Earth Sheltered Homes

earth sheltered him honingham
“Another type of building is emerging: one that actually heals the scars of its own construction. It conserves rainwater and fuel and it provides a habitat for creatures other than the human one. Maybe it will catch on, maybe it won’t. We’ll see.” – Malcolm Wells, 2002.

The earth sheltered home uses the ground as an insulating blanket which effectively protects it from temperature extremes, wind, rain and extreme weather events. An earth sheltered home is energy-efficient, quiet, freeze-proof and low maintenance. Aesthetically an earth sheltered home blends in with the natural environment, leaving more yard space and more space for wildlife.

Fifteen feet below ground, the soil maintains a fairly constant temperature equal to the annual average temperature of the area’s surface air. If the average temperature in your area is 55, that means the soil temperature at 15 feet is 55 degrees and in the winter you will only have to bring the temperature inside your earth sheltered home up thirteen degrees, to bring it up to a comfortable 68 degrees. That’s instead of bringing up the inside temperature 68 degrees, if your home is above ground and the outside wind chill is 0.

In the summer, that 55-degree soil will also keep your home much cooler than an above ground home. Many earth homes incorporate passive solar designs, lessening even further the need for fuel for heating or cooling.

Here is a tour of an 1,900 square foot earth-sheltered home built by architect Alan Shope. Shope explains how earth-sheltering mitigates against cold. The 54 F degree temperature of the earth acts as a “blanket” around the house, he says. Includes video of the building process. Everything about the building is recycled—including the paving stone, which was the floor of old jail cells. The exterior was copper flashing of a mental institution. The window faces south, so that it warms the two-foot-thick concrete floor. Even on a cold day, the floor stays warm from being heated by the sun.

The 2 Types of Earth Sheltered Homes

Earth Sheltered: Dirt covers three exterior sides and the roof (the walls are most often concrete).

Earth Bermed: Dirt is pushed up against the exterior walls only, and not onto the roof, yet the roof is usually super-insulated.

28 Stunning Earth Sheltered Homes

These home designs are not only environmentally friendly, but truly spectacular.

1) Cooper Pedy, Australia


In Coober Pedy, Australia, daytime highs often climb into the 100s and many have taken up residence in abandoned opal mines to beat the heat. Some of the homes can be rented for overnight stays.

2) Outer Hebrides Islands, UK

earth sheltered home

This earth-sheltered house, in the wilds of the Outer Hebrides, provides a perfect living environment for harsh weather. This home’s support walls are constructed of PolarWall (polystyrene).

3) The Sedum House, North Norfolk, UK


An award winning earth shelter dwelling by Cam Architects. The Sedum House, in Gimingham, North Norfolk, UK, incorporates green technology in the form of ground source heat pumps, photovoltaic panels and a whole house ventilation system. The use of highly insulating ICF in the walls makes for a very low energy use dwelling. Note the sunken room on right.


Side wall of the Sedum House.

4) Earthship Farmstead, Virginia Mountains

Kaplan Thompson Architects did an amazing job with the structure of this building. They used their experience with building “net-zero” homes to create this eco-friendly home.

5) Pinnacle House, New Hampshire


Earth-sheltered Pinnacle House is an award-winning, sustainably-designed home in Lyme, New Hampshire. The home was designed and built by architect Don Metz in 1971, a pioneer in green home design and construction. The north-side of the house is built into the hillside, creating a green roof through the use of earth-sheltered building techniques. The house faces due south, offering passive solar gain and spectacular views from every room.

earth sheltered home - Pinnacle house

Pinnacle House interior.

6) Underhill, Yorkshire, UK

earth sheltered home - Undersell

Underhill, near Holmfirth, Yorkshire, UK. “The first ‘modern’ earth-sheltered house in Britain and the home of its architect Arthur Quarmby, a pioneer of earth-sheltered buildings. The house features earth embankments, turf roof, lots of insulation and a visual impact that not even the pickiest of neighbors could fault.” Photo by Martin Bond Photos

Earthbag Underground House: Time-Lapse Video

Six months of building this earthbag underground home at a commune in Ecuador, shown in two minutes. First up in the excavation, all done by hand. Next, the earth bags are laid in place. Wooden beams are laid across to form the roof, then metal sheeting laid across the beams. More sandbags are put in place to form a loft area. Then earth is laid over the lower-roof area, and stucco put around the exposed bags. Very cool (figuratively and literally).

