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.


PSP (Post/Shoring/Polyethylene) 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 lived in. 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.

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.

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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.

Specific Earthworks

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.

Passive Annual Heat Storage

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.

diygreenbuildingwithjerry.blogspot.com a blog about building a year-round passive solar (traditional winter-centric solar and Annualized GeoSolar in the summer) house.


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

Chart of Underground Temperatures

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


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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 LLC.