Underground House in Northern Minnesota

Started by lodestar, January 27, 2006, 09:26:17 PM

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Hey!  It's our 22nd winter here!

The roof will live again!


Thanks for posting these pictures, lodestar.  I love your place.  Now I don't feel so all alone. :)


Welcome Lodestar:

Thanks for showing us your great project. Keep warm, spring is reported to be on the way!


We're seriously considering adding on to the back of our underground house...we have windows high on the north side, now...buried 6 plus feet.  Thinking of an addition of a great room and bath/laundry room...with another door going out to the east and a deck canitilevered over the steep hill...overlooking the deer paths.  The roof would be buried, but go the opposite direction of our existing space...the roofline would be 4 feet or so higher than existing roof line...and a clerestory to the south would bring light into the addition+provide ventilation.  We'd remove the existing north windows and make tall archways opening the lower house to the upper.  I want to make the addition handicapped accessible and a short (40 foot) walk to the shop/garage.

I have cedar poles peeled and seasoned...and the existing north windows would become the clerestory windows.  I'd need some other materials, but we are blessed with local mills...

I have a Dankoff 12volt solar pump in our greenhouse which has served us well...(punny)...so I think I would use the same in the addition to provide real running water...although we'd keep our handpump, as well.  

Lots to think of....and some expense...but it's either do this, or move to a beach in Mexico.   ;D


Sounds like a good project.  Please keep us updated with photos if possible as you get into it. Our place comes out to ground at 2 levels that are easily made handicap accessible - we had the nephew in there after an accident in a wheel chair.

I really like the sound of your proposed addition- it paints a nice picture.


Hey, thanks glenn...that's very encouraging.

I'm getting psyched!


You two guys need to ease up on the digging. If you keep going like you are, you are going to end up neighbours. Probably with the same living room in Colorado. ;D


And hopefully, just down the hallway is NSW, Australia-


Looks like I better get started then, I've got the book. ;D


Cheryl in 'the dig'..

Broke ground after labour day...and just have a few loose ends to tie up...everything works...Takagi Jr on-demand gas water heater...Fisher-Paykel washer and dryer (inverter can push both of them, no problem...the dryer is gas)...pex tubing for water...

We also remodeled the kitchen this past spring...

Maybe we'll get to the addition off the back...utilising a clerestory...for a large bedroom...open things up...and tie the back door onto a deck which attaches to my shop's office...


Hey that looks cool lodestar.  

What's the white deposit in the wall of the first photos? Looks gypsum-like?

It would be a startling sort of a sight walking through the woods, approaching your place as in the sixth picture... all the "roof"penetrations.   :)


Looks great Bruce.  Was this an expansion?

... and how much earth cover?


Y'know glenn, we don't have any 'soil' on our roof at all...we put compost and straw, leaves, compost, plant squash, straw, leaves, compost...plant squash...and let the organics build over time.  I'm careful to keep the material moist until after snowfall...I'd guess we have nearly 18 inches of composted organics on the roof of the house...plus another 8 to 10 inches of lofted straw.  The addition, just getting started, more loft...layed over with compost and then more loft.

I figure wet mineral soil could weigh as much as concrete...up to 150 pounds per cubic foot...where wet organics don't weigh too much more than water...which is 62.4 pounds per cubic foot...


Oh yeah...I'd love to camo the extrusions as mushrooms, eventually... ;)

When I first built the place, I'd stuccoed anything above grade...but then I buried the entire east and west side after building some retaining walls...and the stucco on e/w sides got buried.

23 years and there wasn't a bit of rot in even the rim joist of the wall...that's pretty amazing for untreated wood buried...although, I was very careful to isolate everything from direct contact.


You are using a heavier or EPDM membrane, arent you and with the 10 foot or so umbrella outside the cabin?  

The compost is a great idea - much lighter than earth which is about as you calculated.  Not quite as fireproof unless wet as you say.  I think I will go for more squash on the roof next year and root crops out in the compost and soil garden we expanded into this year.  I hope to get a couple inches of compost or loam and succulents onto the shop roof one of these days.  Get a little bit of that thermal flywheel effect or at least a bit of a break from the summer sun.  Hard to beat the squash leaves and winter squash for storage and food through the winter.


I've used .45 mil EPDM, and I lapped it by half coming off the existing roof...and extended it to about 8 feet off the new roof as an umbrella...backfilled with very clean sand...which should remain dry and act as a thermal flywheel.  You're right...those squash leaves stay about 8 inches or so above the roof, keeping everything in shade...cooling the house.


Thanks, Bruce.  Mike Oehler now recommends EPDM - at least to me on the phone -- don't know if he has published anything more.

I saw your umbrella technique in one of the John Hait book references I think.  I don't have that book but have his Rust Power Book



Mike's come a long way from snail mail...he has a phone, now?

I read PAHS by Hait...and think he has fabulous ideas.  I think folks need to be careful with earth tubes.


I caught him at his above ground office a couple of times - yes - a phone.  I heard he was no longer in the U house.  He told me he was going to write an updated book for a U house that cost more money because people didn't take his $50 and Up  one seriously.


It's been a long while...we build another addition, and some more sheds.  More construction going on this year, again...and again.

Be the change you wish to see in the world...

glenn kangiser

Thanks for the update, Bruce.  I refer others to your build every so often.  Nice to hear it is growing. 

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

Glenn's Underground Cabin  http://countryplans.com/smf/index.php?topic=151.0

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


Awesome, I love it! Thanks for posting these great pics!


I love seeing more and more info on building underground or earth sheltered!
Homeschooling Mom to Two Boys
Married to Jason, Self Employed

Wanting an earth bermed hybrid timberframe...just need some inheritance  ;)  Will never have another mortgage again!

John Raabe

Thanks for stopping in again and posting an update.

Progress is Good! :D :D :D
None of us are as smart as all of us.


More projects going on this season...so I should be back in awhile to post some new, updated pics.

Thanks everyone.

Time and love...time and love.
Be the change you wish to see in the world...