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Earth-sheltered home
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Earth-sheltered home

An earth-sheltered home is a house built partially or totally underground. Totally underground homes are in a minority and are usually built around a central atrium which is open to the sky, much like similar homes sometimes built by the ancient Romans. The majority of earth sheltered homes are built in the side of a hill or an artificial hill (usually called berming) is created around three of the sides and over the roof. The remaining side is entirely covered with windows to allow passive solar heating and a maximum of natural light from the sun. The hill is chosen or the berms are constructed so that the windowed side faces south, in temperate areas of the Northern hemisphere and north in temperate areas of the Southern hemisphere.

In theory, an earth-sheltered home can give better insulation against the elements, reducing heating and cooling costs and also reduce the noise levels coming from outdors. In practice it is very difficult to design and implement such a house given the issues of water seepage, internal condensation, cave-like acoustics, and the lack of construction companies with experience in building residences underground.

Earth-sheltered homes were popularized by the back to the land movement of the 1970s as a form of self-sufficient homes.

The most famous and probably the largest earth-sheltered home belongs to Bill Gates, who had it built over a period of several years on a heavily wooded site on the shore of Lake Washington. It is an excellent example of the lack of obtrusiveness of this kind of home, since it appears much smaller than it actually is, when seen from the lake.