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Book Review : “The $50 and up underground house book : How to design and build underground”, by Mike Oehler

To start my book reviews for, I had to go big. “The $50 and up underground house book” is probably one of the most well-known, well-marketed books on affordable underground home construction. You can hardly do a search for the subject without stumbling on countless references, and at the very least one can consider it a classic in it’s field. The book offers a fairly comprehensive, diverse perspective geared torwards survivalism and rustic earthen roof homes, mostly made out of natural log materials. The title says it all – bare-bones, cheap, fairly eco-friendly homes that you can make out of a variety of material types. The author claims to have constructed a “basic model” for literally under $50, using just a few hardware-store items and a cheap heating stove along side plenty of gathered lumber and natural wood to construct the house, and although small to contemporary standards the house illustrated definitely has a generous amount of rustic charm.
Now, as with any review, there are a few downsides to the book. The book meanders quite a bit towards otherwise-unrelated liberty and survivalist rants, and although it’s not off-putting for the most part, it does do a little injustice to the information that could have been otherwise presented there. Also, it does present a few outdated methods and construction techniques that wouldn’t otherwise pass most building codes, but in his defense a lot of underground home building techniques may not either.
All in all, I would recommend it be in the library of any underground home enthusiast, but it may be more of a source of underground building inspiration than a go-to source for other types of underground homes.
B&W with one color insert and color cover, softback, 1978 and 1979

Underground House – Revised project specifications for the Sketch Box

I’m now refining the project specifications to a more realistic space/utilities expectation for a limited budget.

1. Square footage – Minimum of 1500 sqft, desire 1700-2000
2. Amenities/Utilities – AC/heating, fridge, stove/oven combo, washer/dryer
3. Ventilation – Natural with possible earth tubes integration, with forced ventilation backups
4. waterproofing – several layers, with at least 4-5 seamless/fused layers
5. insulation – 3-5″, sandwiched between waterproofing layers then buried
6. Flooring – stained concrete with faux effects, carpet in bedrooms only.
7. type – modern concrete , earthen-roof, above-grade with man-made berming/cover.
8. exterior cladding (for exposed surfaces)- weatherized  concete, natural stone architectural work (think large, flat stone facades).
9. utilities – run through ceiling, with noise abatement measures taken
10. rooms – large central living/entertainment/dining room combination, adjoining kitchen, adjoining washroom and bathrooms,2 isolated and fully-earth-sheltered bedrooms, isolated office with window view.  The garage might just be a simple external covered garage.

Underground House Concept : Curvy

This underground house concept is a hybrid between a land bridge, a breeze-way, and an atrium to really provide a solid base for independent living.

6 types of underground homes

There are a number of different routes a potential underground home builder can take. In the underground spectrum, there are several different types seen in the majority of the house examples.  These range from simple man-made or natural caves with a front facade, to fully underground concrete labrynths. If there’s one thing to say about underground homes, it’s that they are rarely alike – and traditionally untraditional.


1. Relatively normal front-facing, embedded in hillside
2. Earthen roof, but with openings on either side (a land bridge).
3. Earthen roof, with light embankments but most sides exposed
4. Cordwood with Earthen Roof
5. Completely Embedded, with minimal surface access and skylights/ventilation shafts
6. Completely Embedded, but with either center or side atrium or open fully to sky

This seems to cover the majority of the underground home examples I’ve seen during the design process. There are, however, quite a few freak exceptions simply due to the creative nature of such a practical but unconventional design style in america. Many of the underground homes, whether shaped like large shells or clams, or in the form of an earthship, have an immense artistic presence while serving as eco-friendly housing.

project update 1

I believe i’ve come to the ideal hybrid design – one that has all the benefits of a fully-underground design while being above-grade. The latest concept, a half-way buried earthen-roof design, has a fully covered bedroom and living room and earthen-roof main entryway / kitchen / atrium.

Underground House Concept – Hybrid home with traditional roof, only bedroom has earthen roof

This is one of my intermediate-level 3D concepts, which wasn’t fleshed out because I wanted to move on to the delta-wing-style design with a full earthen roof.