A while back, there was an insurance company that made an entire advertising campaign around a caveman. As with any mass media program designed to get our attention, it was clever and fun. In simple summary, they claim that switching to their services is so easy – a caveman could do it.
We won’t go too far into un-packing the psychology of what they meant by this. For instance – perhaps they are right in assuming the large majority of mass-media consumers are equivalent to our pre-historic, smaller-brained predecessors in raw intelligence? Thinking too much about the potential truth of that can get a little scary!
When we first told people we were going to build an earth-sheltered home (a fancy way of saying “underground house”), comments ranged from the curiously hesitant – “Aren’t you worried about it being dark, damp and smelly?” to the blatantly insulting – “we left the caves a million years ago – we modern people live in houses above ground now”. Thanks for the support! Right?
There are a whole host of common mis-conceptions about underground homes. We’ve heard most of them so far, and they go something like this:
· There’s not enough light – meaning: you can’t have windows in an earth-sheltered home
· It’s going to be musty and damp smelling – meaning: there isn’t air circulation
· It must cost a fortune to build and earth-sheltered home
· Only certain builders can do it
· Designs are limited by small spaces and specific shapes
We’ve been inside a few earth-sheltered homes built in the 1970’s and quite honestly – some of these myths are actually not far from the truth. Let’s look at it like this though - have you ever seen a computer from the 1970’s? See where we’re going with this? If the only thing I ever knew about computers was based on what I saw created 40 years ago, I could never imagine that my phone is now my computer – and it fits in my pocket --- oh, and yes – it’s 1,000 times more powerful than the one I saw 40 years ago.
With that in mind, let’s now address these myths associated with building and living in an earth-sheltered home.
· Light – we have proven that our earth-sheltered home has MORE light in nearly every room than our “traditional” home. During normal daylight hours, there is very rarely a need to turn on any lights.
· Dampness/Smell – we find it far easier to regulate the internal climate than our traditional home. The air-handling systems in an earth-sheltered home are not that different than a regular house.
· Construction cost – it’s possible to build an earth-sheltered home for just slightly more than a traditional, well-built custom home. Let’s be clear though – an earth-sheltered home is built to last 100 years. You can’t compare construction costs to a builder that slaps up over 20 sites a year. I’ve been through a lot of them – those pretty looking McMansions you see in the quasi-gated neighborhoods are built more like mobile homes with a foundation!
· Builders are limited – in some cases, this is actually true – but it doesn’t have to be if the right design company is selected. I have never built a house in my life and I successfully completed a 5,000 sq.ft earth-sheltered home in 13 months.
· Designs are limited – as above, this is true when working with some designers. In our case however, we worked with a designer that basically said – “tell us what you want, and we’ll make it happen.” That’s exactly what we did – and we’re very happy with the end result.
Since we’ve addressed all of the popular mis-conceptions about earth-sheltered homes, let’s now take a look at some of the advantages of an earth-sheltered home over a traditional style structure.
· Super Efficiency – it’s not even a fair comparison. In the summer when it’s 90 degrees, our earth-sheltered home is 72 inside with ZERO air conditioning. When it’s 20 degrees outside, it’s 65 inside with ZERO heating. The thermal mass properties of an earth-sheltered home are amazing to experience. Simply put – you can’t build a more efficient structure for the price.
· Safety – Hail, wind, snow and any other kind of inclement weather doesn’t effect an earth-sheltered home. Where do people go to find shelter from a tornado? That’s right – underground!
· Maintenance Free - Modern earth-sheltered homes are designed to need little/no maintenance for 100 years. Think about it for a second – replacing shingles? We have bushes on our roof!
After going through the entire process of researching, designing, building and now using an earth-sheltered home, every possible myth associated with “living in a cave” has been smashed. If you have the latest touch-screen, voice recognition, Bluetooth enabled computer that fits in your pocket, why would you want something that takes up an entire desktop? Why is it that we continue to build our living spaces the same way we have for the past century?
Evolution may have waived good-bye to the cavemen long ago, but in terms of the most modern, sustainable home construction going today – it’s time to evolve back into the cave.