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Earth-Sheltered Houses: How to Build an Affordable Underground Home Paperback – Apr 3 2006

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: New Society Publishers; 1st Printing Stated edition (April 3 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0865715211
  • ISBN-13: 978-0865715219
  • Product Dimensions: 19 x 1.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 522 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #71,543 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


An earth-sheltered, earth-roofed home has the least impact upon the land of all housing styles, leaving almost zero footprint on the planet.

Earth-Sheltered Houses is a practical guide for those who want to build their own underground home at moderate cost. It describes the benefits of sheltering a home with earth, including the added comfort and energy efficiency from the moderating influence of the earth on the home's temperature-keeping it warm in the winter and cool in the summer-low maintenance, and the protection against fire, sound, earthquake and storm afforded by the earth. Extra benefits from adding an earth or other living roof option include greater longevity of the roof substrate, fine aesthetics, and environmental harmony.

The book covers all of the various construction techniques involved including details on planning, excavation, footings, floor, walls, framing, roofing, waterproofing, insulation and drainage. Specific methods appropriate for the inexperienced owner-builder are a particular focus and include:

  • pouring one's own footings and/or floor
  • the use of dry-stacked (surface-bonded) concrete block walls
  • post-and-beam framing
  • plank-and-beam roofing, and
  • drainage methods and self-adhesive waterproofing membranes.

The time-tested, easy-to-learn construction techniques described in Earth-Sheltered Houses will enable readers to embark upon their own building projects with confidence, backed up by a comprehensive resources section that lists all the latest products such as waterproofing membranes, types of rigid insulation and drainage products that will protect the building against water damage and heat loss.

Mother Earth News Wiser Living Series


About the Author

Author/editor Rob Roy has been building, researching and teaching about cordwood masonry for 25 years and, with his wife, started Earthwood Building School in 1981. He has written ten books on alternative building, presented four videos-including two about cordwood masonry-and has taught cordwood masonry all over the world.

Inside This Book

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By DrTopo on Aug. 8 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I had rented a bunch of books about earth-sheltered house. It didn't take long to see this one standed above the rest. I barely browsed through and proceeded to order the book. If you're serious about building your own earh-sheltered house, you need to own this book. It covers the process in details, offering various alternatives. However, two of the technics used in this books are only overlooked, as you need to purchase other books that covers the technics in details (cordwood massonery and timberwood framing).

Great book. It changed my initial plan a lot. Now I'm leaning toward using the same technics Rob Roy used.
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Format: Paperback
The increasing attention that alternative building methods is getting these days is very welcome news to me & the guy who wrote this book can be thanked for much of it!
Even though this book describes the projects he has worked on personally, the build process he has developed & used successfully can be manipulated & used with your own designs.
This book is very informative & complete. There's nothing missing!
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By Hydie Stouffer on March 31 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Full of info- tips and what not to do's. Some of them for people who have no prior building experience.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Caitlin on Jan. 19 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Only has a selection of colour photos. Book would be way more interesting and engaging if it had more colour photos.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 62 reviews
232 of 233 people found the following review helpful
Inspires Confidence, Crystal Clear, Makes the Option Very Attractive Feb. 23 2007
By Robert David STEELE Vivas - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I went to some trouble to survey books centered on both underground or into rock dwellings, and also earth sheltered homes, and this book is the best I could find. It has proven to be everything I had hoped for.

This book deals with earth-sheltered homes, which are homes generally built on the ground, and then covered with natural dirt and growth on the roof only, or on the roof and the berms of earth piled against at least two of the sides after the fact of building.

This is a really excellent offering. 12 chapters, 4 appendices, and an annotated bibliography. A number of really nice color photographs on eight pages in the middle of the book, many black and white photos as well as really excellent understandable diagrams.

Take-aways include the need for extremely careful but not over the top load planning, radon as a factor to take seriously, and ANYONE CAN DO THIS.

The book covers waterproofing, insulation, and drainage, to include waste drainage where gravity rather than pumping is strongly recommended. It does not cover electrical and plumbing installation. It covers energy in relation to sunlight and windows and heat retention curtains, but does not include coverage of skylights (except as an energy loss factor), interior lights and other "plumbing.

The bottom line in the book is that a solid earth-sheltered house can be built for $10K to $20K inclusive of appliances, plumbing and so on, which makes it a lot cheaper and greatly more sustainable than a double-wide trailer home, and better in most respects than your average rambler.

With Peak Oil now upon on, the energy saving features of the earth-sheltered home are not to be taken lightly. The author document going without a need for heat from wood burning for almost an entire winter, and documents getting through any winter with 2-3 cords of wood. The home is cool in the summer without airconditioning, in part because of the natural respiration and evaporation of the earth roof with grass, moss, and wildflowers.

I want to end with praise for the publisher. Five or six times now I have bought boooks based on my interest in their content, only to find that New Society Publishers is the provider. They now rank with Wharton Publishing as one of my favored publishers, and I will be keeping an eye out for anything bearing their imprint.
124 of 125 people found the following review helpful
Location, location, location Aug. 31 2007
By J. Wagner - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is a great book! If you really wanted to build your own earth-sheltered home you could certainly do it using the information presented here (though a wiser course would be to pick up more sources). Thanks to this book and "The New Ecological Home", building our own home with environmentally conscious materials and possibly earth bermed or sheltered is high on our list of priorities. There is only one complaint I have about many books of this variety. They tend to cover difficulties with things like building code and location very lightly.

