Special Effects

Windows When There Is a Restricted Patio Area

If you want to put windows into a place where there is no possibility of having a proper sunken patio—right on the edge of your property line, for example—you should probably consider using frosted glass or stained glass windows.

Nothing looks worse than those awful window wells which are so common a sight out of basement windows. Usually constructed of drab, grey concrete they extend out only a foot or so and always seem to be cluttered with leaves, mud, paper debris and the like. Unfortunately, this is the mental image many people conjure up when they try to envision windows in an underground house. It is a mental image which perhaps more than any other has hindered the advancement of underground architecture.

Frosted or stained glass can do much to remedy this situation. So can sinking the window well lower. No sense in having just one foot of window up towards the ceiling if you can have a pleasant translucent or stained glass pattern halfway down enlivening what otherwise might be a dark dreary wall. Reflective paint on the window well surface will help throw considerably more light in than will just concrete or bare wooden shoring.

For those with limited means "clear" or frosted fiberglass is recommended. The clear fiberglass is our favorite. Not really clear at all, it will disguise the sight of the well while refracting sunlight in a manner which is really pleasant to view.

In the winter you can cover the window well on the outside with the fiberglass. You'll still get light while keeping in the heat.


One of the devices which have the greatest potential for adding to the livability of underground houses, and which is least used, are mirrors. They are so little used, in fact, that I have heard of only one instance—in New York—in which they have been employed to date.

Frequently on warm, sunny afternoons when I have the glass door to my Royer Foyer open and latched against the outside retaining wall the sunlight is reflected in. This always reminds me of the potential of mirrors and makes me wish I had some hung out there.

Think of the possibilities. Mirrors hung on the shoring of a north side Uphill Patio could beam sunlight into an underground home; a way of getting sunlight through north windows. At other times the sunlight might be beamed down onto the plants of the patio greenhouse doubling the growing rays to plants on winter days. Or consider the view potential. If the mirrors were large enough and pitched at the right angle it could be a way of getting a view downhill over the roof while looking uphill. The same thing could be true of mirrors placed on the shoring of a Royer Foyer; it could help both to beam sunlight into a home during hours when it would not otherwise enter, and could give the occupants views from angles not readily obtainable.

If the wall of windows on an Offset Room face west catching the afternoon sun, mirrors against the opposing patio retaining wall could beam morning sunlight through as well. The reverse is true for offset windows facing east.

The mirrors should probably be hung on hinges with latches on the opposite side so that they may be adjusted to different angles at various times of the day for different effects. Those hung on the shoring of Uphill Patios might best be hinged at the bottom to allow sunlight to enter the house, to beam the rays down onto the plants, or to provide the downhill view. Those hung on the shoring of Royer Foyers would likely be most effective when hinged on the side closest to the windows of the house.

The trouble is mirrors are expensive. They are good items for homesteaders to watch for at auctions, flea markets, second hand shops and the like. There is also the possibility of making purely reflective mirrors by spraying the backs of salvaged windows with reflective paint. This would not probably provide much in the way of view, but it should do a fine job of reflecting the sun, judging from the excellent job my glass door alone does.

Air Scoops

Air scoops are like those big funnels you see on old steamships. The function of an air scoop is to catch the breeze and send it down under pressure to the area needing ventilation.

I know very little about air scoops. The only time I ever saw one in operation was on a passenger ship. It might not even have occurred to me to consider them in conjunction with underground housing had not a lady mentioned them in an early issue of Alternative Sources of Energy Magazine in an article about an underground house she planned to build.

The idea fails to excite me. I can see its application under certain conditions; where the house to be built is massive with many interior rooms and is jammed into a lot too small to allow the stringing out of the structure with a number of sunken patios; or, where they are to ventilate rooms beneath rooms; or under certain industrial conditions.

But for the homesteader/builder they are an unnecessary and expensive frill. Built properly with the five approved methods of design a house gets plenty of cross ventilation. The house to be built by the lady was to be a First-Thought house. She had to do something to get cross ventilation in there. We hold that windows are better.

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