My Earth Sheltered Guest House Design - Feedback?

Jimbo_1June 5, 2013

Hi everyone, long time lurker, first time poster here.

The back story: I am not an architect, but I love architecture. I love classic, timeless style. I am also more than a little obsessed with earth sheltered construction. That would seem to many to be a contradiction, and I can see that side of the fence. Many earth sheltered homes turn out as cold, ugly eyesores that evoke memories of bunkers, bomb shelters, strip malls, motels, or basements.

For me, earth sheltered homes evoke feelings of warmth, coziness, security, seclusion. I love to read about them, walk through them, study them, feel them. I sketch them constantly, make models of them, plan them meticulously. They are my Mash Potato Mountain (anyone? anyone?).

My wife HATES earth sheltered homes. She has said, in very clear terms, that there is no way she would ever live in one. The only way I could get her (hypothetical) approval for an earth sheltered building would be for a guest hose that she couldn't see from the main house. She thinks we were speaking hypothetically at the time, but I of course had to design one for fun.

So here it is. For your consideration: my concept for a simple, small (Construction: dry stack, surface bonded block walls, glulam beam ceiling, ICF entry walls.
Insulation: PAHS polystyrene/polyurethane insulating/ waterproofing umbrella
Waterproofing: Bentonite sheets, daylighted Swedish drain
Passive elements: South-facing glazing, flagstone flooring, high thermal mass construction, seasonal shading (e.g., wisteria, honeysuckle), earth tube air exchange, solar chimney.

Style: Brick and Stone Neo Georgian Rustic? You tell me.
Your opinions? GO!

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The plan:

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 7:23AM
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The front cutaway:

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 7:24AM
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The side cutaway:

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 7:25AM
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End details:

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 7:26AM
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Beam details:

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 7:27AM
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The earth tube plan (with raised bed garden shown also):

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 7:28AM
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It looks like you have a flat roof there. The first rule of architecture is, "No flat roofs." This is really really REALLY true in earth-sheltered homes (I assume you're sheltering the roof, too). Just ask me how I know. Then be prepared for a long, sad, expensive story.

Sorry, I didn't get any further than the flat roof.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 10:08PM
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I don't know anything about earth sheltered homes, although the energy benefits intrigue me.

There was a totally underground house where I used to live. I never went in it but people who did said it was comfortable. They had fake windows with curtains and lights behind them.

There is one similar to your design near me. They refaced the front recently but this is the photo on google street view.

The little thing on top is for ventilation. Moisture can be a problem in an underground or earth sheltered home.

A guy who used to work for my father-in-law built this home. It isn't completely earth sheltered, just on 3 sides. They put murals on the back walls and they have skylights, but the lack of windows bothered his wife from what I heard.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2013 at 12:36PM
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This is a link to a site that I think you would benefit from reading through the thing. There is A LOT of really good information regarding all sorts of related to in-ground/bermed/"High Thermal Mass" building related stuff there.

Not at all what we're building, but, everyone has different needs. And information that leads to making the "right" decisions, regardless of what and how and why you build what you build, is always a very good thing.

I hope you find this as fascinating and useful as I have....

Here is a link that might be useful: High Thermal Mass and earth sheltered construction

    Bookmark   June 6, 2013 at 2:51PM
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There used to be what we called an underground home near me. It was built into the side of a hill so the front was exposed. Eventually they had to move out because the whole house was full of radon. They tried to mitigate it with ventilation, but that did not work.

Anyway, something to think about before (if) you build.

My parents home is a split level. The lower level is below ground on three sides. It's amazing how well that level holds heat and also stays cool. They have none of the technology you mention.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2013 at 7:45PM
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Jimbo -- To test the implacability of your wife's resistance to underground living, see if she sees any charm in this home.

Here is a link that might be useful: Earth berm in Wales

    Bookmark   June 8, 2013 at 5:29PM
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Jimbo 1, got the mashed potatoes reference right away, Dreyfus in Close Encounters. I was smiling at the reference when I read your challenge. I can understand both the obsession and the attraction. I become obsessed whenever I have a project idea in my head. My colored pencils and graph paper better be right nearby when the urge to design hits. As for earth sheltered, my dad was interested in the design 40 years ago. Instead of building, though, he chose to remarry and have a second set of children and a few chickens, geese, cows, and pigs. He did design and build a geodesic dome made of galvanized pipes and fittings. He built it over our 18 ft above ground swimming pool, then used plywood to make panels for the lower rows of triangles and hung them from the conduit with pipe clamps. He was quite the inventor!

Every time a bad tornado hits a town in Tornado Alley, I go nuts trying to figure out why they are not using more earth-sheltered design. After Moore, I spent some of my internet time looking into it. I found a firm in Texas that even builds earth sheltered schools. It is a different kind of construction, requiring different skills than stick-built does, and local codes often do not support earth-sheltered design.

I cannot critique your plans, not knowing anything about building. I do like your design, with the bedroom and family room being the ones with windows. I like the garage and the big utility room. I can see you like your rooms well-lighted!

    Bookmark   June 18, 2013 at 7:40PM
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I obsessively went about redesigning the roofline in response to Chibimimi's comment above. I think I've fixed it so there is a natural slope to prevent pooling:

    Bookmark   June 19, 2013 at 10:28AM
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And it has the advantage of looking like a natural hill. Very nice!

    Bookmark   June 19, 2013 at 6:08PM
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