7) Farm in New Zealand


Earth Sheltered Rainbow Valley Farm, New Zealand. The solar design maintains the temperature in the building, creating an escape from the heat. Photo by

8) Earth Sheltered Office, New Jersey

Malcolm Wells earth sheltered office

Architect Malcolm Wells built this earth-sheltered office in Cherry Hill, New Jersey—quiet and light-filled even though it’s beneath a meadow and adjacent to a six-lane highway.

9) St-Malo, France

earth sheltered house

Earth-sheltered homes in Parame, St-Malo, France. Photo by: John Leather, via Flickr

10) Australian Earth Shelter

This home has used a hill for the majority of the structure, with a small yard in the front.

11) Robot Ranch


Robot Ranch, seven interconnected earth sheltered domes. This home built into the side of a hill has 4,144 square feet of living area, yet it disappears into the landscape.

12) Eco-Village, Denmark


Earth sheltered homes in the eco-village at Dyssekilde, Denmark. Dysager was one of the first areas to be built, and includes the use of recycled materials throughout the eco-village.

Tour A “Raw” Earth-Sheltered Home

This video shows the exterior of an earth-sheltered home after the concrete bones have been poured. The narrator is the future occupant of the house. Eventually, five feet of dirt will be piled atop it! The video shows a pipe through which wiring will be put. Shows a retaining wall that will hold the dirt in place and act as a buttress to support the house. Inside the house you can see how much light comes through just from reflecting off the ground.

13) Dragonfly Hill


Dragonfly Hill, an earth-sheltered home near Newport, Oregon, is readied for its earth covering. Read the awesome blog devoted to the construction of this home.

14) Triangular House

earth sheltered home

Allan Shope designed an ecologically-focused house for himself and his family in Amenia, New York. The triangular house is built into the earth, and covered with native flora transplanted from other parts of the property.

15) Earth Sheltered Dome

earth sheltered house

Earth sheltered dome home in Vermont, via

16) Building With A Grass Roof

A grass roof house just outside Skaholt.

A post shared by wendyrgould (@wendyrgould) on

These owners have used grass to incorporate their homes into the surrounding field.

17) Walled Garden

earth sheltered home

The Walled Garden, Barnsdale, UK, with greenhouse by Search Architects. The home is single room deep, facing the sun, super-insulated, cut in to the landscape contours, covered in earth and overlooking the open countryside.

18) Dani Ridge House, Big Sur, California


The gorgeous Dani Ridge House in Big Sur, California by Carver + Schicketanz is tucked into a hillside.

Documentary: Fritz Eisenhofer, Earth-Sheltered Home Pioneer

A Dome in Peka Peka tells the story of Fritz Eisenhofer. He shares his experiences and his knowledge from building earth-sheltered homes. He points out that underground homes need to feel spacious. They can’t be laid out conventionally, or they feel claustrophobic. His solution—to build a dome. This type of structure minimizes the internal structure. The dome is such a strong form, it’s only 35 mm thick. Stills of the construction process are shown. Eisenhofer narrates the plan of the home, showing where all of the rooms were and their function. The house was built with a swimming pool / garden area. Eisenhofer lived in the home for 20 years…he points out that construction took longer than expected: “Anything new, you can’t rush it.”

19) Two-Story Underground Home, Cumbria

earth sheltered home John Bodger cumbria

British architect John Bodger built this underground home in Cumbria. The two-story house is burrowed backwards into rock at the site of on an old quarry. See plans and lots more about the project.

20) Earth Shelter, Project Michigan

This building was constructed to keep the windows facing south, protecting them from potential storm damage.

21) Mountain House


Dutch Mountain House, Huizen, Netherlands by denieuwegeneratie.

22) France

earth sheltered home Saint Jeannet France

Earth sheltered home, Saint Jeannet, France, Photo by Jean-Pierre Cavelan.

23) Earth House Estate

earth sheltered home earth house estate deitikon switzerland

The earth-sheltered homes at Earth House Estate in Deitikon, Switzerland are centered around a small artificial lake with the entrances well hidden and integrated into the sides of the settlement. The residential settlement consists of nine houses, one a 7-bedroom home! The daytime areas are situated towards the south, the night time areas towards the north. In the middle, you find the bathrooms and the connecting stairs to the basement. All the bathrooms get natural light through rooftop windows.

