Earth Homes: A New Housing Alternative?

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With an increase of importance placed on sustainable housing in popular culture, many feel this type of natural home is the next big thing. But are earth homes realistic for the typical American? To call them houses by traditional standards is almost incorrect, as these structures tend to be engulfed by the landscape as opposed to resting on top of it. They tend to have grass-covered roofs and look very much like the tiny homes popularized by “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of The Rings” trilogy.

Structural Components of Earth Homes

Typically made by homeowners themselves, types of houses are purposefully overta

Typically made by homeowners themselves, types of houses are purposefully overtaken by nature to create cozy hideaways for anyone seeking an eco-friendly means of alternative living. In order to create such a hideaway, the materials and processes of normal home construction must be altered.


When searching for a DIY home project, the best approach is to start with what you already have. In the case of earth homes, that means dirt. Some of the greatest structures in the world have been built with nothing more than soil. For instance, many parts of The Great Wall of China are laid on a foundation of “loess,” or clay rich soil, and these structures are no different.

For a traditional “cob” style structure, the soil is typically mixed with clay, straw, and sand, and then it is molded into loaf-shaped clumps or bricks to be used for the building process. For a turf house meant to be built within a hill (like a hobbit house,) many of the same principles apply, but most carpenters would first build the shell of the home out of refurbished timber before adding their soil-based mixture.

Using these materials, you can also sculpt walls and other structural elements such as benches and countertops.


For the inside of an earth home, eco-engineers have devised many clever ways to mimic modern styling while keeping with a planet-friendly theme. For instance, the inner walls must be able to take in and release water, which makes traditional plasters unusable for these projects. Instead, many builders use a lime-based plaster paste, which is available at most home improvement stores, in order to create a contemporary look.

Although natural wood is the standard flooring style in earth homes, many homeowners choose to embrace natural dirt floors to complete the simplistic look. Using oils such as linseed, pine, and cashew resins, you can produce a sealant that forms a barrier between your feet and the dirt below while keeping the natural aesthetic.


One of the most distinct characteristics of the earth home is its living roof (or roof with live plants and grass upon it). This aspect increases insulation efficiency, reduces noise, assists in neutralizing acidic rainwater, and allows the home to better blend with its surrounding environment. This type of roof can be relatively simple to install, but it requires thorough planning.

In order to ensure the structure is built to hold the weight of rooftop greenery, the inside of the home must have sufficient support beams in place. As the green roof is constructed, it is important to incorporate a 20- to 30-degree angle to account for proper run off; gutters can be added for more contemporary structures.

The Pros

Because this home is traditionally surrounded by the earth in some fashion, the

Because this home is traditionally surrounded by the earth in some fashion, the internal temperature of the home is on the cooler side with minimal fluctuation during seasonal changes. To those paying heating and cooling bills, such an attribute is a welcomed bonus.

Earth homes offer natural protection against the elements, saving you money that many traditional homeowners would regularly spend on repairs. If you have intermediate or advanced carpentry skills, building an earth home can be considered a DIY construction project.

These turf houses are undeniably a great housing alternative for people who want to reduce their carbon footprints and engage in sustainable living. While building costs will vary based on materials and professional help, these structures are some of the least expensive housing options a person can choose from.

The Cons

You have to be willing to work for this type of home. Many Americans prefer to s

You have to be willing to work for this type of home. Many Americans prefer to simply spend more money and buy something move-in ready, even in the face of environmental apprehension. If you’re not willing to put in the work, this may not be the best option for you.

Because these structures are typically made by hand and customized to the specifications of the person or people who will be residing in it, it’s understandable that they would have low resale values, as everyone has different needs and wants in a home.

Depending on your reason for building this type of home, a lack of community may be something that bothers you. It is not easy to build earth homes in built-up neighborhoods, as homeowners’ associations and municipal codes may restrict such structures. While some choose a house like this because of its seclusion factor, others may be deterred by the lack of community.