Benefits of an Earth Berm or Earth Sheltered Home
by Kate Esposito
Anyone who has suffered through years of city living -- with neighbors yelling,
cabs honking, and the sound of
construction equipment biting through the air -- will be pleasantly
surprised after spending one night inside an earth berm or earth sheltered home.
The earth is very effective at blocking outside noise, even the sound of people
only a few feet away. This can provide a much-needed sanctuary.
Some people assume that an earth berm home is dark, cave-like, and buried in the
ground, but it is in fact quite the opposite. Instead of the builder placing the
home under the ground, he or she brings the earth up, so to speak, to cover the
outside walls of the dwelling. In some cases, the roof has a layer of soil on
top of it, too, which turns the earth berm home into an earth sheltered home. In
all cases, the earth is tightly packed and sloped so there is little risk of
erosion and drainage is not compromised. Earth berm homes (and earth sheltered
homes) have many benefits to both the homeowner and the planet.
It’s true that this type of home may cost more to build than a traditional
single-family dwelling but the cost can be offset by the potential for future
savings in several areas.
Geothermal heat from the ground keeps earth berm homes relatively warm even on
the coldest of winter nights. One earth berm home builder advertises that the
homes the company builds never fall below 50 degrees. Earth berm homes also stay
cool in the summer, taking advantage of that crisp underground air that people
often notice in their basements. The combination of the two can save the
homeowner thousands of dollars in energy bills and help reduce carbon emissions.
Some residents of earth berm homes fulfill all of their heating needs simply by
adding a woodstove or fireplace.
Because earth berm homes have to support the added earth, they are made from
extra-sturdy materials often reserved for foundations, such as brick and
concrete. They're built to last up to 100 years -- or longer. This strength in
construction reduces the amount of exterior maintenance earth berm homes need
significantly. Plus, with an earth sheltered home there is no traditional
roofing to worry about. Another perk is that the entire home lies close to the
ground. This makes tasks like painting the siding and cleaning the windows much
less arduous than on a traditional house.
Because earth berm and earth sheltered homes are protected by a layer of soil,
they are all but immune to most severe weather damage. Tornadoes are likely to
pass over them without much of a stir and lightning is unlikely to target a home
that is partially on level with the ground. Don't forget that earth is reliably
fireproof and will shield the home from strong winds. This can save the owner a
bundle on insurance costs, assuming an alternative-building-savvy insurer is
More important to some than cutting costs are the benefits that can improve the
owner’s quality of life. These are just as important in a home, if not more so.
Earth berm homes are the anti-McMansion. Instead of reveling in their
extravagance, they are pleasantly understated. In fact, some earth sheltered
homes can only be seen from the side that contains the front wall. But the homes
don’t look like buried shacks -- they are often quite beautiful both inside and
out. It’s just that most of the windows, decks and other decorative touches are
featured on the front façade. Since the homes are unobtrusive, they help to
preserve the look of the environment around them.
More Usable Land
Even if earth bermed homes don’t have larger lots than stick-built houses, the
fact that they have earth built up alongside them makes them greener. It’s
possible to start a garden or grow a manicured lawn right on the wall or the
roof of the home. Doing so can even contribute to their beauty.
Peace and Quiet
Anyone who’s been through years of city living -- with neighbors yelling, cabs
honking, and the sound of construction equipment biting through the air -- will
be pleasantly surprised after spending one night inside an earth berm or earth
sheltered home. The earth is very effective at blocking outside noise, even the
sound of people only a few feet away. This can provide a much-needed sanctuary.
Earth berm homes were popularized in the 1970s at the time of a major energy
crisis. Because the idea has been around for decades, there are hundreds of
plans available for builders to use. This makes it easy to find a contractor
with a variety of base plans to choose from. A good way to get started for those
interested in one of these homes is to contact the U.S. Green Building Council
to find a company in the area where the lot is located. Another option is to
purchase existing construction. Current homes are often as close as the local
real estate ads. In many parts of the country -- particularly in the Midwest --
earth berm and earth sheltered homes are mixed into the listings alongside the
more traditional properties.