Live Underground For Cheap

Forget the sub-prime meltdown and get with the subterranean housing craze. This book – linked in one of Chris’s posts but I just had to bring it to the front page – has everything you need to know about building a house underground. The most amazing thing is that there’s ways to do it to get light from all four sides. The penultimate amazing thing is not being buried alive while you sleep.

The $50 & Up Underground House Book [Official Site]
$50 and Up Underground House Book []


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  1. starrion says:

    Depending on where your “house” is, then Radon mitigation could also be a problem. But a $500 place to live might become very popular….

    • Nighthawke says:

      @starrion: Then they would have to install ventilation equipment to keep the gases removed from the dwelling. It’s not that expensive or difficult, as long as the Radon’s ppm is kept below hazardous levels.

  2. HPCommando says:

    The penultimate amazing thing is not being buried alive while you sleep.

    Or being dosed by unfettered radon leakage.

    It’s kind of hard to ventilate the basement when the whole house is a radon source.

    Of course, it will eventually help you save energy by being your own nightlight…

  3. SarcasticDwarf says:

    I was always interested in this kind of stuff even as a kid (24 now) but as I got older I recognized the drawbacks to methods such as this: resale value. Much like that Japanese? style mansion that some executive build in California and spend 60+m on but could only sell for a fraction of that this kind of house is difficult to sell. One can build a standard looking modern house with much stronger walls and great insulation that would look the same as every other house but cost 15% more. Go to sell that same house and all but a very few potential buyers would not care.

    • @SarcasticDwarf: “I recognized the drawbacks to methods such as this: resale value”

      They key to resale on green houses, underground houses, very specifically-styled houses, etc., is finding the right buyer, which may require a specialized seller’s agent or very sophisticated marketing on the part of the seller.

      Many of these are features that the RIGHT buyer will pay a premium for. But it’s a much, much smaller pool of buyers.

    • mac-phisto says:

      @SarcasticDwarf: personally, i think it’s less a problem of “resale value” & more a problem of “financing” & “zoning”.

      good luck getting a bank to approve a mortgage on a home that has ZERO living area (per the widely accepted definition that only “above ground” space is considered “living area”).

      & that leads me to my 2nd point. if your plot falls under local zoning regulations, you may have a tough time building one of these (even if you can afford to). & what about the local taxing authority? such a property would have an effective tax rate of $0 using traditional calculations. quite appealing, but i can’t imagine any local government approving such a property – even under variance.

      • shepd says:

        @mac-phisto: I’m pretty sure most areas have special rules for taxing underground areas. I know where I am if you finish your basement (due to the area virtually all houses have them here) you pay taxes on that finished basement like any other area.

        If you don’t finish it, sure, no extra taxes. That means living in (Quite literally! For taxes the idea of unfinished is a fine line.) a concrete box with a wooden lid! :-)

  4. Just try that down here in FL, you cant dig 16″ without hitting the water table in most places.

    As nighthawke says radon mitigation is fairly simple, only not so much when you’re doing it to a 120 year old courthouse with a 89+ picocuries and runing sch40 pipe up an elevator shaft…that job sucked 10 ways from sunday.

  5. HogwartsAlum says:

    This might have good resale value in tornado country.

    My ex’s neighbor’s house is half in the ground, half out. The west side is in the hill; that’s the side that most of the wind/rain/storms come out of. It was pretty cool, except it was built in the ’70s and looked it.

    • SarcasticDwarf says:

      @HogwartsAlum: There is a big difference between building into the side of a hill (even a small one) and having a largely submerged house. Houses with one side backed into the earth are very common everywhere and do not look all that different from conventional housing.

      Houses with more than one side (and especially up to the roofline, not just one floor) that are against the earth are *much* less common.

      • HogwartsAlum says:


        Yes, there is. But they had a really good, energy efficient home. And someone said “bermed” which I think that’s what it was. I just couldn’t think of the word.

        The whole west side, which was the worst for wind and weather, had the earth on it.

  6. Xerloq says:

    What, no antepenultimate amazing things? Are there only two amazing things about this house?

  7. marsneedsrabbits says:

    Mr. Needsrabbits is looking at earth ship houses made from tires rammed with dirt for our next home.
    Sounds odd, but they are lovely inside and energy efficient. See: []

    Radon might be an issue, depending on where you build, but I would think you could limit exposure by testing the soil and ventilating if needed.

    We’re planning on going down to New Mexico in the next little bit to stay in one for a few days, which we hope will help us make our decision. It would be lovely to live off the grid, or mostly off the grid, but I’m not committing to it until I figure out if it really is practical to do so.

  8. I spent a couple days reading about this, and a few things really worry me. This seems to be received as a way to get around all the expensive engineering and pesky safety standards. People don’t seem to realize that those standards exist because unsafe buildings kill people, and I can’t help but wonder how long it will be until an underground dwelling gets that type of negative publicity.

