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Earth Lodges

Earth dwellings have been in use for as long as people have been building shelters, and are still in use today. Native Americans once created earth lodges that were mostly underground, circular in construction and will dome roofs.

Earth Lodge

Ancient as well as modern earth lodges use soil as an integral component in order to create a thermally-effective structure. The dwelling may be earth-bonded, in which soil is used to insulate one or more of the building's elevations.

Alternatively, the structure could be earth-covered, in which earth is used to insulate the roof of the building, or the building could be built into a hill, with only one side exposed in order to provide light and passive or active solar heat. Sometimes the entire dwelling is built below-grade, with light and ventilation provided by means of a central atrium.

There are several benefits to earth lodges. The structure is protected from the elements, offers privacy, makes effective use of available land and is naturally sound-proofed. It is very energy-efficient because the earth naturally absorbs heat and then retains it. Changes in temperature occur slowly, so the structure is easy to keep warm in the winter and remains cool in the hotter months.

One problem with earth-sheltered housing is that water seepage can occur. To prevent this, vents can be placed in the roof or along the walls. Environmentalists typically appreciate the low energy requirements of earth dwellings, but find the fact that many of them are made with plastic and other non-biodegradable materials somewhat problematic.

Earth Lodge Construction

Site planning is very important to the overall design of an earth lodge. On relatively flat land, a house that is fully recessed is a very effective design. Where the land slopes, the dwelling can be set directly into the hill. The "window wall" is generally located on the southern exposure in order to fully maximize the passive solar capabilities of the design.

Where temperatures are extreme, the earth's natural insulating capabilities can provide comfort. Wind is a factor to be considered. Typically there are few windows in an earth dwelling, so it is important to know the intensity and direction of the wind in order to take advantage of natural ventilation. In areas where winter winds are extreme, sufficient vegetation should be left around the dwelling in order to provide a natural wind-break.

It is also essential to consider the type of soil when planning the dwelling. The best type of soil for drainage is a mix of gravel and sand. If the soil has a high clay content, drainage can be problematic. If the area is prone to frost heave, the foundation should be situated below the frost line. Waterproofing is essential, generally consisting of a layer of liquid asphalt. Additionally, foam or insulation board should be placed on the outside of the waterproof layer.

When designing an atrium, it is important to make sure that the earth slopes away from the building on each side. A drain pipe along the edge of the roof can also divert water from the structure.

The most common material used in constructing an earth lodge is reinforced concrete. Wood is not suitable because of its tendency to rot when exposed to earth. The problem with reinforced concrete is that it is not environmentally sustainable, but the concrete industry is developing more earth-friendly products in response to the public's increased demand for eco-friendly construction.

Modern Luxury Earth Lodge Interior

The earth dwelling differs from conventional housing in that the insulation is applied to the exterior of the house rather than the interior. This is to enable the shelter to maintain its appropriate temperature.

Polystyrene sheets or spray foam can be used. The foam works exceptionally well for structures that are unconventional, such as rounded dwellings. In some areas, insulation will not be required, but if the temperatures range from very hot to very cold, insulation will be essential.


As we become more and more concerned with environmental sustainability, it is not unreasonable to think that this time-honored method of construction may enjoy a significant revival.

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