The wonders of living underground

Common questions and misconceptions

How will outside light enter the house?

No need to invest in any night-vision goggles because living underground doesn't mean living like a badger – in fact a modern subterranean dwelling can be much lighter than a conventionally built home. “Top lighting”, atriums and shafts allow a great deal of light into the dwelling. Earth-sheltered dwellings are often use glass for the whole of the exposed area, giving them a bright, spacious feel.

Don't underground dwellings get damp and musty?

There is a common misconception that living underground is akin to living in a natural cave, where you would expect conditions to be cool, dank and earthy. A great environment if you happen to be a bat, but not ideal for modern living. Underground homes incorporate purpose-built ventilation systems to control indoor air quality and humidity, and condensation is never a problem underground.

Is fire a risk?

The risk of fire is exceptionally low in an underground dwelling, and reinforced concrete covered by earth offers exceptional fire resistance. Home insurance premiums are substantially lower as a result.

Will I get disorientated if I live underground?

Not at all. Imagine your current home – would you get lost there? A subterranean dwelling is no different!

So what are the advantages?

The benefits of living underground are manifold. Here are five top reasons to dig subterranean living:

Energy efficiency – because subsurface temperatures are very stable, underground dwellings benefit from geothermal mass and heat exchange. This means they stay cool in summer (no need for air-con) and remain warm in the winter. Typically, energy costs are only 20% of the average for a conventional house. That means savings of several hundred pounds a year. Solar power can also be incorporated in the roof or atriums, potentially reducing the energy bill to zero, or even generating electricity which can be sold back to the grid.

Low maintenance – with hardly any exterior surfaces, underground dwellings don't require re-pointing, re-painting or other forms of structural maintenance. Mind you, in a culvert or earth berm dwelling, you will have to mow the roof! Underground dwellings are able to store and release heat energy over a long period of time, and as the energy used to heat the house can come from solar power, human body heat and electrical appliances, there is no need for a central heating or hot water system to be installed or maintained.

Money saving – as well as the energy and maintenance savings, insurance premiums are lower for underground dwellings. The excavation itself is a possible source of material (stone, gravel etc.) and build costs can be lower than for a similar conventional house, especially in areas where land is at a premium. Underground homes have a long life expectancy, so they also represent a good investment.

Security – with fewer exterior walls, the number of entry points is reduced, making underground homes much more difficult to burgle. Subterranean dwellings are also much more resistant to storms, earthquakes and even provide more protection against bombing and nuclear fall-out.

Environmentally sound – it's possible to minimise the green footprint of a house by going underground. With a grass-covered soil roof, very little habitat is lost as flora and fauna will return to the site after the build is completed. Visual disruption is minimised – underground homes are virtually hidden from view and blend with the natural landscape. Noise pollution is also much reduced. Their insulating properties make underground homes exceptionally quiet places to live.

The Hockerton Housing Project, a development of earth-sheltered homes, showcases these and other benefits of underground living.