A House of Pomegranates

Aug 30, 2009, 9:10 PM |

Some people dream of a house with three stories and a deck and a big yard to encircle it. But I’m not sure how many people dream of a house with a yard to cover it. I do. My dream home has many names: hobbit hole, earth sheltered, or, simply, underground house.

These people are already living my dream and have been for many years.


I believe this type of dwelling is termed “elevational” because of its exposed wall. Living semi-underground has environmental advantages, mainly that it’s less susceptible to extreme outdoor temperatures, meaning less electricity used for cooling and heating. It also provides a natural sound barrier as well as a natural disaster barrier against tornadoes and wind damage, which can lower the cost of house insurance.

I’ll want at least some of the roof exposed for the solar panels I plan to have powering a minimum of 50% of my energy use. But it’s possible these could be located somewhere other than directly on top of the house. Given my location and energy needs, the upfront expense for these solar panels could be about $30,000. Solar power coupled with the natural energy savings of an underground house will already cut my external energy consumption and cost by, well, a lot. But that’s not all I want.

While we’re already digging into the earth to build my hobbit hole, I want to dig a bit further to install a geothermal heating system. Geothermal systems use pumps much like standard HVACs, except rather than relying on outside air, they bring natural heat up from earth through a series of tubes (har-har) to circulate throughout your home. In the summer, the system works in reverse to remove heat from your house and store it underground. The system can even be connected to a water heater to supply free hot water in the summer from the excess heat. Because the heating/cooling in your home is from a constant, stable underground temperature, the effects of humidity are also reduced.

I’ll probably pay another $30,000 for the geothermal system, depending on the type of drilling required. Some systems can be installed with a network of shallow, horizontal tubes. As I understand it, this process is usually cheaper, and the tubes can even be positioned under driveways and walkways to melt snow in the winter (not that we ever get any in the South). But deep, vertical drilling further into the earth would be more expensive.

Combine an underground house, solar panels, and a geothermal heating system to create an almost total energy supply from natural resources. That’s one cheap electric bill, or that’s what I’m hoping. But I’m still not finished.

Energy isn’t the only resource in short supply. Water is one of the few things in life that literally falls from the sky. So why not use it? Drilling a residential water well with pumps, pipes, filters, bells and whistles could cost me up to an additional $10,000, depending on terrain. But with all the trees, flowers, crops, and shrubbery (only slightly higher so you get the two-level effect with a little path running down the middle) I plan to plant, having a private supply to water them with will lessen the consumption of the public water supply, which could come in handy during any droughts or shortages.

I’ll be paying something like $70,000 just for energy/water efficiency, not including the cost to build the actual house. Now, if only there were a system I could buy to help me save money, or if money fell from the sky...