24) Honingham Social Housing, UK

earth sheltered him honingham

Honingham Earth Sheltered Social Housing. The UK’s first earth-sheltered social housing scheme. “We do not have any heating on at all in the winter and the building still stays at 72 degrees. The light comes in through the full-length windows in winter but in the summer the sun’s heat does not penetrate so you stay cool,” say the owners.

25) Earth Sheltered Home With Natural Swimming Pond

earth sheltered home

Earth sheltered home with conventional facade by Formworks. Dig out a pond (raise fish or create a natural swim pond) and place the soil on the house.

earth sheltered home

Earth sheltered home, as above. See the kit and plans at:

26) Mill Valley Cabins

Feldman Architecture used the surrounding redwoods to design a space for the residents that encourages creativity.

27) Earth-Sheltered Adobe Home

earth sheltered home

The facade by Formworks may accommodate any architectural styling of the home owners choosing. Here the structure is a bolted together skeletal steel system which is then sprayed with pressurized concrete, same process as a gunite swimming pool.

28) Earth-Sheltered Home + Umbrella

earth sheltered home

Use an umbrella to insulate the surrounding soil and increase inner temperatures even more. An umbrella house or PAHS (Passive Annual Heat Storage) home works on the principle that Earth is an ideal thermal mass for storing heat over long time periods. Summer’s heat is absorbed out of the home into the surrounding dry earth, keeping it cool and comfortable. This heat reserve is then conducted back up into the home when winter temperatures prevail, heat is available even through an entire winter.

To contain the heat, the heat should flow between the earth and the home, rather than the earth and the out-of-doors. You must keep the earth dry around the periphery of the home. The umbrella’s sandwich of polystyrene insulation and polyethylene sheeting (about R-20) insulates a huge mass of surrounding dirt instead of just the house. The lower, inside portion of the home needs but minimal insulation. See John Hait’s book: Passive Annual Heat Storage, Improving the Design of Earth Shelters.

Earth-Sheltered Home Resources

  • The Terra-Dome building system is a forming system that helps create a concrete steel reinforced structure in modular form of 24′ x 24′ or 28′ x 28′ (inside measurement). These modules are poured on location and can be arranged in a multitude of configurations. The Terra-Dome module is used for earth-sheltered structures in most cases.
  • Sturdy concrete earth sheltered homes are a speciality of Conrad’s Castles Construction in Bastrop, Texas.
  • The modular framework of Polarwall makes it easy for earth sheltered home builders to incorporate concrete and steel reinforcement.
  • Made from concrete, reinforced steel, and insulating foam, Monolithic Dome Homes are an inexpensive option for above-ground buildings in tornado zones—and are also used for underground homes.
  • The idea came from building an igloo—see how Bill Lishman’s idea for an underground home of interconnected igloos was built.

This is an ad for Green Magic Homes, a pre-fab construction concept. The modules are made from resins and composites. They are then assembled—they claim you need no construction experience for assembly. The Hotel Bellandia (see video below), in the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador, was built by Green Magic Homes.

Hotel Bellandia from Tercer Ojo Films on Vimeo.

Earth Sheltered Home Plans And Design Notes

The Best Books About Earth Sheltered Homes

Articles About Earth Sheltered Homes

  • “Efficient Earth shelter homes.” U.S. Department of Energy. 2012.
  • “Digging for the green: Underground architecture and sustainable design.” Hall, Loretta.
  • ACU professor Ronnie McQueen teaches benefits of earth house:
  • “Underground urban farm.” Trends in Japan. March 17, 2005.
  • Cooled soil as a cooling source for buildings:

Written by Keiren

Keiren is an artist who lives in New York City. A lover of animals, nature, science & green building. Keiren originally founded Inspiration Green in 2007, which merged with Insteading in 2016.


Leave a Reply
  1. I love this site. Thank you for all the inspirational visions of what is possible. Wish that I had at least 3 lives simultaneously and I’d be an earth shelter architect. Oh…but time!

    Hooray for our genius. Anjali!!!!

  2. I love it. Will it catch on? Probably not – 90% of the human race is selfish and has been since we stood up (I’m ashamed to say, I live more is this section). The Ten Percenters (as I refer to people like you) can’t beat those odds – sadly! Very best wishes.

  3. These are all great designs for houses, but not practical for the average person, given the incredible cost of construction.

