cool in summer, and comfortable in between is the key to our living a naturist lifestyle at home. Our Massachusetts home cost less than $800.00 to heat a year, and with no fear of freezing in the winter we can just close the doors and head south to one of our favorite naturist destinations and the house takes care of itself. Our earth-sheltered home’s large south-facing windows make this a very naturist-friendly environment.
In planning to build our home at a time when fossil fuel prices were very high, we looked to renewable fuels for heat. We used wood as a method of backing up the passive solar heat source on cloudy days. Persons building the same type of home today would find that there are many other types of resources that are both earth- and naturist-friendly, such as geothermal energy. The cold winters and rising heating cost in the 1970s prompted our interest in alternative housing. After studying all the various earth-sheltered options available, we met a contractor affiliated with Terra-Dome Homes at a local home show who knew that Terra-Dome had the best design for our needs. Terra-Dome Homes used patented forms designed by an engineer in Missouri and used by affiliated dealers.
The special forms allow a home to be designed using separate modules that are integrated into a single structure.Starting with a single 24-foot by 24-foot module, more modules can be added to form the dome’s desired size and shape. Normally this is done at the time of construction, but in our case the final module was added many years later after we were married. Unlike the first construction method looked at, the module design eliminated some issues and minimized the rest. The Terra-Dome modules were formed and poured with the walls and roof as one unit. Because the roof was dome-shaped, there was no concern over weight capacity. The dome shape transfers the weight of the soil to the corners, which have larger footings to handle the weight. Thus there is no deflection as soil is added to the roof. Because each module is made in one pour, the only joints are in the valleys between the modules and the water is easily drained by a good drainage system.
The three-module home features a large open space which serves as the kitchen, dining room, and living room. The other modules provide space for three bedrooms, two baths, and some limited loft space, as well as utility rooms for appliances and storage. However, before the garage was added, storage space was a challenge with no basement and minimal attic space. The benefit of building an earth-sheltered home is that the less your outside walls or roof are exposed to winter or summer extremes of temperature, the lower your heating and cooling bills will be. Our home, being totally buried except for the south wall, has minimal surface exposed to winter cold or summer heat. The two skylights are the only other source of exposure. While your walls and roof are exposed to temperatures that vary from subzero in the winter to the 90s in the summer, those extremes never penetrate the soil surrounding your house to a depth of more than a foot or so. The deeper the house is, the less the change in temperature.
To offset the New England cold in the winter, we chose to orient our home facing south to utilize the sun for both passive and active solar heating. The earth-sheltered home is ideal for passive heating because the mass in the structure (i.e., he concrete) makes an ideal heat sink to absorb the sun’s warming effects in the daylight and release during the night as the home cools. Unlike a conventional frame house, our home will stay warm through a cold New England winter without another heat source. It does require an insulating cover over the windows at night to help prevent heat loss, and we have backup heat sources to assist the solar in stormy or cloudy weather periods. Solar panels provide active heating on the roof, which in turn provide hot water for the original part of the house. We back this up with electric and LP gas to provide the hot water to the addition we put in later. Building an underground home presented different challenges, as both banking and building inspection people were unfamiliar with this type of construction. It was here that working with Terra-Dome and their construction people paid off as the engineering specs they provided quickly convinced officials that the construction would be done properly. With the majority of the house being buried underground, waterproofing and drainage are very important; and to enhance the heat sink effect of the home, I chose to put the insulation on the outside and allow the entire 8-inch concrete wall to hold the interior temperature. The amount of earth over the walls and roof determines the buffering effect against the temperature changes.
Similar to burrowing animals that dig into the ground to escape the cold winter temperatures, the roof and three sides of our home enjoy that same benefit. By the time the cold weather in winter finally penetrates two or three feet into the soil, spring is right around the corner; and as the heat of summer warms the soil, it’s almost fall before the deeper soil starts to warm. While building an earth sheltered home takes some study and effort, the lifestyle it permits makes it all worth the effort. Any naturists planning to build this style of home could visit Terradomecorp@hotmail.com.