I am in the middle of a child-free day, as my parents have taken them out to the museum, and I am enjoying myself by sewing up a storm and watching/listening to Lord of the Rings dvd’s. The Fellowship is my favorite movie of the bunch, because it shows the little town of Hobbiton and Bag End, which is where Frodo and Bilbo live. Since I first saw this movie, I have had a fondness for Hobbit houses. They are so quaint, natural, and comfortable looking. Who wouldn’t want to live in one?
So, as is my nature, I have collected a TON of information on underground construction, sod roofs, building with natural materials (straw bales, etc), and the pros and cons of everything to do with a house like Bag End. First, the pros.
Building underground means that your house is less likely to suffer damage from something like a tornado, wind storm, major snow storm, lightning, hurricane, and fire. You don’t have to worry about replacing shingles on the roof or siding on the walls, as most of that will be sod and earth. Being underground means that your indoor temperature will not vary much throughout the year, so your heating and cooling bills would be drastically reduced. The house would be more of a part of the landscape than if it were an above-ground behemoth. Noise levels are less in an underground house because the earth absorbs more. You can still utilize the earth that your house is on, because your roof is sod and slopes gently down to meet the rest of the yard. That means you don’t lose valuable grazing for animals like goats, chickens, etc. Lastly… underground housing is just pleasing to the eye.
Now, I will go into the few cons. The biggest of all is regulations and housing laws. It is extremely difficult to obtain financing and pass inspection if you are building underground. It’s not because underground is bad, but because not many people have done it. Also, you have to worry about mold, condensation, poisonous gases, settling, vermin, and insect damage with underground houses. I’ve read of more than one person who’s roofing had been eaten through by termites or fire ants because they built with the wrong materials or in the wrong area. While these drawbacks are certainly no trivial things, they are severely outweighed (at least in my opinion) by the benefits.
Among the hundreds of house plans that I’ve drawn, I have a select few that I have transformed into underground abodes. If I were to build one, it would probably be a combination of underground and above. At the moment, I am very interested in building with straw bales, but since they need good ventilation, only the outer walls would be able to be built with them. The back wall would probably be stone, cement, or rammed earth. I can see in my mind a sprawling, wide house built into a hill, with the sod roof coming down from the northern backside of the house and ending over the south-facing front. Large windows would add solar benefit for heating. The only part of the house that would stick up out of the grass roof would be a pipe or two for venting woodstoves.
It’s something fun to dream about, anyway. I hope that someday I will be able to experience building underground, even if it’s only a little storm shelter/cellar.