Where do I start if I want to build a hobbit hole?

Jasmine Myers
Updated: Nov. 30, 2021

I live in the Pioneer Valley of Western MA, and I'm looking to build my first home in as eco-friendly a way as possible. When I was a tour guide at a historical site, we used to show people huts that had been built into the side of a hill for insulation, and it made so much sense to me that I'm now really interested in building into a hill or into the ground as a form of geothermal cooling and heating. 

Is this a complete pipe dream or a marginally good idea, and if it's the latter, any suggestions on where I would start with something like this? I'm good at carrying heavy things and working a radial arm saw, but that's about the extent of my expertise. I don't yet own the land (working on that; there are several possibilities out here), and my income is pretty modest.  

Responses (6)

Jasmine Myers 2 years ago

This is extraordinarily helpful! Thank you so much!

Mike Reynolds 2 years ago

Glad to help Jasmine. We hate to see people drop their life savings on building a house that may not do what they think it will do. Check back in if you want more help. Good luck! 

Jasmine Myers 2 years ago

(sleeping 12 to a 10x14 room probably also helped in that first year on Cape Ann!) 

dave lotte 1 year ago
Mike Reynolds 1 year ago

I think we agree on one thing, as you say "with the right plans"  you can of course build underground safely. It is just a lot more risky, a lot more complicated, which translates into cost. If you don't completely prevent bulk water infiltration and moisture infiltration, your home will be a complete dissaster. 

As for location, yes, very important. You need to be able to drain surrounding water to daylight or you'll need to pump it, so are you building into a hill? What if you don't have a hill to build into, do you just cover the whole thing with dirt? And who does the work, do you have your own backhoe or are you paying someone hansomly by the hour to do all this work? 

Dirt will not keep water out of your home should you forgo "shingles, siding etc.", so can you tell us your wall assembly from the ground up? You still need structural walls (concrete or other, and 'other' is likely at risk of rotting if it gets wet), waterproof membranes and insulation. You'll certainly save money on windows, but you could build an entirely above grade house with no windows anyway, I just can't think of why anyone would want to. What about quality of life?

A slab on grade home can be designed for passive heating and cooling so it uses hardly any energy for heating and cooling, it never floods or gets moldy and it is filled with sunshine in the middle of winter. You just couldn't pay me enough to live in a home with no natural light I think is what really makes me scratch my head about these. 

As for "building a second story above it", that would double the space, so 'not doing it' will save money, but then you won't have that space. It's of course cheaper to  'not'  build something that to build it, so that's not really a solid argument, you're just building a smaller house, or building bigger below grade instead.

The point Dave, is that yes you can do it, but it's not easy, it is not more energy efficient that a well-built above grade passive solar home, and if you actually do it properly then arguably it is not cheaper than building above grade, so why would you want to?