Glenn's Underground Cabin Update

Started by glenn kangiser, January 30, 2005, 10:24:03 PM

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Glenn will probably be on-line in a bit.

But here are my 2 cents worth.

Resale value?  Remember that you only need one buyer.  AND something small and extremely energy efficient will do relatively better than the McMansions if there's a housing bust.  In general, though, you don't need to add stuff you hate just so somebody sometime might think it's not quite worth what you have in it.   ;)

Humidity.  Seems like these houses do a lot better if they are occupied pretty frequently.  If there are people around opening doors and windows and seeing to ventilation.

Mike's designs do let in a lot of light.  His exercise in workshops seems to be to have people put windows and doors to the outside on all sides of every room.

But it's not a good design for a swamp or a seasonal high water table.  An internet acquaintance from another list (several lists, actually) is trying to build a PAHS or more properly an AGS house in an area with a high seasonal water table.  For various reasons it might actually work in her area.

PAHS = Passive Annual Heat Storage  John Hait is the guru for this one--he's got a book or two.

AGS = Annualized Geo-Solar.  Don Stephens AFAIK, no book yet.

There have been threads on both--also Cool Tubes or Earth Tubes--a couple of times here.  The idea is to heat enough of the (insulated) underground area near the house in the summer to heat the house in the winter, and vice versa.  I don't know if there have actually been mold/mildew problems with this, or if everybody is just scared of them.


I was not worried about resale value - I wanted it for myself.  I want to live underground.  I'm somebody. :-/ :)

Moisture can be a problem at times and as Amanda mentioned some places may have more problems that others.  Check out Lodestars place too.  I like his system also and the best of both can be used to make both better.

The wider umbrella he mentions is a good idea.  French drains can be put in - the more time you take and think it out, the better it will be.  Check out his postings here too.

A good wood fire helps keep the place dry.

It all comes down to what you want and will be more succesful if you are doing it for yourself without regard for resale value.  If your concern is resale value, I recommend conventional building.

We constanly monitor humidity and it is usually in the 40's.  Without the fire in the winter it may be higher.  If I had time from regular work and energy I could do things to greatly improve dryness.  I did not strictly follow Mike Oehler's rules ant the few problems I haveare in the creative areas.  A smaller cabin would also be much easier to keep lower humidity in.

For me - I don't think I will ever be able to live above ground permanently again.  

With the uphill patio and greenhouse above air will flow through the entire cabin quite redily if desired - also there are more windows than in a conventional house so they are another menas of ventilation.  Check out Mike's designs to see how he does it.


Thanks!  Now all I have to do is convince the wife!  I think we are 50% there.  Thanks again for the quick responses.



As for resale value, if you build only to that you will never have what YOU want and as Amanda says-it only takes one buyer!  Many said it would take forever to sell our strawbale-it took about 6 weeks.  It helped that we built without a huge mortgage and were able to offer it at a reasonable price but it was still within the comps.



The biggest deal with Mike's designs is that you can spend so little money on the house that you don't need a bank loan (and it would probably be next to impossible to get one anyway). I wouldn't worry about resale unless you are going to sink a whole ton of money into the project or try to make it your primary residence.

You don't have to build a giant troglodyte palace like Glenn's either.

On my 20 acres in the woods, since we have an association (yeah I know, associations are usually bad news, but this one is worth it since it gets me access to 8000 shared acres and keeps the roads in repair), I technically have to get an approval from the board and a building permit from the county to build.
This is recreational property (unless we win the lotto and can retire right now), so I have no immediate plans to have a full-time residence with all the features that it requires.
I plan on building a very small conventional cabin to get approval to build. Then I want to use Mike's techniques to build a nice sturdy hobbit hole. I will tie their systems together, so that they both will be using the well, power systems, and septic tank.


I think you've got the idea, Dustin.  No need for a mortgage if it doesn't cost much money.  Shouldn't be any tax on scooping a hole out in the ground and putting in a few timbers to keep it opened.  Mike's had the engineering done to keep it safe.  What more could you ask?   :)

Hi, Glenn!

Great job.  Really looks like it's coming together.

