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5th Oct 2016

How to Build a Secret Underground House!

On a site of outstanding natural beauty, which has a pivotal view of the historic village church, is it possible to build a dwelling that is completely hidden from view?  Our experts were perfectly placed to prove that it is not just possible, but also a highly sustainable way to build.  The original plans for an underground house had edged through local planning on appeal.  Our clients turned these on their head (or side in this case). The end result: a dwelling (invisible from the front) that is impossibly light, bright and airy.

Underground construction has been around for thousands of years, mostly developed through mining and more recently through transport, housing and commercial industries. The Channel Tunnel, London Underground and The British Library are all examples of underground construction.

Subterranean homes have grown increasingly popular over the last thirty years and are an important sector in the green building movement.  Thousands of people in Europe and America live in underground homes. In Russia there is more development below the ground than above it. Countries like Japan and China, where development space is at a premium, are particularly keen to build underground living places.

In the UK, the movement is much slower, with less than a hundred underground homes in existence. This is partly due to a misinformed belief that they are dirty, damp, dark, claustrophobic and unstable places to live. But it is also due to a lack of guidance and information about building regulations and specifications, and their potential as a sustainable building practice.  All underground homes need well-designed ventilation systems to control indoor air quality and humidity. Natural daylight design using light atriums, shafts and wells can also be used to improve the quality of underground living.

There are many advantages to building underground over conventional housing. Unlike conventional homes, they can be built on steep surfaces and can maximise space in small areas by going below the ground. In addition the materials excavated in construction can be used in the building process.  Underground houses have less surface area so fewer building materials are used, and maintenance costs are lower. They are also wind, fire and earthquake resistant, providing a secure and safe environment in extreme weather.

One of the greatest benefits of underground living is energy efficiency. The earth's subsurface temperature remains stable, so underground dwellings benefit from geothermal mass and heat exchange, staying cool in the summer and warm in the winter. This saves around 80% in energy costs. By incorporating solar design this energy bill can be reduced to zero, providing hot water and heat to the home all year round. An additional benefit of the surrounding earth is noise insulation making underground homes exceptionally quiet places to live.

Finally, underground houses blend with the natural landscape, and have minimum impact on the local ecology. This is not only aesthetically pleasing but ensures that the maximum habitat is left alone for wildlife.

A well-designed underground home can be a stylish, comfortable, secure, bright and inspiring place to live. More than that it is an excellent example of the eco-home ideal, demonstrating energy efficiency, low-impact design and harmony with its natural surroundings. With the increasing demand for more development sites and ever-diminishing green spaces, along with the enforcement of stricter regulations for greener homes, building underground seems the obvious way down.

Our clients were keen to ensure that the house remains as sustainable as possible.  An underground heat pump and MVHR system (mechanical ventilation with heat recovery) aids the naturally insulated house to remain as carbon neutral as possible.  Blocks used for the build are made from a recycled, renewable, and energy efficient material and timber is sustainably sourced.  Throughout the build our clients and StuartBarrCDR site manager Chris Ellis have worked together to source materials and labor as locally as possible.

When asked why they chose StuartBarrCDR for this specialist build, our clients answered; ‘Stuart and David’s qualifications in sustainable building and their ‘can do’ attitude were the combination we are looking for.  Construction Director David Noonan was able to put together a team who could work well with us (as client-architects) and share our vision for the sustainable ethos of the project.  We were very keen to keep the build local and StuartBarrCDR ticked all of the boxes”

Watch this space for the full story and finished images of the secret sustainable underground house.

Thank you to SustainableBuild for the supporting information for this article.

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