Building code and location are going to be huge factors in building an earth sheltered structure, especially one made with fewer traditional modern building materials. Difficulties with local regulations or inflexible inspectors/building comissions may prevent you from being able to build in the area you want. This may drive an individual to build in locations further away from urban centers where they might work. Commuting is no fun; and if you wanted to look at it from an environmental standpoint commuting a greater distance to work, grocery market or schools has just raised your carbon footprint and negated some of the savings your earth sheltered home has created.

I would highly recommend that individuals check local code thoroughly and choose a location suitable to their daily needs such as work or other social necessities before building. One need not build out of logs and plaster to have an earth sheltered home, though I understand that the point of this book is to have an affordable home and avoiding expensive modern materials. Take a bigger picture of what you are trying to accomplish; if you are purchasing this book it is somewhat safe to assume you are concerned about the environment. Please also consider materials used. Rob Roy's excellent use of modern materials such as rubber membranes and concrete block are high in initial cost to produce, environmentally speaking, but last longer and provide more benefit to long term savings such as insulative qualities and maintenance costs than lesser materials might. A lot of other earth-sheltered builders advocate natural materials to a fault, they have people using composting toilets and straw-bale homes. While effective in an environmental sense, they are not attractive to the average person. Rob Roy's book moves in a positive direction by using modern materials with environmentally conscious construction to create a home that just about anybody would like to live in.
102 of 102 people found the following review helpful
The best available guide I've found yet March 10 2008
By Sean J. Gildea - Published on
Format: Paperback
An excellent reference for those who are interested in Earth Bermed and Earth Sheltered houses. His attention to detail in the excavation and foundation chapters is worth the price of the book alone. Especially when there is a lack of in depth internet resources available for those wishing to build their own earth sheltered house. Although this book deserves the 5 stars for fulfilling its basic promise, I wish he had devoted some time to discussing plumbing for a simple structure. But overall, he gives this reader 90% of the information necessary to start a small sized earth bermed house.

If you are looking to have an earth roof, you will need to purchase his other book "Timber Framing" where he goes into rich detail the structural engineering requirements of load and tension and compression. With these 2 books, you should be able to complete rough plans for a structural engineer to review and stamp with little or none modifications.

Also, for those searching for energy efficient stoves, I recommend's institutional rocket stove or Ianto Evans Rocket Stove which are both 300% more efficient than traditional wood stoves.

On a conclusionary note. I priced out timber framing members for the roof section of a square 30'x30' roof and it came out to over $9000 in timber alone ( not including the tongue & groove planking). Compare that to a traditional 8/12 pitch roof somewhere in the $3000 price range for rafters, ridge, and plywood. Put a metal roof on that and you should be good for over 30 years atleast. Sure the earth roof is better for the ecosystem and eye but a regular roof allows placement of rainwater collection, solartubes and solar heaters/panels as well. For the cost conscious, I have come to the conclusion that a traditional roof that is superinsulated along with the earth berming techniques in this book will allow people to have their own energy efficient house for less than they think.
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Much more than a simple how-to book. June 29 2009
By Robert Beveridge - Published on
Format: Paperback
Rob Roy, Earth-Sheltered Houses (New Society, 2006)

I can't remember the last time I stopped reading everything else I was in the middle of to concentrate on a nonfiction book. I'm not entirely sure that's ever happened before. And the funny thing about it is that I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, this book's target audience; Roy takes a small diversion in Chapter 2 to quote Mike Oehler: "A an airless place with few windows, artificially lighted and having an artificial feel. An underground house is not this at all." What Oehler is describing is actually exactly what I'm looking for; I never want to see the sun again, if I can help it. Also, the environmentalist stuff goes right over my head; my interest in chasing down this sort of thing is always in the practical money-saving aspects of not having to use temperature control devices (air conditioning an 1100sf house in my area, sparingly, during the summer months can run $300 a month, while heating the same house to sixty-eight degrees constantly during one winter month is well over twice that). Underground housing would seem to be a perfect solution; anyone who's wandered through a natural cave formation (and didn't we all take field trips to them in fifth grade?) knows that temperature underground is much slower to change than it is on the surface. Add on a few other niceties and it's possible to live truly off the grid, and I know many, many people, environmentalists or not, who would be thrilled with such an idea. And there's a lot of practical advice here that even those who don't toe the environmentalist line will want to pick this book up and check out, even if they've never thought about building an earth-sheltered house (or if they're idea of underground living is, like mine, radically different than Roy's), but even that is not the reason I stopped reading everything else to concentrate on this book. That was because it's fascinating.

Roy has built two major earth-sheltered houses, and he takes us through the building of each. (Not separately; in the chapter on foundations, for example, we get both examples.) One is a more "normal" rectilinear house, while the second is a round house, and Roy talks up the advantages of round-house construction throughout the text (though he does warn that you'll run into more problems with the bureaucrats, who aren't used to such things). And, as I said, there's lots of practical advice, but to me, the book's real strong point--especially for those who are just picking it up to read--is that Roy is simply a good storyteller. How-to manuals are not generally known for their readability, but when it comes right down to it, this is a how-to manual, but it's one that will have you saying "just one more chapter". As far as I can tell, that makes it an unique book, and one that's worth your time even if you've never thought about building an earth-sheltered house. Now, can someone find me one about building an underground bunker? ****
47 of 52 people found the following review helpful
Very Informative Nov. 4 2006
By Tina Ward - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book has great instructions on building an earth sheltered dwelling, but it has a lot of construction specifics. This is a book you would give the company or person who is building your house to make sure they do it right.

I would have liked to see more pictures of different houses to get a real feel of what can be done, structure wise.