Getting An Underground House Amendment To The Codes

Amendments are blanket changes in the codes. Unlike variances they apply to everyone in the same situation, not just to individual structures. If you can swing this one you can do your community a real service.

Amendments are legislated by elected officials. If your state has codes which are optional by the counties or individual communities you stand a reasonable chance here, for it is the local officials whom you would be dealing with rather than the state legislature. Presumably few if any of them would be in the building trades and thus would not have those vested interests to influence their decisions. Unlike the variance boards, whose members are appointed, the elected officials are susceptible to citizen pressure.

Petitions, gathering groups of like-minded fellow citizens to make your presentation with you, stirring up local interest through publicity—all of these can help here. It also helps considerably if you can persuade an architecture professor from the local college to put in a word. United Stand in California was helped greatly by Sim Van Der Ryn, a U.C. Berkeley professor of architecture. Though you are unlikely to find a man of his caliber, you may still find an aware professor who senses the trend. There often seems to be one such professor in each architecture department.

It is important to emphasize in your presentation that what you are proposing is good for the community, good for the nation. It is good for the community because your home will not be an eyesore. But don't put it that way. All of the elective officials live in eyesores and may take offense. Instead emphasize the beauty of underground architecture, how instead of a surface building you will create a surface garden, a park almost; how it provides small wildlife habitat to the delight and education of children. Point out that whatever noise you create will be muffled before it reaches your neighbors. Explain how vegetation purifies the air and moderates climate. Explain that, rather than a detriment to the neighborhood, underground housing becomes an asset. The "Ecology House" on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, an early, rather bland example of underground architecture, is such an attraction that a fee is charged to visitors.

Underground housing is good for the nation because it conserves building materials and, especially, energy. On October 12, 1976, the Chicago Daily News reported, "The government also has entertained thoughts of subterranean dwellings. The Bureau of Standards recently completed a study showing that the nation could save $100 billion in heating costs by 1980 if everyone lived under ground." 100 billion. That alone could wipe out America's balance of payments deficit by wiping out our foreign oil imports.

Three books which can help you present a scholarly, erudite presentation are: Alternatives in Energy Conservation: The Use of Earth Covered Buildings, printed and distributed by the U.S. Printing Office, and which was prepared for the National Science Foundation Research Applications Directorate; Earth Integrated Architecture, published by the Arizona State University College of Architecture Foundation; and Underground Designs by architect Malcolm B. Wells.

For other information on how to deal with the codes (though not specifically in regard to underground housing) you should read The Owner-Builder and The Code, Politics of Building Your Home by Ken Kern, Ted Kogon and Rob Thallon. Information on ordering these four books is given in the back of this book.

Invaluable advice, sympathy, and the inspiration of learning from a group of owner-builders who successfully challenged the codes may be obtained by contacting United Stand, P.O. Box 191, Potter Valley, Ca. 95469. These folks act as a clearinghouse for communication on code reform. They are supported by the general public and, as such, welcome donations.

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