  4. Hello- I work for Formworks Building. Many of our project photos are featured on this site. Our structures meet all current building codes and have never been denied a building permit anywhere in the U.S. or Canada. We are currently building for roughly the same cost as a conventional house, making these homes accessible to the general home builder/buyer. Our homeowners are consistantly using 90 percent less energy to heat and cool their homes that their conventional neighbors. Please visit our website at To see many of our project photos, please also visit our FaceBook page (link on the top right of our homepage).

  5. My studies from Fuller to James Lambeth, including Nervi and Wells, shows this is the new sustainable architectural wave. Orient for solar inception with shade for summers exclusion. I am happy to see that others are seeing this same vision. Goodness to you all, my brothers and sisters.

  6. This is a wonderful site! If these type of home construction is appealing, I URGE you to look into Earthship Biotecture, this is a system of home building similar to earth-sheltered home only earthship uses tires reamed with earth which acts as a more reliable temperature stabilizer year round.

  7. If you go to youtube and search Earth Bermed – ICF – Passive Solar House – our house will come up and you can view a home tour after our house was built last year. We have been in the home for one full year and love it. The earth berming really kept the north winds at bay…in a Canadian winter.

    Great website to share information….more berming less oil. 🙂

  8. I have to say tis is the best article / visuals I’ve seen in a while..just simply perfect…thank you very very much

  9. C’est très beau mais qui peux s’offrir ce genre de maison et ou trouve-t-on en France une direction départementale des territoires et des élus prêts ? laisser implanter ce genre d’habitation ???

  10. Great great projects!

    I would like to see more images and information about the quality of living inside these homes.

    Want to know more about the different designs.

  11. If ever my house burns down, I will RE-build it in this fashion. It’s perfectly sited for such a house, facing slightly west of due south, and the basement is already dug in – I’d just rebuild it using the basement level as the main level!

  12. Some of the French homes look alot like WW2 era fortifications/artillery batteries. Anyone know of any repurposed war remnants?

  13. For the non French speakers, Gaston’s question was thus:

    It is very beautiful but who can offer this kind of house or will we find in France a Departmental territories and politicians willing to let implement this type of home??

    Gaston, you will need to speak with the owners of the houses you see on this site, or start becoming best friends with the Mayor of your local town. —————-

    Gaston, vous aurez besoin de parler avec les propriétaires des maisons que vous voyez sur ce site, ou commencer ? devenir les meilleurs amis avec le maire de votre ville locale.

  14. I studied these when I lived in California, back in the 80’s as an alternative to some of the poorly insulated, overpriced homes they had there. I’m glad to see that they’re still being built. How cost effective are these to construct? If they are going to cost more than stick built homes, it will be only for the superwealthy. It would be great to make it possible for some of us middle class folks to enjoy and benefit from these homes as well.

    • Gloria, claims the cost is the same as conventional homes! A daunting task is to find a city that will allow the building of such homes and future neighbors that will accept your unconventional home…as they will fear that your home will bring down the value of their homes !!!

  15. You can search formworks.building on Facebook and see pics of a TON of ICF houses built using their system. We are considering an earth-bermed house, but living in Interior Alaska with ground thaw issues, etc., is giving us second thoughts. If you know of anyone who has built on further north than Homer I’d be interested in knowing about it.

  16. i have a 34 year old underground concrete house has a few leaks how to water proof it for remodel it used to have dirt on roof was removed and concrete pored over it needs dug out and re water proofed what to use and who does it arkansas

  17. These are amazing!! I am so ecstatic to see these buildings and that people are working on this everyday! I would love to build a green eco-friendly house in the future, there’s no other option for me!

    But the question is.. how much do these cost? I imagine they range greatly, so I guess I’m asking what the range is, lowest to highest?

    I know earth-bag building can be very cost friendly.

  18. Dwayne – seems you might need to add some plastic sheeting above your home if it is already leaking. This is sure to stop the leaking.

    Moon – you can build an underground home for a few thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars…a big spread considering labor costs and size.

  19. Interesting to see the different approaches. In the 1970s (could even have been earlier) there were pictures of a bungalow built into the slope of a mountain. The writing was explaining, the architect built this as the house of the future in South of France. Unfortunately the magazine got lost some when, and never cold find word of this anywhere again.

