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Global Spotlight: Underground houses

In our global spotlight series, we examine an element of architecture from around the world. Although it might seem as if a building technique is only used in its country of origin, we often see elements of architecture pop up far from home.

In our last entry, we studied the paper walls we associate with Japan and their possible applications in the UK. This time, we cast a light on the practice of building underground, and why you may begin seeing this practice in a town near you.

Fight against the cold

Underground houses, or houses where the majority of the structure is built below ground level, are often found in places where the cold is a defining feature. Scandinavian architecture has to take into account two major factors: heat, and light. Because of shorter days and longer periods of darkness, it’s imperative that homes get as much light as possible – while conserving heat. Writing for @BuildItMagazine, Julian Owen explains:

“Triple glazing and good insulation levels have been standard features for decades in Scandinavia – energy efficiency was considered essential long before concern about global warming started to change building methods in many other countries.”

With regards to insulation, homes built part-underground are very helpful. The less exposure the house has to the elements, the easier it is for them to retain warmth and use less energy.

The flipside

Although they are used to fight against the cold, building a house partially underground is also useful for dealing with the heat. An explanation is offered on @EnergySaver:

“Studies show that earth-sheltered houses are more cost-effective in climates that have significant temperature extremes and low humidity, such as the Rocky Mountains and northern Great Plains. Earth temperatures vary much less than air temperatures in these areas, which means the earth can absorb extra heat from the house in hot weather.”

Extreme weather

In addition to their other positive qualities, homes built partially underground are also more resistant to extreme weather conditions like hurricanes. In light of the possibility of more extreme weather in the UK, building partially underground may help to alleviate concerns around home insurance and more exposed locations. In addition, maintenance costs that might have risen with heavier rainfall or flooding will become less severe because of underground homes’ increased resistance.

Rising energy bills are practically a fact of life in Britain, but a home built partially underground will require less heating in winter and less cooling in summer. Combine this with other eco-friendly equipment, like solar panels, and you may find your energy bills are far smaller.


It may be possible to build your new extension partially underground, depending on your property and the area. If this is something that interests you, you should consult with your local planning authority as well as your chosen architect.

It’s still a less common building technique in the UK, so it might be that finding a contractor willing to build in this fashion could be tricky. But the results can be spectacular.



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    Studio 2 4 The Highlands Exning Newmarket Suffolk CB8 7NT
    T: 01638 662393
    Global Spotlight: Underground houses