I'm planning on buying Mike's book.  But in the meantime, I'm wondering if you'd field a few lingering quesitons that I have about his building approach:

- I live in Costa Rica, and I'm planning on buying some land.  But what concerns me is that we're in a high-earthquake zone.  Mike's website claims that his contruction methods can "shelter your family from earthquakes."  But wouldn't a house without a foundation, built into a hill be more susceptible to earthquake damage?

- Would it be possible to build in hardwood flooring (or even Pergo, g-d forbid!) into an Oehler house?

- What do you figure you've invested in material costs so far, with your project?

Keep us updated... I love reading about your success!

- Adam.


You can put in a whatever floor you want but then you would need to spend the additional $$$ to build a subfloor to put it on (concrete, PT wood, etc).
If you're serious about building using Mike's methods, spend the $99 and get the DVD which has 6 hours of building details, some of which are not in the book. It's available on the web site.


I don't know about earthquakes.  (there was a 2.something about 25 miles from here a couple of weeks ago, scared all of us for days).  Gernot Minke had a pamphlet on the subject of earthen building for seismic areas--no longer available, although I think I have a copy on one of the computers.  

Start thinking how the earth shakes?  moderately flexible posts and shoring might work at least as well as anything else.

(nix on the pergo--especially if your sub-floor is carpet on the ground.  It won't be flexible enough--I'm highly prejudiced against the stuff because of an inappropriate commercial installation--and it might have been a cheap knock-off anyway)


Hi CostaRicaJones.

Actually you can do any floor you want over the earth with plastic if you would like.  Mike put carpet over earth with a plastic vapor barrier.  I used mud and  sealed with linseed oil as the number one choice -very durable -- number two was adobe stabilized with cement then sealed over top- requires some repair at least annually.  Wood anchors - 4x4's etc can be set into the ground with plastic protecting them -- the active soil layer is the first 6" or so near the surface -- below the ground there is much less deteriorating activity if properly drained.  Note that I do have a couple of places that need a bit of attention but I consider it as a minor problem to repair a few things once in a while.  This is an experimental project and has been very successful in my opinion.

You could use plastic over dirt with a layer of particle board sub floor then the Pergo if you wanted.  You would want to be sure you had drainage under control if doing this.  Umbrella as Bruce mentioned would keep things dry.

These designs are very earthquake resistant as Frank Lloyd Wright did in Japan.  The posts (and house) are braced all around with the earth - they just roll with it.  Instructions for earthquake drills many times say to get under a beam or doorway in a conventional house-- this entire place is covered with beams.


Another note about the earthquakes - above ground homes are probably more susceptable to damage -- the action of the earthquake tends to rip them off the foundation.  Earthquake bracing is an attempt to anchor the above ground building to the very point your below ground home is buried in.

I guess that would have the exception of-------unless you just happened to bury your house in the exact location where a giant gaping split appeared in the crust of the earth --- then you may become mincemeat but in this case the above ground house probably wouldn't fare much better. :-/

Thanks for your replies.  

I just ordered the videos and the book.

I've still gotta decide whether I'm gonna stay in Costa Rica or buy land in Panama.  This sure is exciting!!!

There's so much construction going on (in both countries right now) that I think there's probably a lot that can be salvaged.  Maybe I can get an old elevator.  LOL.


On costs --I look at this a couple of different ways.

The basic shelter structure - plastic sheeting - tarpaper -- logs -- etc I still consider that we are under $5000.

Unnecessary for survival items such as french doors, solar power system, pump, extra bathrooms add to that cost.  We scrounged enough free windows that we really wouldn't have had to buy any except for wanting better windows in some places.

What I am saying is that a basic shelter can be done easily for under $5000 if you are a good enough scrounge and don't have codes to meet.

I didn't include any of my equipment in that figure.  

My RV storage garage is a better example of what you could do for basic shelter cheap if you scrounge very good.  Under $200 for something that would take very little more to make a house out of - once again assuming you didn't have codes to meet.  

