the developed land to retain some elements of nature, however, is unlikely to truly reflect the landscape that was there beforehand.
Earth-sheltered homes that are set into a hill, or are otherwise beneath ground, can allow for a natural environment to re-develop above them. It is this quality that makes earth-sheltered homes far less destructive to the environment than traditional builds, as it allows nature to return once construction has ended.
A huge benefit of an earth-sheltered home is climate control. This is far more prominent in homes set into the earth, rather than earth-bermed, but it has the same effect. The layer of earth keeps the home insulated and warm in colder months and protects the home from the sun when it’s hot. The high quality of insulation is great for property owners as up to 80 per cent less is spent on energy bills than in a comparable, above-ground home. These homes are insulated not only from extreme temperatures but also noise as earth is an effective acoustic insulator.
There are many factors to consider when designing an earth-sheltered home. Lighting, air ventilation, condensation, even the condition of the soil must all be planned around during the design stage of the process.
Due to the large amount of planning needed, along with the cost of high-quality materials, earth-sheltered homes can cost substantially more than a standard home.
On top of the initial cost of the build, any repairs needed during its lifetime will likely be far more difficult to carry out. Also, if you plan on covering the building with vegetation, you have to be mindful that not all plants will be suitable.
While earth-bermed homes can benefit the environment through reduced heating bills and an increased amount of local foliage, submerged homes and buildings offer the opportunity for a natural landscape to return in time.
In an age where more and more land is being lost to construction, earth-sheltered homes may be the best compromise between our need for housing and our desire to preserve our natural environment.
If you think an earth-sheltered home may be right for you, or for help and ideas on how to preserve the natural environment of a build, get in touch with a member of the team.