Sustainability: 4 Energy-Saving Earth-Sheltered Houses


As explained in a Crux Home article, an earth sheltered house is a unique dwelling with a building envelope covered or partially covered by the ground. Using the earth’s mass as external thermal mass, these structures save energy and are able to maintain a more constant indoor air temperature throughout the year with less need for augmented heating or cooling. Looking back through history, earth-sheltered homes are not a new idea. But with the sustainability movement, they are increasingly being used by architects. They can be stormproof, and earthquake- and fire-resistant due to their earth insulated design. Additionally, they esthetically blend into the landscape. As just a sample, following are 4 energy-saving earth-sheltered houses:

NCaved House, Greece; image: Yiorgis Yerolymbos, Panagiotis Voumvakis

NCaved House, Serifos Island, Greece; Mold Architects

Completed in 2020, the NCaved House is located on a secluded seaside cove on Serifos Island, Greece. As written about on the Mold Architects website, the house plot is exposed to strong north winds. So, the choice to use earth sheltering was both climate- and view-related. A facade of concrete and drystacked stone outline and protect the interior and exterior spaces. Walls of glazing maximize the coastal vistas for the living area.

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Sedum House, UK; image: CAM Architects

Sedum House, Gimingham, North Norfolk, UK; CAM Architects

Completed in 2007, the award-winning earth-sheltered Sedum House is eco-friendly with low energy requirements. It has had sustainable technology incorporated wherever possible, including ground source heat pumps, photovoltaic panels on the roof and a whole-house smart ventilation system. The insulated concrete form (ICF) walls help keep the indoor temperature constant year-round.

Hebridean Earth House, Askernish, South Uist, Scotland

Hebridean Earth House, Scotland; image:

Built with Polarwall ICF construction, the Hebridean Earth House was constructed on the Isle of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Located in a harsh location overlooking the isle and a freshwater loch, it is said to be “so secluded that few people know it exists.” In addition to its energy-saving qualities, the predominantly underground house, marketed as a rental, incorporates traditional features like ledges, braced doors, tech-savvy lighting, and an underfloor heating system.

Earth-Sheltered Guesthouse, Rocky Mountains, Colorado; Architect: Gluck+

Built in 2004 in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, this triangular earth-sheltered guesthouse was updated about ten years later with new structural additions to enhance the view. The house uses the earth’s thermal mass for maintaining inside temperatures. Clerestory glass windows admit light and views. In addition to other green attributes, solar arrays are used for energy generation.

Earth-sheltered guesthouse, Rocky Mountains, Colorado; image: Gluck+


As explained on the US Department of Energy website, the most obvious advantage of earth-sheltered buildings is energy efficiency. The structures require less energy to heat or cool, with temperatures remaining around 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit year round. They include underground and earth-bermed structures. Less common, underground structures are set completely below ground level. The more commonly used earth-bermed houses have earth banked against one or more walls. With options for a green roof, they provide soundproofing, lower insurance rates, and require less exterior maintenance over time. Earth sheltered houses also provide protection from the elements, i.e. wind, fire and storms.

When combined with solar arrays, earth-sheltered houses are eco-friendly, passive energy housing alternatives.

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