    If someone invited me into their self-designed house bearing several tons of earth that has never been certified by an engineer, I would think twice before entering.

  9. Tails438 says:

    You guys are thinking about this differently than is expected… It’s supposed to be a minimalist approach to building a home. I actually bought that book a couple of years ago, and the idea is to cut into a hill, which leaves 3 of the 4 walls shored up by dirt. Dirt has a phenomenal R-value, which leaves a very minimal need for A/C (that’s what radon’s for, right?) If you’re seriously interested in turning $50 – $500 into a home, you’re probably something of a minimalist or hippie or whatever, so the expected approach is to not have a traditional HVAC system. Crazy, i know, but that’s just how we do things….

  10. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot says:

    If you don’t want to go entirely underground, many people build bermed houses. I’ve been following a couple in NH who are building theirs totally “off the grid” its been fascinating to read about their experiences!


  11. LionelEHutz says:

    Wow, cozy Hobbit holes are all the rage, even before the Peter Jackson remake is in theaters.

  12. orlo says:

    First of all, I refuse to pay anything less than $400k for a house made of state-of-the art particle board. Secondly, I need to pay at least 10K in utilities. Anything else is offensive to my oil stock portfolio and my sense of conspicuous consumption.

  13. synergy says:

    Isn’t that what a burial plot is for?

  14. LaneFlying fox says:

    These underground homes are quite popular here in Kansas Tornado area. I
    did some research on them at Oklahoma State Univ. and they are quite energy
    efficient. The earth at 6 feet deep is continually at about 56 degrees F.

    Next door to our farm is one that is 3300 sq. feet and one across the road
    is 4300 sq. ft. One is dug out of a small berm then recovered with 3 ft. of
    earth. The other was built on grade level out of reinforced concrete then
    completely covered with earth afterwards except for the windows and garage
    door. You need at least 3 to 4 ft of coverage to get the energy affect.

    In hilly terrain most are built back into the side of a hill. And on all of
    them you get to Mow your roof.


  15. SigmundTheSeaMonster says:

    What is with all the Radon?

    from the wiki: Indoor radon can be mitigated by sealing basement foundations, water drainage, or by sub-slab de-pressurization. In severe cases, mitigation can use air pipes and fans to exhaust sub-slab air to the outside. Indoor ventilation systems are more effective, but exterior ventilation can be cost-effective in some cases.

  16. mac-phisto says:

    taking it a step further – check out this temple that’s entirely underground & hand-built/designed –> []

    truly an intriguing story –> []

  17. cliffordthered says:

    “Return the earth they said! BAH! Time enough for the earth in the grave.” Conan the Barbarian

  18. forgottenpassword says:

    I’d like to bury an old bus & then live in it. I always wanted a bunker type home (something like a nuclear silo base or “the hatch” from the tv series “Lost”.

    SOmething hidden from the rest of the world where I can feel safe.

  19. weakdome says:

    Around here, (Massachusetts), this sort of house would result in:
    1. flooding every spring
    2. Bugs every autumn
    3. Damp, nasty living conditions
    4. Everyone’s favorite – radon
    5. Did I mention damp and bugs?

    Sounds pretty cool, but not really a great idea for everyone unless you live somewhere high up enough that flooding isn’t going to be an issue for you. It’s DAMN hard to waterproof a basement, let alone a LIVING area.

    • mythago says:

      @weakdome: Exactly. Cool = condensation, and underground you don’t have a lot of avenues for it to escape. I would imagine that this might be a good idea in dry places like Arizona or New Mexico, but up in places where you get water, it’s an awful idea. I’m also a little concerned that the glowing reviews of this book seem to think that there is no reason for safety or building code regulations.

  20. klc says:

    All this talk of radon and flooding and tax-sheltering is all fine and dandy – but reason one why I don’t want this house?


    And legality, depending on where you live.

    I don’t exactly see any ’emergency egress avenues’ See, in a traditional house, there are all kinds of emergency exits that can be used in dire circumstances. Doors, windows, even your low R factor particle board walls can be broken through by rescuers.

    Add all the emergency exits and escape hatches you’ll need- (and you DO want lots. Sealed well, and in good working order) You still have the fact that you have to go ‘up’ to escape. Smoke goes ‘up’ to escape… see where I’m going?

    Your options are limited, and for every emergency exit you add, there is all the extra costs of sealing and loss of R value…

  21. LindaJeanne says:

    Of course, where I live, it’s the LAND that’s the most expensive part of buying/building a home. That kicks the price of this dwelling up to about $100,500 minimum, probably more.

    Still cheaper than most houses/condos for sale around here, but quite as thrifty as the article would suggest. This really only saves money if you live somewhere where land (and hence probably housing) is cheap, anyway. (And hence, somewhere where one would need to own a car, thereby canceling out the “green” angle.)

    Neat idea, but not really cheap, since it necessitates buying both land and a motorized vehicle. Certainly beats a McMansion in a place only reachable by car, though.