Sustainable Architecture

Think Small

Heat with the Sun

Keep your Cool

Use Renewable Energy

Conserve Water

Use Local Materials

Use Natural Materials

Save our Forests

Recycle Materials

Build to Last

Grow your Food

Store your Food

Share Facilities

Keep Your Cool

A well designed solar house is both warm when you want it and cool when you want it; that is to say, the temperature tends to stay fairly even. Another good way to keep your cool is to dig into the earth. About six feet under the earth, you will find that the temperature varies by only a few degrees year round. While this temperature (about 50-55 degrees F.) might be too cool for general living comfort, you can use the stability of the earth's temperature to moderate the thermal fluctuations of the house. If you dig into a south-facing hillside to build, or berm the north part of the house with soil, you can take advantage of this. The part of the house that is underground needs to be well insulated, or the earth will continually suck warmth out of the house.




Digging In for Comfort

Living Walls

Shaping Buildings for the Humid Tropics

Recovering America



with Paul Shippee

How to build underground



PSP refers to a method of building developed by Mike Oehler, who wrote The Fifty Dollar and Up Underground House Book. Mike definitely has some ideas worth relating, although they won't appeal to everyone. He did indeed build a fifty dollar house that he is still living in, although I believe he has added on a few hundred dollar wing to it. Much of the savings that Mike has been able to attain is through a combination of using recycled materials, logs harvested from his own land, and a simple method of building underground.

PSP stands for Post/Shoring/Polyethylene. The framework of the building is created with posts that are preserved in various ways and planted in the earth. These posts serve to support both the walls and the ceiling. The space between the posts is planked with used dimensional lumber, such as from wood pallets. This is what he calls the "shoring". Then the whole thing is wrapped in polyethylene plastic before it is backfilled with earth, making a truly underground home. Instead of conventional flooring, Mike advocates using the existing earth, finely raked and smoothed, and then carpeting thrown over it.

To me the most impressive aspect of what Mike has to offer is in his design concepts for building underground. He has come up with a system for designing rooms that can provide daylight and proper drainage for a wide variety of arrangements. His thinking goes way beyond what most underground architects have accomplished.


The Professional Design Guide to Green Roofs
by Lisa Lee Benjamin and Karla Dakin, 2013


Green Roofs:
A Guide to their Design
and Installation

by Angela Youngman, 2012


The Vertical Garden:
From Nature to the City
by Patrick Blanc, 2012


Gardening Vertically:
24 Ideas for Creating
Your Own Green Walls

by Noémie Vialard, 2012


Passive Solar Architecture: Heating, Cooling, Ventilation, Daylighting and More
Using Natural Flows

by David Bainbridge and Ken Haggard, 2011


Kelly Hart's review

Small Green Roofs:
Low-Tech Options
for Greener Living

by Edmund C. Snodgrass, Nigel Dunnett, Dusty Gedge, John Little, 2011


The Green Roof Manual:
A Professional Guide to Design, Installation, and Maintenance
by Edmund C. Snodgrass, Linda McIntyre, 2010


Green Roofs and Facades
by Gary Grant, 2010


Green Roof Systems :
A Guide to the Planning, Design
and Construction
of Building Over Structure

by Susan Weiler, Katrin Scholz-Barth, 2009


The Earth-Sheltered House:
An Architect's Sketchbook

by Malcolm Wells, 2009

Click on image for more information

Planting Green Roofs and Living Walls
by Nigel Dunnett, Noel Kingsbury, 2008


Building-skin Concepts that
Can Do More
with Less Energy

by Gerhard Hausladen, Michael de Saldanha, and Petra Liedl, 2008


Award Winning Green Roof Designs
by Steven Peck, 2008


Green Roofs in Sustainable Landscape Design
by Steven Cantor, Steven Beck, 2008


Vertical Gardens
by Anna Lambertini, 2007


The Earth Sheltered
Solar Greenhouse Book
by Mike Oehler, 2007


reviewed by Kelly Hart

Green Roof: A Case Study: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates' Design For the Headquarters of the American Society of Landscape Architects
by Christian Werthmann, 2007


Green Roof Plants:
A Resource
and Planting Guide

by Edmund and Lucie Snodgrass, 2006


Heating or Cooling Your Building Naturally:
Solar Architectural Solutions

by Virginia B. Macdonald, 2006


Earth-Sheltered Houses:
How to Build an Affordable Underground House

by Rob Roy, 2006

Click on image for more information

Earth Sheltered Housing: Code, Zoning, And Financing Issues
by University of Minnesota, 2005


