Earth homes have been around for a very long time, and for good reason. They work. In fact a full 40% of the world's population live in some kind of earthen dwelling.
Termites perfected some great building techniques long before we humans arrived on the scene. Termite mounds maintain just about ideal temperature control, staying cool all summer and warm all winter and do it with a level of complexity we usually only attribute to our own species. The same is true of ground squirrel burrows and no doubt innumerable others we have yet to discover.
Earth homes and earth sheltered homes are ideally suited to moderating temperature extremes but can greatly improve energy efficiency in almost any climate. You only have to dig 5 feet or a metre and a half below ground level in almost any climate to find a consistent year-round temperature of around 55 degrees F. or 13 degrees C.
These structures can be made of adobe, rammed earth, cob, stonework and earth plasters in various combinations and can also be bermed or built entirely underground on rare occasions. These methods together with passive solar can vastly improve energy efficiency and potentially reduce your heating/cooling expenses to near zero.
In many cases your raw building materials can be aquired right on the site or at least nearby. This is as close to literally dirt cheap as you're ever likely to get. And the results can look anything but. These homes can be elegant and beautiful as well as highly functional, long lasting and extremely comfortable in any climate.
There is something undeniably primal about earth homes. They evoke a distant past that we are still genetically very much a part of. The walls radiate a sense of solidity, security and comfort making you feel grounded and energized. Whatever you might happen to think about the practicalities of building them, they hold an undeniable attraction for us. Rammed earth and adobe construction are well-established and written into a lot of building codes around the world and the cob house is coming along in terms of recognition by building inspectors and engineers. Earthbag building still has a long way to go in working its way through the approval process but is a remarkably strong, adaptable and literally dirt cheap technology that can be used almost anywhere.
Since the material for all these methods is good old-fashioned mud the embodied energy ratings are as close to nil as you can get. In other words not much more negative impact on the environment than the barn swallow building its nest. This is a huge consideration for anyone who is serious about reducing their footprint to any statistically significant extent. For the purpose of this page, papercrete and lightweight ferrocement are included in this mix because both methods greatly reduce the embodied energy as well.
Finally, building an earth home is usually anything but dull. As a browse through some of the pictures on this site will illustrate building with earth can be a fun, even sexy experience. It's the kind of work that you can really get into body and soul.People of all stripes have an innate sense for working with the earth that is locked deep in our genes. And the results are usually spectacular.
All photos courtesy of Kleiwerks International
Watch an interview with Kleiwerks founder Janell Kapoor HERE