Some of my criteria
for energy efficient homes are:
> Energy Efficiency
> Ease of Construction
> Environmentally Efficient
Modern insulation systems and windows have only allowed us to mediate
the real problem of energy efficiency, which is SEASONAL VARIATION. It
is too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. Rather than fight
the individual problems, how about combining them? The Earth deals with it
fairly well; the surface temperature fluctuates, but a few feet
underground the earth is a relatively constant temperature. With a basic
understanding of thermodynamics, we can build a home under a sheltering blanket of
earth that is cool in the summer and warm in the winter - and the energy
With proper use of insulation and convective air flow, the temperature
and ventilation of our "Castle in the Ground" can be controlled
for the optimum comfort of the worthy inhabitants! The very best specific
information on insulation and ventilation of underground homes that I
have found is in "PASSIVE ANNUAL HEAT STORAGE SYSTEM" by John
Hait. His techniques for using insulation and ventilation help us turn
seasonal variation into an advantage! It is possible to store excess
heat during the summer for use during the winter! In warm climates, it
is possible to save the cool winter temperatures to enjoy during the
summer! Even daily temperature variations can be put in your heating -
cooling bank to help give you consistent, comfortable living conditions.
Since this is accomplished with exchange of air, the home is also very
EASE OF CONSTRUCTION
"Castles in the Ground" uses a repetitive forming system to
create all concrete modules that go up utilizing standard concrete construction
technique. The modules are 385 to 645 square feet each, so most homes
would consist of 3 to 5 modules. The modules go up quickly as a low
tech, conventional and repetitive system.
Most of the examples in are hexagonal in shape.
Probably for the same reason bees use them... they are quick to build, strong and can join together in a variety of shapes!
Hexagons enclose a lot of area in proportion to total wall length
(circles enclose the most-but are not as convenient when trying to put that
bookcase against the wall). Straight walls also allow EASY use of
standard door and window units. They also solve some of the difficulties
of concrete construction.
One of the hardest things for me when pouring concrete has been keeping
the walls STRAIGHT and PLUMB! I feel like I spend as much time putting
in kickers and braces and tangling up string line as I do putting up the
Most of the "Castle" walls are only 12 feet long, and there
are SIX corners to keep everything rigid! All walls are multiples of 4 foot, so there is
little plywood to cut. You have a pile of plywood, a pile of 2 x 4 x 12
foot walers (horizontal framing) for the inside of the forms, and a pile
of 16 footers for the outside. Studs are not necessary. That's right,
ANYONE can do concrete with this system! The wall forms go up quick and
easy; no kickers, no braces, straight and plumb!
The ceiling system is perhaps even easier! Ceiling forms that can be handled by two people are supported by the wall forms and a temporary
center post. Just carry them in and set them up with simple attachments!
The key is the simple forming system that is repetitive and reusable.
You deal with a few standardized components to pour the walls and ceiling as
one solid unit!
Since the single largest cost of construction is labor, standardizing
the process SAVES MONEY. Additionally, at this time, the cost of lumber is
skyrocketing while concrete has remained relatively constant. As you
will see in the following chapters on construction techniques, the
DESIGNED to be cost effective; it was not an afterthought! Many techniques we use are not possible with other construction styles. For
instance, most of our exterior finish work is done with a small
bulldozer and grass seeder. Try THAT with a conventional frame structure! Compared to the labor
costs for a small crew, equipment time is quite reasonable!
Your biggest savings in a properly built home are through the greatly reduced heating, cooling and maintenance costs. You might also have
lower insurance costs. These savings can easily total $200 per month
when compared to the average home! When purchasing a home, the mortgage
costs are only part of the overall costs of home ownership. When you add
the total costs of mortgage, heating, cooling, maintenance, insurance,
taxes, etc..... you will find how much cheaper it can be to live in a
Castle - as long as it is in the ground!
I am disturbed with a common attitude that builds homes to last 50 - 100
years. Sure, WE might not need a home to live in much longer than 50
years (although I intend to live 120 years!) but somebody will want to
live in it! Wouldn’t it be great to pass a home on to your great, great, great
How environmentally responsible is it to spend all that time, money and RESOURCES to build a dwelling to last only one lifetime?
Please don't take me wrong, there are some wonderful frame structures
out there that will last a long time. (I even built some of them). I
have even used treated wood in contact with the soil - but only where there
was a profound economic or design justification; and only when the
design allowed easy replacement of that component in 50 years or so.
Another concrete advantage is reduction of off-gassing from treated materials and adhesives used in plywood and particle board.
Concrete, of course, is not without it's problems. I have some real concerns about the mining associated with production of it's components.
Perhaps one of you will perfect a more environmentally correct and
economical alternative to concrete. If so, I will adapt the
"Castles in the Ground" system to use it!
Well, enough philosophy; since you are reading this, you are probably already somewhat enlightened and are interested in alternatives and
improvements in our lives. I hope you enjoy your home, whatever kind it
is! You may build your Castle in the ground using a different system; you
may build your Castle on top of the ground; please do not build your Castle
in the air unless you put wings on it! Please also feel free to contact me
concerning YOUR ideas!