Green Roofs:
Ecological Design
And Construction
by Earth Pledge Foundation


Stay Cool:
A Design Guide for the Built Environment in Hot Climates

by Holger Koch-Nielsen, 2002

Click on image for more information

The Use of Earth Covered Buildings
Frank L. Moreland, Charles Fairhurst, 2000


Climate Responsive Design:
A Study of Buildings
in Moderate
and Hot Humid Climates

by Richard Hyde, Peter Woods, 2000


Earth Sheltered Designs
Davis Caves Construction, 2000


The Fifty Dollar and Up Underground House Book
by Mike Oehler, 2000


Natural Ventilation in Buildings - A Design Handbook
by Francis Allard and Mat Santamouris, 1998


Passive Cooling of Buildings
by Mat Santamouris, D. Asimakopoulis, 1996



SunEarth House Paul Shippee, Designer

This earth-covered, passive solar, 1863 sq ft house achieved the very best performance in a HUD-sponsored energy survey when it was first built in the late 1970's. For three years after the house was built, it was computer-monitored, and according to the National Solar Data Network, the SunEarth house out-performed hundreds of passive solar houses in the country. The house was designed, built, and marketed by Colorado Sunworks. The furnace was put to rest during its first winter because the pilot light was wasting natural gas. All of the space heating demand is supplied by the passive solar system.

The heating system is a direct gain, passive solar system and drum wall. The south side exposes 300 square feet of glass windows. The windows are two panes of insulated glass that run floor to roof. Behind the windows are 54 large, vertically stacked barrels. Sunlight directly warms these 55-gallon oil drums that are painted with a flat black finish and filled with water. During the day, the water and interior concrete walls inside the house absorb the sun's heat. The heat is released slowly after the sun sets.

At night, when temperatures begin to drop, a blower pushes polystyrene beads between the two panes of glass, providing insulation to keep the daytime heat inside the home. On winter nights, this moveable Beadwall insulation converts the large window areas to R20 heat loss barrier. Six vertical skylights are arranged on the north side of the earth roof. Maximum solar energy takes place during the winter, and minimum solar energy occurs in the summer.

Winter Mode

Stored solar heat is released from the water containers as needed. Heat flows naturally by low temperature radiation and by warm air convection to the north side of the house, thus balancing comfort zones throughout the living space.

Summer Mode

Interior thermal mass is cooled down on summer nights by providing a natural air now path. Daily heat gains aree rejected by this method through turbine roof ventilators. The cooled massive house is then closed up on hot summer days for comfortable living.

For more information about this plan, and many others, visit our sister site www.dreamgreenhomes.com, where you will find a wide range of plans for sustainable homes, greenhouses, small buildings, garages, and food storage space for sale. Dream Green Homes is a consortium of outstanding architects and designers, who have pooled their talent and expertise for your benefit.



malcolmwells.com Malcolm Wells, the grandfather of earthsheltering, has a wonderful site about his work.

earth-house.com wide ranging site mostly about earth sheltering.


greenroofs.com very informative site featuring a variety of concepts for growing roofs.

schundler.com/greenroofs a discussion with photos and links about various green roof applications utilizing perlite.

bestcollegesonline.com lists and describes 20 colleges that have ioncorporated green roofs into their buildings.

hopesandfears.com an illustrated history of green roofs.


solterra.info The Semrock's vision and ongoing constrcution of their earthsheltered home.

ourcoolhouse showcases a couples' exploration of earthberming.

williamlishman.com a description with photos of a unique underground home.

marant1946.blogspot.com this blog is very informative about the construction of this Texas earth-sheltered home.

formworksbuilding.com shows interior and exterior images of several of their underground or bermed ferrocement buildings.

trendir.com here is wonderful example of underground architecture in Switzerland.

beingsomewhere.net a lovely example of using local natural materials to build a comfortable and beautiful home that is recessed into a hill.

paradomehomes.com plans and photos of a two-story, thin-shell concrete underground dome home.


earthlink.net a rambling exploration of the possibilities of burying culverts or quonsets for homes.

americansheltertechnologies.com manufactures steel arched buildings that can be placed underground.

radio.weblogs.com pictures and description of various underground building concepts.

undergroundhousing.com links to information about Mike Oehler's book and videos, presented by the publisher.


norishouse.com describes how a PAHS house can keep an underground house comfortable year round with no additional heat source.

earthshelters has information and plans for a passive solar heat storage (PAHS) system and is related to the above link.


Seabird Island Project shows unique design for the solar heating of water and space through warm air collection and geothermal heat tubes.


This Chart shows underground temperatures in the United States and around the world.

Disclaimer Of Liability And Warranty
I specifically disclaim any warranty, either expressed or implied, concerning the information on these pages. Neither I nor any of the advisor/consultants associated with this site will have liability for loss, damage, or injury, resulting from the use of any information found on this, or any other page at this site. Kelly Hart, Hartworks, Inc.


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