I am not saying unsafe building because of not having to meet codes.  I am saying not being forced to buy products from the government/corporate business lobbied protection and taxation racket.  There are many thousands of old homes built by master builders still standing that were built before the general forced use of highly taxed and protected products.  I am for codes protecting people from unscrupulous builders but not for them protecting an owner builder from himself.  Please let me kill myself any way I want to, thank you and get the hell out of my house. :-/  :)

Maybe some day I'll make a no cost shelter as the local Native Americans used to make using only things I can gather from the property - how about the assistance of machinery to speed things up a bit though?---I am very lazy and short on time -- and don't have a tribe to help me. :-/

glenn kangiser

Glad this gal doesn't live near my cabin.

Yellow mud is her favorite. Her eating habits have caused problems for the family's next-door neighbor, who has a mud roof.

"Always work from the general to the specific." J. Raabe

Glenn's Underground Cabin

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pica (more general term) or geophagia--either causes horror in people or a "good they're getting their minerals"  

There was a vein of clay near where we lived in North Carolina that people ate.

What is the bug/insect situation like?  

Do you feel you get more bugs than a normal aboveground house gets?


CostaRicaJones, I'll answer that.   I am Glenn's wife & don't like most bugs!  I wouldn't say we have anymore bugs than we get in our stick built house in the valley.  We don't have screen doors & often leave the doors open, so have to deal with the bugs that fly in, but other than that, the daddy-long-legs spiders are the biggest problem at both places because they make spider webs & I'm always having to vacuum or use the duster to get rid of them.  Glenn just tells me "they aren't hurting anything, they'll eat the other bugs that might get into the house."  But I feel like a bad housekeeper if I have spider webs in site...  :-/  And I don't like them crawling on me, although I'm not afraid to pick them up... black widow spiders are another thing!  :o but we have them both places too... our neighbors live in a stick built custom house - they have more problems with scorpions & other bugs than we do.  We get ants at both places, sometimes, too.  So, I would say that we have the same problem with bugs that anyone else might have.    

I really like the underground cabin & am here more than at our other place.  Most of the time don't even realize that we have a garden on top of our heads!   ;D  Sassy

You will know the truth & the truth will set you free


You can rent that place--

And it looks a bit like the Hunter/Kiffmeyer Honey House

(here is a picture from the guy who did Asia Grace's web site--anybody who didn't see that the first time around has a treat in store):


another cat cob oven.  Not sure how to copy an individual picture here, this is to the slideshow.

glenn kangiser

I guess you could do this, Amanda.

Cool or Hot as you prefer. :-/
"Always work from the general to the specific." J. Raabe

Glenn's Underground Cabin

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Got a call from a lady named Rachel today - lives up in northern Calif.  Guess she had seen an article in Builder News Magazine called Extreme Custom Homes in the July 2005 issue & had saved it... Glenn was interviewed & sent them some pics last spring for the article... he sounded quite the rebel  :o  we never heard back from them, figured they decided not to put anything about our underground cabin in the article - too extreme  :o.  She & her family are off grid on some property her grandfather owns & they've been hitting all sorts of roadblocks. I guess she got desperate & called information for our phone # to find out how we did it.  Anyway, looked up the magazine on the internet & sure 'nuf, found the article - didn't have any pictures in the on-line archives but thought it was pretty neat!   8-)

PS Told her about CountryPlans but they don't have the internet yet - she might try at the library...

You will know the truth & the truth will set you free


Too bad they couldn't mention Mike Oehler's book, or the Countryplans web site address. That would have given people a direction to go to.  Good press for you, unless someone from your county govt reads it and decides to take a little trip to your underground place and find the evil code violator.

Based on the other examples, I think they were assuming that you would just go with some super high priced contractor to build your "alternative" home. Good luck with that, folks. Just another "alernative" way to lighten your wallet.

glenn kangiser

I tried to put a plug in for Mike but they edit pretty heavily and made most of the story with a very short interview.  I thought if anything came of it I would use the no tresspass sign and day use fee -- see if it works as some say it does. :)
"Always work from the general to the specific." J. Raabe

Glenn's Underground Cabin

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glenn kangiser

No big rant today -- I just happened across this property rights information/court case ruling that I thought should be recorded here for interested individuals. :)

Link to original if this is too small -
"Always work from the general to the specific." J. Raabe

Glenn's Underground Cabin

Please put your area in your sig line so we can assist with location specific answers.