A simple underground house design uses a novel insulating/water-shedding blanket that covers the structure and surrounding soil. The umbrella creates a huge subterranean thermal reservoir that soaks up the sun’s energy during summertime and stores it for winter heating. In many cases, the clever design makes a heating system unnecessary.
By John Hait
My first earth-sheltered house, an underground geodesic dome was partially complete when the truckload of insulation my colleagues and I had ordered arrived. Right away, we knew we had a problem: How do you put flat, rigid polystyrene insulation on a round house?
We called housing experts all over the country, but no one had any ideas. Finally, Ray Sterling at the University of Minnesota’s Underground Space Center suggested that we place a flat, insulating “umbrella” in the earth above the building. This, he said, would keep the domelike house warm by insulating the soil around it.
“What a marvelous idea!” I thought when I heard his advice. After two weeks of rigorous examination, I realized that the concept was even more promising than I’d supposed. By then I was convinced that the dry earth under an insulating/water-shedding umbrella could store enough free solar heat from the summertime to warm the house through the entire winter (see diagrams above). This meant that a house could actually be constructed with an unchanging built-in temperature, which would make heating and cooling equipment unnecessary. Now, five years later, I still think it’s a marvelous idea. The Geodome, the house we built in the cold and cloudy climate of western Montana, remains at 66 to 68 degrees F, even through the coldest winters.
The success of the Geodome led to the establishment of the Rocky Mountain Research Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the development of what is now called the passive annual heat storage (PAHS) approach to free year-round passive-solar heating. Four basic points make PAHS different from techniques used in conventional solar-heated earth-sheltered houses:
– The house’s window shades are opened to collect solar heat in summer.
– The umbrella’s laminated sandwich of polystyrene insulation and polyethylene sheeting (about R-20) insulates a huge mass of surrounding dirt instead of just the house.
– The umbrella sheds water to keep the soil around the house dry.
– The natural-convection-driven ventilation tubes (see below) provide very high heat retention efficiency by acting as counter-flow heat exchangers.
Read the full article that was published in Popular Science magazine at the source: Earth Shelters.com (more good diagrams and details)