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Underground home in a flat region

 
Jeremy Kenward
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This spring when sepp holzer came through Detroit he was super keen on building krater gardens in our relatively flat terrain. He talked about building up at least 2 meters and down just as much, though he seemed to have a much taller berm and deeper crater in mind, so that there was at least 24 feet from top to bottom. He talked about building his caves/root cellars into this huge earthwork.

Obviously underground homes are inappropriate for flat ground, but does anyone think woofatis/psp/earthberm homes could be incorporated into a "krater garden"? Just wondering if this is an idea worth pursuing more, as building is an interest but not high on my skill sets....and were considering building something like a krater garden.
 
Gail Moore
Posts: 175
Location: south central Appalachia, southwest Virginia, US zone 6/7
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Hi Jeremy,

In mike oehler's book, he shows how to build what he calls the Flatland House. You might get your hands on a copy of his book to view these ideas.

I hope this helps you. The Flatland House is a great way to build on flat land, instead of a slope.

 
Andrew Parker
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Location: Salt Lake Valley, Utah, hardiness zone 6b/7a
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Here is a drawing of Oehler's Flatland House. I trust is was posted with permission.

You might also want to consider a culvert house. There were 3 culvert homes built in the Salt Lake area. One, in North Salt Lake, used used metal culvert that collapsed while being backfilled improperly. It was finished out awkwardly (ugly) with conventional construction. Two others, one in Midvale, the other in Cedar Fort, were finished according to design. I searched them out on google earth and found that both have lost their culverts, having been replaced with conventional roofs. I do not know why they got rid of the earth covered culvert. They may have had leaks or perhaps they couldn't resell them as culvert homes. They still look nice from the street and their side walls remain bermed.

Basements are only a problem in flat land if the water table is high. Basements are very popular in Utah, so houses built in flat land near lakes, marshes or rivers, where the water table is high, were often built with a full basement built at ground level and then bermed. More recently, elaborate drainage schemes have been constructed in newer subdivisions to allow below-ground-level full basements in former wetlands. (Anything is justified if it sells homes, right?)

Native Americans built earth sheltered homes on bluffs or on mounds they built themselves (check out the thread on earth lodges, etc. here). If you are moving a lot of earth to make Holzer-type beds, you would have a few options for placing an earth sheltered home above the water table or even above flood level.
 
James Colbert
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I am thinking of building a small earth bermed cabin next spring/fall. If you are working with flat land would i be possible to simply elevate the foundation slightly, perhaps a foot or so. the idea is to create a mini hill above ground level so that water won't effect your building. Add so over hands and a wrap around ditch and it should stay dry, right?
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1355
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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In boston and most cooler/older cities, the foundation/basement wall has to be below the frost line.
So almost all the house have basement with windows and at least 1 outside door 8ft below ground and 2ft above ground.
Alot of these basements have been renovated into apartments and store.
So if you take the same concept take off the extra floors above it and cap it with a concrete/living roof, plus shurbs/vines/beamed wall.
You would have a hidden structure.
 
Andrew Parker
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Location: Salt Lake Valley, Utah, hardiness zone 6b/7a
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James,

Are you thinking of only berming the cabin, or are you wanting it underground or partially underground like a half-basement? Can you get earth moving equipment to the building site? Is the lot flat as in bottom-land, or flat as in slightly undulating plain? Do you get standing water during Spring runoff or when it rains? Do you have a shallow water table?

S,

Basements without a house, but with a roof, are called basement houses and they used to be (50+ years ago) fairly prevalent as starter homes. Because a lot of folks who built basement houses never got around to building houses on them, a lot of zoning has been written to specifically exclude basement houses. Of course, most of the people who wrote them are retired or dead now, so maybe you could talk the new generation of bureaucratic automatons into it.
 
James Colbert
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Andrew Parker wrote:James,

Are you thinking of only berming the cabin, or are you wanting it underground or partially underground like a half-basement? Can you get earth moving equipment to the building site? Is the lot flat as in bottom-land, or flat as in slightly undulating plain? Do you get standing water during Spring runoff or when it rains? Do you have a shallow water table?

S,

Basements without a house, but with a roof, are called basement houses and they used to be (50+ years ago) fairly prevalent as starter homes. Because a lot of folks who built basement houses never got around to building houses on them, a lot of zoning has been written to specifically exclude basement houses. Of course, most of the people who wrote them are retired or dead now, so maybe you could talk the new generation of bureaucratic automatons into it.


