Advantages of Bermed and Buried Structures

One of the big advantages of using earthbags is that it is a simple, inexpensive, low impact wall system for building below the ground. We often hear rabid insulation enthusiasts declare earthen architecture inappropriate for cold climates due to its lack of insu-lative characteristics. This is true if you are building a house that sits on top of the ground fully exposed to the elements. But like many animals that hibernate, people in the coldest of climates did the same: snuggled into the earth (Fig. 17.14).

By burrowing into the earth we reduce the temperature extremes to a moderating 48°- 55° F (the average temperature of the earth below frost level). Using the earth's warmth means we can use a minimal amount of exterior buried insulation. Even a straw bale or wood frame structure can take advantage of a bermed north wall or a basement built using earthbags instead of concrete. The surrounding earth acts as a natural temperature regulator for both cold and hot climates. David Pearson in The Natural House Book explains: "The soil, depending on its depth and thermal properties, slows the passage of heat gained or lost to such an extent that the heat gained in the summer will reach the house in early winter, and the cooling effects on the soil in winter will not flow through to the house until early summer."

A bermed/buried structure means less exterior wall surface to finish, and provides easy access to the roof. The lower profile integrates nicely into the landscape, and any excavation work provides building material for some or all of the intended earthbag walls, plaster, or rockwork.

Well-ventilated earthbag domes excel for subterranean living due to their structural integrity, and for food storage due to their consistent temperature. When we step down into our Honey House

17.14: Four interconnected, bermed domes with buried dome pantry flanked by retaining walls — south face enclosed with attached sunroom in cold climates, or use as covered porch or trellis in hot climates.

dome, there is a hush that follows, with an air of solid reassurance. Of course, different people are attracted to different living environments. All we are saying is that earthen and, in particular, earthbag architecture can be adapted to a cold climate, given the necessary attention to detail and design (Fig. 17.15).

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