  20. I am so happily amazed by these earth, steel and assorted sustainable homes. I would love to throw off my debts and get back to not only practical but beautiful living space like this. I think I am hooked. I feel like my mind has been given room the breath with all these ideas. Thanks for sharing.

  21. I live in Fairbanks, Alaska. The summer temperatures often reach the mid to high 90s and the winter temperatures often drop to -40s.

    Have houses like these been successful in areas with extreme cold?

  22. For those that are worried about cold climates, if memory serves me right, the PAHS book was written about a house in Minnesota. Once you go below the frost line the soil remains a relatively constant temperature. The home mentioned in that book survived its first year with a brutal winter, somewhere around 1980, with temperatures ranging from 66-74 degrees and no additional heating.

  23. As Fairbanks is in the center of Alaska, close to the Arctic Circle, I question whether permafrost is in your area? I am afraid submerging a house in permafrost is not a good idea. But building a berm house might be okay. Earth sheltered dug into soil is perfect for many northern locations, but not for ‘extreme’ northern locations with frozen subsoil.

  24. I’m very interested in the green lifestyle and love these homes. My husband and I have a huge disdain for fire ants and termites, as well as roaches – what bug-life do you have to deal with? Do you think having a green roof would encourage an ant colony? They like to infest yards and can be challenging to get rid of- I would hate to open my pantry and find them burrowed into my ceiling. *shiver*

  25. My family and I are building an Earthship inspired house. We have started a crowdfunding campaign to finance a green roof. Please go here and check it out www dot fundedbyme dot com/…/green-roof-over-our-heads We could really use some help!! So if you want to be part of the story please back our campaign. We offer really cool rewards!!

  26. I have just started my dissertation on earth sheltered forms…am curious enough to dig deep (literally)..and see what come out of earth sheltered homes,Lets GO!!

  27. We built a home in Grass Valley, California that uses @10% of the energy that our stick framed neighbors use.

    We used a kit from Performace Building ( and it was pretty easy to get it approved as it meets all building codes. The advantage of this is that we could get a loan for the construction and then for the final finished structure.

  28. My dad designed and built this house – back in 1970s north of Seattle Washington. My parents lived there for over 20 years. The new owner added grapes vines (to make wine!) and lots of vegetable gardens and chickens and ducks and lives there happily using the water from rain. My dad had designed a windmill as well, to give power, but there was not enough wind. It was written up in Mother Earth News in 1979 entitled The Energy Efficient House That Jack Built. I have the original plans.

  29. I have lived in my earth sheltered home for over 8 years, completely remodeled it and was financed with Fannie Mae and serviced by Chase. I refinanced it locally with a bank with a loan that balloons every 3 years. I am trying to sell and all the appraisers say no one will finance it because no comps. Any suggestions?

  30. Hi Richard,

    I am sorry to hear about your challenge. I must admit I am not an expert on financing green building though…

    Do you know about

    Here is a link to there building topics page….I do not see earth sheltered so you will have to fish out where those experts are…

    I am sure someone there will be able to answer your question.

    Best! Good luck! Keiren

  31. We have been building earth sheltered homes across the country for more than 40 years now. Our home is the most unique earth sheltered home on the market today, as no other earth sheltered structure offers a true domed, cathedral-type ceiling. Our clients are finding that it costs less than half as much to live in one of our homes as it does in a conventional home.

    You will find that we are able to save you up to 80% on your energy costs while practically doing away with maintenance costs. Our homes are drawing a great deal of national attention. Earth Sheltered Technology, Inc. has won national design and building awards over the last several years. We are undisputedly the oldest earth sheltered builder in the nation who has built nothing except earth sheltered structures over the past 40 years. We are also the only known earth sheltered builder to offer a written warranty against leakage. Visit our new website at

  32. I had a doubt. what can the minimum height of slope under which you wish to build the earth house? and also, for how many years can this last if the best materials are used?

  33. I live in Big City Houston TX, everything is big, however I’m middle age my husband and I, we both want to retire in a self sustaining home, I love the idea of a Earth Home, at first when my husband showed me the home online, I was like have you lost your mind. But I’m now sold.

  34. We have a 30 yr old underground concrete house. It has a few leaks.I feel we need to reroof the whole roof to last another 30 yrs. How to do this and who to contact in British Columbia, Canada

  35. I found a high tech and beautiful technology at Green Magic homes dot com, a new generation of earth sheltered homes.

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