I am talking bermed only. I can get earth moving equipment to the site I wouldn't do an earth bermed house otherwise lol. The property is 38 acres in the hills and mountains of California gold country so the land overall is very hilly but the area I want to use is near a seasonal creek, relatively flat, perhaps a gentle slope towards the creek and south east, and i checked it during the last big storm and it remained relatively dry and without puddles. I was thinking of slightly grading the area towards the creek, build a pole structure with an elevated floor and loft then earth berm and add a wrap around ditch to move water away from structure.
 
Andrew Parker
pollinator
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Location: Salt Lake Valley, Utah, hardiness zone 6b/7a
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I assume by pole structure you mean an Oehler type design? Where will you be getting your berm dirt from? Will you be putting a green roof on your structure?

If your water table is deep, you should be able to build into the ground a ways, as long as you have properly redirected runoff around your structure. Have you dug any test holes?

I am somewhat familiar with the area as I have an uncle that lives near Auburn, but I usually only stop by for a few minutes on the way to and/or from Turlock or San Francisco on the I-80 quick tour of the Sierra Nevada.
 
Jeff McLeod
Posts: 95
Location: New Hampshire
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You may want to take a look at these - The idea has been around for centuries. What was once old is now new and trendy again

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matmata,_Tunisia

http://www.pommietravels.com/2011/01/top-things-to-do-in-tunisia/troglodyte-homes-in-matmata-tunisia/

Peace

Jeff
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1355
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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Seems like good idea. Build a courtyard to drain any excess water to.
Worse case scenario you would then have to use a sump pump to drain the court yard.
However your house would be dry.

 
Brian Knight
Posts: 554
Location: Asheville NC
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"... your house would be dry." unless... The rate of "water in" exceeded the rating or capacity of the pump, or the power to the pump goes out for whatever reason. Flooded basements can be less of a catastrophe than flooded main living areas.

Underground home builds in flat regions should be very cautious. Just because a test pit has been dry for ten years doesnt mean it will stay that way, especially in our changing climate. Obviously, flat land in arid climate with porous earth is safer than the opposite.

I think best practice says underground dwellings should have foundation drainage to daylight (ideally sloped 1/4" per foot) which usually means a slope is needed.
 
Rion Mather
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Jeremy Kenward wrote:
Obviously underground homes are inappropriate for flat ground, but does anyone think woofatis/psp/earthberm homes could be incorporated into a "krater garden"? Just wondering if this is an idea worth pursuing more, as building is an interest but not high on my skill sets....and were considering building something like a krater garden.


I have seen a couple earth sheltered homes in Oklahoma, especially near Norman. The only thing you can see sticking out of the ground is about a foot of the exterior walls and roof. All on flat land. Almost anything is possible.

 
Jon Kennedy
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Hello I noticed this and thought I might add a bit.
I have lived in many places in my life and designed a few buildings and structures.
The picture from s-benji brought back some memories of archtecture classes and a classmate from china.
The main building materials there where my old friend was from , was rock and earth/dirt. His search for a better building design , was because during earth quakes these buildings were usually destroyed , and caused alot of injuries/deaths.
The earth sheltered homes i believe Rion was talking about are basement houses, which many of the ranchers/farmers built in the 50s/60s in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas. Etc. Then when they had the money after 10 plus years the added on and built the upper home and garages.
They worked quite well, although where prone to water damage. Since they didnt usually include any drainage around the basement walls.

Jeremy if this ground is truly flat. And there are no elevations then possibly consider rammed earth, or poured earth. Or insulated rammed earth. Look at Sirewall.com Another suggestion would be earth bermed concrete walls on one or more sides. A metal roof properly insulated will help reflect the heat , and help the draw if you incorporate a cooling tube type feature, while the southern walls will help heat the structure at night.
I guess then you could consider some of the designs of eathships, and incorporate some of there ideas.
Have you considered building a circular or rectangular earth bermed home above ground with a court yard in the center.
I believe you said you had earth moving equipment available to use, possible you could design your home/yard with earth. Ponds, drainage, raised beds, driveways, etc! Just as you can design for high winds, sun/heat, rain/snow. Etc
Your imagination will be they key, so make a list of what you want and why, and the research the net, as your doing and im sure with persistence you will succeed. ( as long as you stay within the local covenants/codes)
Best of luck
Jon

 
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