The book, How To Build An Underground House, by Malcolm Wells is yet another quirky yet powerful book by my favorite author and architect.

He guides you through every step, both physical and factual, of how to build an underground house. His prose is witty and insightful. His advice is practical and far reaching.

green building

Even if you never plan on building an underground house this book is a useful read to gain insight into a healthy way to look at the world.

Wells was a true pioneer in green building before it was called that. He is also a great example of somebody who lived his life singing his own song.

It is amazing that Wells manages to walk you through how to build a house in a hand written 100 page booklet, written so simply that my seven year old daughter (no building genius) could follow. Yet he does it. The mere fact that he condenses the information so beautifully is a statement in itself: building is simple and holistic if done correctly.

One interesting comment he makes is about John Hait, another earth home pioneer. They differ in how they insulate. Wells insulates around the house walls, between the house and the earth. Hait puts the insulation up to 20 feet away from the house in the soil, so that you have a massive amount of soil IN the building envelope.

I think Hait’s method is genius. He creates a storage area for the heat in the earth. During the summer the earth collects the heat and then slowly releases it through the winter. It is a very powerful passive heating and cooling method.

As a New York green contractor I don’t have the kind of space needed to build an earthen home. But we do expand the brownstones back into the garden or forward towards the street by digging out the earth. The same rules apply there. So I find the earthen home technology very useful to help me maximize the dug out spaces around a brownstone.