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Canadian Farmer builds earth sheltered house
"Everyone thinks earth-sheltered houses are damp and cold. They've never been in one that's insulated properly and equipped with a good heating system," says Arvid Whitehead, Red Deer, Athena, who de-signed and built his own 2,000 sq. ft. clear span, earth-sheltered house entirely from steel and concrete for only $79,000.
The house, 38 ft. wide and 50 ft. long, is covered by earth on three sides as well as on the roof. The walls are made from 10-in. cement blocks and the ceiling is made from concrete and steel. A 14-ft. wide retaining wall separates the house from an adjoining 32-ft. wide garage and 28-ft. wide shop. The garage and shop both have basements which are connected to the house by a7 ft. high, 4-ft. wide underground tunnel. Gas, water, sewer and electrical lines run through the tunnel and the well is also located there. The house itself has no basement. Heat for the house is provided by a furnace and hot water heater located in the shop basement. A pump circulates hot water through metal pipes to the house and then through 1,000 ft. of 1-in. dia. plastic pipe embedded in the poured concrete floor of the house.
"It's very comfortable to live in, sound proof and quiet, and the temperature stays constant, fluctuating only a few degrees in both summer and winter," says Whitehead, who built the earth-sheltered house 1 1 years ago. "There's 2 in. of styrofoam in the ceiling and walls and earth covers all but the southeast side of the house. There's only one outside door. The 6-ft. high double windows along 34 ft. of the southeast side help heat the house in the winter. The garage is heated by hot water pipes in the floor and also by cast iron radiators and a space heater. My heating bill is about $100 per month, but I'm actually heating three buildings when the garage and shop are included.
"Another advantage is that my earth-sheltered house requires no outside maintenance other than to mow the grass on the roof. And since the entire house is built from steel and concrete, there's no wood to burn and no chance of fire. I don't even need house insurance."
Whitehead saved money by doing most of the design work and much of the construction work himself, including all of the electrical and plumbing work. He also poured the concrete floor and plastered the walls and ceiling. "One contractor said he couldn't build the same type of house for less than $175,000."
Fresh air enters an air intake on the north side of the house and goes by gravity through a 120-ft. long, 14-in. dia. plastic pipe that leads to ducts mounted inside the walls. The air, warmed (in winter) or cooled (in summer) as it goes through the ground, provides supplemental heating and cooling, entering the house through nine wall vents mounted just above the floor.
Whitehead drilled a 12-in. dia. hole every 6 sq. ft. underneath the floor, then filled it with concrete to keep the floor from cracking. The three outside walls and the flat roof are covered with tar, vapor barrier, 2-in. of styrofoam, a layer of plastic and then earth. Whitehead even left enough space so that someday he can build an elevator to lift him from the tunnel up to the kitchen.
There's a fountain inside the house. Water flows 800 ft. from a spring by gravity through underground pipes to the fountain, then flows 200 ft. back to the creek. There's also a 36-ft. high combination light pole and flag pole, complete with an ornament on top. Whitehead welded 1/4-in. thick auger flighting onto the 4 1/2-in. dia. pole, then painted the pipe white and the flighting red, so it looks like a barber pole.
For more information, contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Arvid J. Whitehead, Rt. 2, Red Deer, Alberta, Canada T4N 5E2 (ph 403 347-0207).


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1992 - Volume #16, Issue #1