I haven’t meant to make you wait on pins and needles. I didn’t mean to take this long to tell you exactly what kind of house we are going to have built next spring. But the truth is, just the prelimaries to construction have had us a bit stressed out, and I think I’ve needed time to process everything and make sure before I announced the specifics about our new house to the world.
Finally, without further ado, here I go (drum roll, please!): next April (tentatively scheduled), Ralph Smoot, his son Conrad, and three other guys are going to spend about a month on our place building an earth-sheltered house.
Yep. That’s it. We’re going underground. Here’s what the guys at Conrad’s Castles do: they come and build the concrete shell, which consists of eight-foot, rectangular walls with a monolithic dome for a roof for each module. We are having two twenty-four square-foot modules built, with a 176 square-foot room on the east side, and another on the north side. These two little extra rooms will enable the house to be buried in more dirt and therefore have greater thermal mass.
Here’s what we do: we get the site excavated ahead of time, then after the shell is built we have to waterproof, put in a floor, and bury the structure. Plus finish out the inside, but that won’t be a big deal.
Why an earth-sheltered house
- It requires very little energy to heat and cool.
- It’s fire-proof, bullet-proof and tornado-proof (and hurricane proof, but that’s not an issue in southeast Oklahoma), and during a very windy storm we won’t get nervous.
- It’s very quiet. You don’t hear outside noises.
- You can grow food on the roof (the dirt on top ends up being about five feet).
- It’s so tight that dust takes a long time to accumulate. Ralph says that his wife only has to dust three times a year!
- It requires much less maintenance than a standard house (no roof to replace, ever!).
“Won’t it be dark?”
The south-facing side is exposed, and we plan to put windows all along the entire forty-eight feet so we will have plenty of light (not to mention passive solar heat in the winter). In addition, the dome roofs, which create a thirteen-foot ceiling, are great at reflecting light. A home built the Conrad’s Castles way needs a third less lighting than a conventionally built house.
“How much will it cost?”
We estimate the entire process – including paying for food and lodging for the workers – will end up costing us around $100,000. I’ll let you know the final count when all is said and done.
Ralph says that an owner who is willing and able to do all the finishing out himself can end up paying $50 per square foot – but that does not include the food and lodging, the excavation, or the burying (which is going to run us around $10K thanks to the rocky soil here).
“Why did you guys ditch the earthbag house idea?”
If you read my former blog, I think I mentioned we were planning to build our own earthbag house. We changed our minds, first of all because we really, really don’t want to do it ourselves. Second, figuring out how to get the right soil to fill the bags turned out to be a logistical nightmare for us, since the native soil here wouldn’t work.
Finally, while an earthbag house (especially the domes we had planned to build) would do somewhat better than a “stick” house as far as moderating the indoor climate, it wouldn’t do nearly as well as an earth-sheltered house. Since we can afford it, we decided the wisest course would be to build the house that we would be happiest with for the rest of our earthly lives.
The size of our new house
A this point in my life, my ideal home would be between 500 and 600 square feet (but try telling that to my twenty-five-year-old self who felt cramped all by herself in a 400 square-foot apartment!). However, according to Ralph, a house in our location would need to be at least 1200 square feet in area in order to maintain a summertime indoor temperature of around 80 degrees. Hit 1700-1800 square feet, and one could maintain a temperature not to exceed the upper seventies.
Although our house is going to be about 1700 square feet, we’ll only be living in 750 square feet. The room on the north side will be a (nice and big!) cool pantry, and the west module it will be attached to will be left open – no rooms, no furniture. It will be a place B can run around in (literally) when weather keeps him cooped up inside, as well as, right next to the windows, a place where I can grow peppers, tomatoes, and greens in the winter. And of course, have a lemon and lime tree, maybe even a banana. I’ll see how much space I end up with.
So, there you have it! Our full disclosure about our new house. I won’t deny that we’re overwhelmed by the whole process, but by this time next year I believe we’ll realize that it was worth it.
Thanks for reading!